Ted Trainer.


Our industrial-affluent-consumer society is extremely ecologically unsustainable and unjust. Global problems cannot be solved in a society that is driven by obsession with high rates of production and consumption, affluent living standards, market forces, the profit motive and economic growth.  Most people do not realise the magnitude of the overshoot, the extent to which this society is unsustainable.  When the limits to growth are understood it is obvious that a sustainable and just world cannot be achieved until we move to very different lifestyles, values and systems. The Simpler Way refers to a vision of a viable and attractive alternative way, based on mostly small scale communities which are highly self-sufficient, cooperative, self-governing, within an overall economy which not only does not grow but which involves much lower levels of production and consumption than we have today and is not driven by profit and market forces. Above all there must be happy acceptance of frugal living standards.  This way could provide all people with a much higher quality of life than most have now, even in the richest countries.The final section below argues that the top priority for people concerned about the fate of the planet should be working to build these new lifestyles and systems within existing towns and suburbs.






There are three fundamental faults built into our society.  The first is to do with over-consumption and unsustainability, the second is to do with the injustice of the economy, and the third with social breakdown and the falling quality of life.




The most serious fault in our society is the  commitment to an affluent-industrial-consumer lifestyle and to an economy that must have constant and limitless growth in output.  Our way of life is grossly unsustainable.  Our levels of production and consumption are far too high to be kept up for very long and could never be extended to all people.  We are rapidly depleting resources and damaging the environment. Following are some of the main points that support these ‘limits to growth” conclusions.  (For a detailed case see TSW, 2018a.)

Among the most worrying ecological problems are,

Atmosphere and Climate.  Our rate of release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is set to cause catastrophic problems in coming years.  There is considerable agreement among climate scientists that we should eliminate all emissions by 2050. There is a strong case that it will not be possible to do this while maintaining consumer-capitalist society.  Firstly it will not be possible to burn coal and sequester the resulting CO2 because only 80-90% of it in power station emissions can be captured for storage, and because the 50% of emissions from non-stationary sources such as cars cannot be captured.  Secondly there is a strong case that it will not be possible to substitute alternative energy sources for carbon emitting fuels on the scale required. (See below.)

The finding by Meinshausen et al. (2009) is widely accepted: for a 75% probability of limiting global warming to 2 degree cumulative CO2 emissions in the period 2000 – 2050 must be less than 1000 GT CO2.  Between 2000 and 2010 around 350 GT had been emitted, so the remaining capacity is only 650 GT.  Emissions around 2013 were almost 50 GT/y, and increasing.  So we have less than 13 years at this rate to completely eliminate emissions. But in some recent years the emission rate has increased at 3% p.a. (Sorrell, 2012, p.1796. See also Anderson and Bows, 2008.)

The Australian per capita emission rate is about the worst in the world … not including imports and exports.

In 2004 Australia produced 525 million tonnes of CO2…but in addition the amount in the fuels we exported was 565 million tonnes.  To this should be added the carbon emissions created to produce the goods we imported.  (Chateau, et al., 2011.)  Donald, (2012), found that for the UK carbon in imports was as much as was released domestically.

The depleted ozone layer is another atmospheric concern.

Biodiversity loss. We are eliminating species at an alarming rate, and seem to be entering a period of massive loss of species, a sixth era of mass extinction. The main reason is loss of habitat; humans are taking more and more of nature and damaging the rest.    

Chemical imbalances and toxicity.  We are releasing such quantities of many chemicals that the planet’s natural cycles are being disrupted and poisoned. For instance the huge amount of artificial nitrogen entering the environment from fertilizers is causing algal blooms etc. The phosphorus cycle is also a concern, also due to the large amounts released in fertilizers. Soils are increasingly acidic due to artificial fertilizers, and soil carbon levels have been depleted by farming.  The seas are becoming more acidic, threatening all the organisms with shells. Crib (2014) reports 8% of human deaths are due to poisoning. Vast amounts of plastic are accumulating in the oceans.

The reason for all this massive damage to the environment is simply that there is far too much producing and consuming going on. This is causing too many resources to be taken from nature and too many wastes to be dumped back into nature. How much will be left for nature if 9 billion rise to live like Americans? 

These have been some of the main limits to growth arguments which lead to the conclusion that there is no possibility of all people rising to the living standards we take for granted today in rich countries like Australia.  The most important point is the magnitude of the overshoot.  Most people have no idea of how far beyond sustainable levels of consumption we are, and how big the reductions will have to be.  We seem to be around 10 times over some crucial limits.  It is difficult to see how anyone could avoid the conclusion that we should be trying move to far simpler and less resource-expensive lifestyles and systems.  The necessary reductions cannot be achieved without dramatic reductions in the amount of production and consumption and therefore economic activity going on.

