Welcome to Plenitude

Welcome to Plenitude: the blog and my new website. I’m here to plant a stake in the heart of the Business-As-Usual economy and its bankrupt politics. As I write, oil is spewing out into the Gulf of Mexico, at the rate of perhaps 70,000 barrels a day, and a deadlocked Congress has produced an energy bill that calls for expanded offshore drilling. It’s true madness.

It’s one more example that the Business-as-Usual economy (to borrow a term from the climate discourse) has become profoundly dysfunctional. That conclusion is becoming widely accepted. But we’re having trouble moving beyond it. Plenitude is a vision for doing just that—getting us on a path that reverses the rampant destruction of the planet caused by BAU and restoring true well-being to people and communities. With the political system unable to reign in the corporations that drive emissions and economic activity, Plenitude starts in another place: with people. Its strategy is to say let’s get going on the path of reconstruction now. And it explains why it’s not only what we need to do for survival, but it embodies a savvy economic calculus.

Image from the 2010 BP oil disaster

It’s based on an idea that’s novel to the sustainability discourse, but is has been around in standard economics since the 1960s: when the returns from one activity fall, shift one’s energy and time into others. This is the theory of time allocation pioneered by Chicago economist Gary Becker. It’s also just plain common sense.

In the year 2010 this approach counsels shifting out of BAU jobs, to local, small-scale activity that helps reduce dependence on the market system and lowers ecological footprint. Why is this attractive? One reason is that the BAU market has less to offer. It is failing to provide adequate jobs on a staggering scale. An estimated 26 million Americans are either unemployed, under-employed or have gotten discouraged and stopped looking for work. That problem won’t go away even if the recovery continues. Incomes have fallen and government services are being cut. Wall Street and the wealthy have protected their outsized share of society’s production, but for the vast majority the prognosis is austerity.

Even if the recovery continues, wages and incomes are not likely to recover their pre-crash trajectory, in part because ecological constraints are closing in on us. As the global economy grows, rising prices for energy and food on the world market will erode the incomes offered by BAU. That’s what the standard discourse has to offer. You’ll be hearing more and more about belt-tightening, the need to sacrifice, and what we can’t afford. It’s a mantra that is coming from corporations to their employees, from government to their citizens, and from economists to anyone who will listen. It’ll dominate the debate about the deficit.

But trade-off economics is wrong. If we abandon BAU, we can transcend many of the no-win options currently on offer, discover new sources of wealth and re-invigorate old, but neglected ones. In future posts, I’ll get into detail on what these are.

BREAKING: Large Air Spill At Wind Farm. No Threats Reported. Some Claim To Enjoy The Breeze.

Plenty of people have already started down this path. They’re growing vegetables, raising chickens and keeping bees. They’re going off the grid with solar and wind. They’re building their own homes, often with the help of friends and neighbors, using earth-friendly materials like straw, stone and compressed earth. They’re using open-source software to share newly acquired know-how about this alternative production paradigm. It’s a way of life that’s rich in creativity and autonomy. This movement is taking place in cities, small-towns and in rural areas. It’s not back-to-the land, it’s forward to a technologically advanced, knowledge-intensive way of life that is providing not only food, shelter and power, but also security, community and true well-being.

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59 Responses to “Welcome to Plenitude”

  1. MUSPA says:

    You have opened my eyes wide! Can you think of a vision for plenitude of higher (and further) education?

    “self provisioning” can easily parallel “autodidactics” If I got you!

    Very promising – I need to read the book before I say more

  2. Marc says:

    Thanks for your passion and light! The time is right for Plan B, alternative economics, reducing working hours, community centers, person-oriented labor, labor-intensive investment, redistribution, environment caring and redefining work, security, happiness and community. Progressive taxation would reverse the exploding inequality and generalized insecurity. Education, health care and housing should be human rights, not privileges. The future could be full of community centers (as in Vancouver B.C.), free Internet books and soft power because our nature is full of play, exuberance and mystery. Resistance and peace are part of our nature as anti-bodies are part of our bodies.
    Here are important links that leads us to a future that is open and dynamic, interdependent and less commodified:
    http://www.steadystate.org, http://www.finance-watch.org (free 67-page book from Brussels “Investing not Betting”) and http://www.freembtranslations.net.

