Work In A Green Society: What Makes Life Worthwhile?

We find in the “production → work → consumption” circle one simple way to explain how the core of modern societies is organized. In short, we produce goods and services that need labour force. Jobs help us to earn money. We use the money to [hyper] consume those goods, creating a demand for them to be produced [1].

The circle goes on and the story is well known: we have come to a point in which we are producing and consuming too much (exhausting earth resources and polluting massively). Leaving the calls for efficiency and the faith in techno-miracles aside [2], any serious policy oriented towards the reduction, reform and greening of production and consumption, must confront “employment” from the same radical vision.

Up to now, the labour market is the medium around which our whole social organization is built. It is the place to which we put a big slice of our life-time. After all, it is the way through which we get the money to satisfy our needs (and whims). However, when it comes to thinking what plays a big part in our welfare and happiness, it has little or nothing to do with paid work.

The path towards sustainability requires replacing paid work as the centre of our lives and putting the stress in promoting all the universe of activities that play a major part in the social welfare and the preservation of the environment.

It is not too congruent to ask individuals too green up their lifestyles – by using slow transport means (bike, train, bus), eating healthy (local, bio), join social movements, involve in the democratic processes, share house tasks with their couple, reduce their footprint… – without letting them have the time to do it.

We spend too much of our time preparing for, looking for and doing a job. So much that it has become a hurdle to push society towards sustainability. The answer to this problem is an old, forgotten demand from the unions: reducing the working hours.

If we take seriously the famous quote that GDP “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” (Robert Kennedy), we should also acknowledge that what makes life worthwhile is not at work for many people. This “core economy”[3], where money and profits are not all that matters, should nevertheless be accompanied by stronger systems for the redistribution of wealth (being Basic Income [4] one example).

Promoting youth employment, under this optic, cannot be as simplistic as demanding more jobs for young people. As Young Greens, we should rather demand that young people (and the future generations) have the possibility to choose their lives the way they feel happiest with, with a strong accent on sustainability and occupations which, being unproductive and unprofitable, are keys to a better world.

Notes:

[1] For a deeper explanation on the “production → work → consumption” circle and its alternatives check: Sanjuán H., Marcellesi F. and Barragué B (2010): “Degrowth, Work and Basic Income”. Poster available at: http://www.degrowth.eu/v1/uploads/media/sanjuanENG.png

[2] The rebound effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebound_effect_%28conservation%29) and a look into the techno-catastrophes of the past decades indicate this path is not going too far towards real sustainability.

[3] The concept of “core economy” is widely explained in the “21 hours” report by the New Economics Foundation. Available at http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/21-hours

[4] Basic Income understood as an “universal and unconditional income for citizens, delivering the possibility of satisfying basic needs to carry a decent life” (“Basic Income is a right”. 2007 Spanish Young Greens:

http://www.jovenesverdes.org/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=288&Itemid=56 )