These limits problems are very likely to begin to hit us hard in the next decade, as petroleum becomes more scarce and the effects spread through the whole economy. Few people grasp the seriousness of the situation, certainly not within mainstream political, media and academic circles or within the general public.

Now add the absurdly impossible implications of economic growth.

But the foregoing argument has only been that the present levels of production and consumption are quite unsustainable.  Yet we are determined to increase present living standards and levels of output and consumption, as much as possible and without any end in sight.  In other words, our supreme national goal is economic growth.  Few people seem to recognise the absurdly impossible consequences of pursing economic growth.

World GDP is expected to multiply by four by 2050.  (Chateau, J., et al., 2011.)

 If we Australians have a 3% p.a. increase in output, by 2090 we will be producing 8 times as much every year. If by then all 9 billion people expected had risen to the living standards we would have then, the total world economic output would be more than 60 times as great as it is today!  Yet the present level is unsustainable. 


“De-materialisation”, ”De-coupling”, the shift to information and services?

It is often argued that the economy can continue to grow in the service and information sectors, without increasing use of materials and energy. This is also known as the “de-materialisation” or “de-coupling” thesis.  It is now clear that this is not what is happening. Over the last thirty years growth in economic output has been accompanied by increase in use of materials and energy, not decrease, let alone by anything like the dramatic reduction required. (Alexander, 2014, TSW, 2018b.)

But can’t technical advance solve the problems?

Most people are "technical fix optimists", assuming that technical advance will make it unnecessary for us to change to simpler lifestyles and very different systems such as a zero-growth economy. They believe that smarter technology and more recycling, greater energy efficiency, etc., will enable growth of GDP and higher "living standards" with reduced total resource use and environmental impact. 

There are miraculous technical advances in many fields all the time, but the de-coupling evidence is that they are not enabling reductions in overall resource demands or environmental impacts. Note that if there is a commitment to constant, limitless increase in economic output then reductions that can be achieved by technical advance are soon likely to be overwhelmed.   For instance if we cut use and impacts per unit of GDP in half, but continued with 3% p.a. economic growth, then in 23 years the resource demands and impacts would be back up to where they were before the cuts, and would be twice as great in another 23 years. Again the evidence on de-coupling is that no progress is being made on reducing demands and impacts.

The ‘tech-fix” faith assumes there is no need to rethink consumer-capitalist society, because technical advances will enable us all to go on living more and more affluently, for ever.  The Simpler Way view is that the enormous problems that consumer-capitalist society constantly creates are far too big for technical advance to solve.

Finally, if technical advance is going to solve our big problems, when is it going to start doing so?  They are all rapidly getting worse at present.

                    Could renewable energy solve the problem?

There is a strong case that it will not be possible/affordable to run all functions in our present energy-intensive consumer-capitalist society on renewable energy.  (For the detailed case see Trainer, 2017.) The first of the two main problems is that because the sun and wind are very intermittent (… and might make no contribution for two weeks in a row in a European winter) a probably unaffordable amount of costly redundant or excess plant and/or energy storage capacity would be needed.  The second problem is that the world has far too little biomass to produce enough liquid fuel.

Note that even if we solved the energy problem many other serous global problems being caused by overconsumption etc. would remain.

The Simpler Way view is that we should move from fossil fuels to full dependence on renewable energy sources, and it will be possible to live well on them because lifestyles and systems would be far less energy-intensive… but we can’t run anything like the present energy-intensive consumer-capitalist society on them.

Conclusions on the limits to growth.

This “limits to growth” argument would seem to be beyond dispute. We are using up resources and damaging the environment at grossly unsustainable rates, even though only about one-fifth of the world’s people are living affluently. Yet we are determined to increase “living standards” and economic output without end. The important point is the magnitude of the overshoot, the unsustainability, and the fact that we are living far beyond levels all could ever rise to. The obvious implication is that we must move to very different systems and lifestyles enabling good quality of life on very low resource use rates.

Yet the issue is almost entirely ignored by the mainstream, including politicians, media, educational institutions, and the general public. It is likely that this will change suddenly within a decade or so, as the limits begin to impact on the comfort and complacency of the rich countries. It is by no means obvious that we will be able to cope with the probably very serious combination of problems that will then be upon us.