  3. Juliet Schor says:

    Thanks for your great comment and the links. I really agree! Juliet

  4. This past week I heard a recording of your lecture on plenitude. I found it so engrossing, I stopped to take notes. It’s not often I hear such a clear and sensible vision for the future.
    I feel fortunate to live in Oregon’s Willamette Valley (stretching from Portland to Eugene) For decades now, we’ve been creating alternatives to “business as usual.”
    As part of my quest to live more sustainably, I’ve created naturallypeaceful.com (your DIY guide to the deep green revolution). I’d be honored if you’d check out my website. It covers a lot of the same ground you do – slowing down – permaculture- local self reliance – rejection of the dominant culture, etc. – but from a more personal perspective.
    With so many extreme weather events occurring in the past couple of years (including “super storm” Sandy this week) maybe large numbers of people will be convinced to make the sweeping changes needed for humans to live more lightly on earth.

    thank you and good luck in all your endeavors, Janine

  5. Juliet Schor says:

    Dear Janine
    What a powerful site. Our work is very much aligned. I hope to meet you at some point–thank you for the gift of your site and for all that you are doing to create a sane, peaceful and just world in these dark times. (I love the quotes on your site.) Juliet

  6. Dear Juliet, Thank you so much for your kind words.
    I’ve been creating naturallypeaceful.com for about 5 years now, and mostly it’s a slow, solitary endeavor. And I have no idea who I’m reaching. So, I really appreciate what you said about my site!

    We’ve got some interesting things going on here in Oregon City. For decades this was a paper mill town. But the mill closed down 2 years ago, and there’s been lots of talk about how to repurpose the industrial site at the base of Willamette Falls. Fortunately, it’s looking more and more like it will be renaturalized and turned into a state park!

    On a smaller scale, my husband and I have been hosting neighborhood potluck “get-togethers”. We enjoy delicious home cooked foods, and talk about sustainability on all levels – from seed sharing to influencing local politics. The group is currently creating an inventory of tools and skills we can share in the neighborhood.
    And I’m managing a small orchard that we planted at a neighborhood school in 2010. I hope to see it become a good source of food for the community, and a model for others to copy.

    So – thanks again, Juliet. Don’t hesitate to email me if you’d like. janineoffutt@hotmail.com

    (Sorry about the much delayed reply. Just this morning I googled naturallypeaceful.com, and saw the reference to my comments in your Plentitude blog.on Nov 4th.)

    take care, Janine Offutt

  7. Well done, don’t think debate on renewable energy is much of a debate as of necessity. Unfortunately a lot of folk haven’t caught on and we continue to see high risk energy seeking behaviors that are not good for sustaining the future at all.

  8. Mark Hoyt says:

    Juliet, you have extremely beautiful site and an equally profound message. It is nice to see people who clearly are extremely smart and care about what they are doing bring in a more positive spin to the times. I’m definitely going to check out the book as it definitely seems like I would enjoy. I’m always interested in learning about all of the new ideas that people have for living sustainably and always find it fascinating. Thanks again for a great site and what looks to be an equally good book.

  9. Kate says:

    Addressing our present time, real prosperity places durability at its primary. Plenitude is already growing. Around the world, people are active creating way of life that provides a way out of the work-and-spend pattern. These established lifestyles are limited in conservative customer products and loaded with the recently numerous sources of time, information, creativeness, and group. Taken together, these styles signify an activity away from the conformist market and provide a way headed for an effective, fulfilling life in an era of high costs and conventional source deficiency.

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