When dealing with two seemingly unreconcilable parties, the people who manage to annoy both sides are sometimes the ones presenting the best solutions. So it is with Johnathan Porritt, who is a meddling environmentalist to business, and a corporate sell-out to the greens.
His 2005 book Capitalism as if the World Matters is very useful, and was one of the books that inspired this site in the first place. Since this was billed on the back as a sequel, I picked it up. It’s not a sequel. Nor is it really even a book. And neither is it really about globalism and regionalism, so it’s something of a puzzle. It’s actually an extended essay or monograph on making globalisation work in an age of climate change, and regionalism is just one part of that.
The world, Porritt argues, faces a number of simultaneous crises – climate change, inequality, resource depletion, political instability and population growth. Globalisation could be part of the solution to all of these problems, or it could be part of the problem.
This is because there are two different types of globalisation. There is the corporate form, which is all about opening markets, and there is civic globalism, which is about working together to solve global problems. The first of those is hostile towards the idea of more regional production, the second would benefit from it, and the anti-globalisation movement needs to learn to recognise the two different types.
This matters, because a more regional approach to organising ourselves is vital in creating a more sustainable world. “That which can be delivered locally and coordinated regionally, should be”, and actually whether we like it or not, there will be a rebalancing of local and global once the rising oil price starts to push up the cost of transportation.
Porritt is great at bringing together environmental and social concerns. “No serious definition of the word ‘sustainable’ could possibly allow for a continuation of the gross disparities in wealth that we see today, both within and between countries.”
He also has a pretty uncompromising view of where the world is going. He maintains that he does not see a tension between sustainability and growth, but is adamant that the future has less consumption, less international trade. He sees “an almost inevitable period of traumatic breakdown ahead of us.” That’s not a popular message, and neither is his description of the US as a rogue state. “On every single ‘big ticket’ opportunity to harness the power of globalisation to help address today’s most pressing global challenges, the US is pulling in the opposite direction.”
You may find yourself nodding in agreement with Porritt’s combative and irreverent comments, you may not – chances are he’ll batter your own cherished movement or cause at some point too. Like transition. Having described how we need to move away from “today’s ludicrously wasteful, over-priced and carbon-intensive energy supply systems”, he then complains that calling this process an ‘energy descent’ is unhelpful. I don’t know why, I find it quite a useful term to describe what he’s talking about.
As I say, Porritt has a knack for winding up everybody, but in this case, he is one of the people with the best ideas. But, I wouldn’t start here. This short book is part of a short series for a project called The Edge Futures. I’d pick up Capitalism as if the World Matters instead.