It is not possible to solve the main global problems in this economic system, because it is their main cause.   It inevitably generates them. The way its commitment to growth does this has been discussed.  The focus below is on the injustice built into the market system.

Markets do some things well and in a satisfactory and sustainable society there might be a considerable role for them, but only if they were carefully controlled and not allowed to make the important decisions.  It is easily shown that the market system is responsible for most of the deprivation and suffering in the world.  The basic mechanisms are most clearly seen when we consider what is happening in the Third World.

The enormous amount of poverty and suffering in the Third World is not due to lack of resources.  There is for instance sufficient food and land to provide for all.  The problem is that these resources are not distributed at all well.  Why not?  The answer is that this is the way the market economy inevitably works.

The global economy is a market system and in a market scarce things always go mostly to the rich, that is, to those who can pay most for them.  That's why we in rich countries get most of the oil produced.  It is also why more than 500 million tonnes of grain are fed to animals in rich countries every year, over one-third of total world grain production, while almost one billion people are hungry.  A market system automatically and inevitably allocates most wealth to the rich.

Even more important is the fact that the market system inevitably brings about inappropriate development in the Third World, i.e., development of the wrong industries.  It will lead to the development of the most profitable industries, as distinct from those that are most necessary or appropriate.  As a result there has been much development of plantations and factories in the Third World that will produce things for local rich people or for export to rich countries.  But there is little or no development of the industries that are most needed by the poorest 80% of their people.  As a result the Third World’s productive capacity, its land and labour, have been drawn into producing for the benefit of others, especially rich world corporations and consumers.  This is most disturbing in those many countries where most of the best land is devoted to export crops.

Consider the situation of the people in Bangladesh who produce shirts for export, being paid 15c an hour.  Obviously it would be far better for them if they could be putting all their work time into small local farms and firms that used local land, labour and skill to produce for themselves the basic things they need. But in capitalist development this is deliberately prevented.  Third World ruling classes and rich world governments will only support development that is led by whatever will maximise the profits for some investor.  The conditions of the “Structural Adjustment Packages” imposed by the World Bank on indebted countries prohibit any other kind of development, indeed they make poor countries open their economies more to market forces and corporate investment and make them reduce spending to assist those in most need, such as subsidies to poor farmers.  Often their land is transferred to export producers because unless national income can be increased debt can’t be paid off. 

The poorest people live in countries where corporations can’t make any profit so there is almost no “development” in them, when those countries could be solving their basic problems via appropriate or Simpler Way development, quickly and without much capital or dependence on the global economy. (For the detailed account see TSW, 2018c.)


In other words the affluence and comfort we have in rich countries like Australia are built on massive global injustice. Few people in rich countries seem to understand that they could not have their high "living standards" if the global economy was not enabling them to take far more than their fair share of world resources and to deprive Third world people of a fair share.


These are inevitable consequences of an economic system in which what it done is whatever is most profitable to the few who own capital, as distinct from what is most needed by people or their ecosystems.  (See TSW 2018d for a detailed critical discussion of the economy.) The Third World problem will not be solved as long as we allow this economic principle to determine development and to deliver most of the world's wealth to the rich. For these reasons, conventional Third World development can be seen as a form of legitimised plunder.

The unjust share of world wealth we in rich countries receive is not just due to the way the global economy works.  Rich countries put a great deal of effort into getting control of the resources and markets of others.  The rich countries have and control an empire.  They support dictatorial and brutal regimes willing to rule in their interests, they enable and actually engage in terrorism, they organise coups and assassinations, they invade and attack and kill thousands of innocent people, in order to ensure that regimes and regions keep to the economic and development policies that suit the rich countries. (For extensive documentation on the nature and functioning of the empire see TSW, 2018e.)

There is no possibility of satisfactory Third World development until the rich countries stop hogging far more than their fair share of the world’s scarce and dwindling resources, until development and distribution begin to be determined by need and not by market forces and profit, and therefore until we develop a very different global economic system.  Again this must mean huge and radical structural change on the part of the rich countries, to simpler living standards and to an economy that is geared to meeting need rather than maximising profit.

                                    Fault 3: THE LOSS OF COHESION AND QUALITY OF LIFE.

Even in the richest countries we are experiencing accelerating social breakdown and a falling quality of life.  This is the result of the triumph of Neo-liberalism which has made the maximisation of monetary wealth and business turnover within the market the supreme social goal.  It has been clear for a long time that in rich countries raising GDP and “wealth” adds little or nothing to the average quality of life.

Many people cannot get a satisfactory share of the wealth, jobs and resources, and are having to work harder in more stressful conditions.  Many are being dumped into unemployment, poverty and “exclusion”. It is no surprise therefore that there is much drug abuse, crime and social breakdown, or that depression is now a major illness.  Public institutions including hospitals, universities and public transport are deprived of sufficient funds.  There is little or no investment in the development of community or cooperative institutions, while billions flow into investments that will produce and sell more.  Social attitudes are becoming more selfish and mean.  Neo-liberal doctrine advocates that all must compete against each other as self-interested individuals for as much wealth as possible, but the sensible way for humans to relate to each other is via co-operation, sharing, mutual assistance, giving and nurturing. It is no surprise that large and increasing numbers of people believe the future will be worse than the present. 

Much of this is due to allowing the market to become the dominant determinant of what happens in society.  Market forces drive out good social values and behaviour, because they are only about individuals competing to maximise their self interest.  There is no place in a marketing situation for generosity, care, collectivism or concern for the public good.

It is not possible to have a good society unless we make sure that considerations of morality, justice, the public good and environmental sustainability are the primary determinants of what happens.  This means what is done must not be determined by what will maximise profit within the market for those with capital, and that there must be much social control and regulation of the economy. 

Conclusions on the global situation.

The foregoing argument has been that the way of life we have in rich countries is grossly unsustainable and unjust and inevitably damages the environment and the quality of life. Some of the core lines of argument indicate that we in rich countries should be trying to reduce per capita resource consumption by 90% or more.  Nothing like this can be done without huge and radical change to new systems. 

The crucial point here is that the problems cannot be fixed in a consumer-capitalist society.  That kind of society creates the problems.  If for example you have a growth economy that will inevitably generate a problem of resource depletion and environmental destruction.  A sustainable society must have a zero-growth economy.  Similarly if you let market forces determine production, distribution and exchange and development the rich will be able to take more and more and will inevitably deprive most people of a fair share.  A just society must allow need not profit or market forces to determine distribution and development. Easily overlooked is the fact that there is no possibility of a peaceful world if all strive for greater affluence and increased GDP and therefore compete more and more fiercely for scarce resources.  “If you want affluence then arm heavily.”  You can only solve these problems if you change to a very different kind of society, and culture. 

The foregoing general analysis of our grossly unsustainable and unjust global situation has been argued by many scientists and others for more than 40 years now, but it has been almost impossible to get the mainstream to take any notice.  Politicians, bureaucrats, teachers, journalists, economists and ordinary people flatly refuse to even think about the way the quest for affluence and growth, and an economic system driven by these obsessions, are the basic causes of our alarming global problems. The problem is one of ideology, a wilful self-delusion and refusal to question cherished assumptions.  

“No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately harm jobs and growth in their country.” ..................Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, Melbourne Age, 10th June, 2014.           

“No country is going to take action on climate change that will deliberately destroy growth and jobs.” ..................S. Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, ABC News, Tuesday c. 10th June, 2014.

What will happen?  Many have warned that we are heading for an enormous breakdown. It is likely that increasing resource scarcity, especially of energy, will trigger either a series of worsening crises and rallies within the global economy, or a sudden large scale collapse, to a state from which there will be no full recovery. Important here is the immense complexity, fragility and interdependence of the global economy today.  (The alarming situation is analysed by many, including Tainter 1988, Korowicz 2012, Beddington 2009, Morgan 2013, Mason 2013.) The financial system is the most fragile. There are now huge levels of debt meaning that creditors can suddenly lose confidence that debt will re repaid, and thus refuse to extend further loans. This can immediately terminate production and supply networks.  Systems now  have little resilience; e.g., if supplies are cut supermarkets will run out of food in a few days. “Just in time“ supply to producers means that failure at one point can have rapid cascading effects, e.g. in crucial spare parts for electricity, water or sewage systems.

It is increasingly being understood how heavily the economy depends on the price of energy. Whenever US expenditure on energy rises to 10% of GDP there is almost always a recession.  Energy prices are likely to rise significantly as oil and gas fields run down and efforts are made to reduce coal use ( … although large rises and falls are likely in the short run; many expect “…a bumpy road down”.) Meanwhile the Energy Return on energy invested in producing energy is falling fast, meaning availability and price will deteriorate.

These difficulties will surely increase political tensions between nations, primarily to do with their efforts to get hold of more resources. Poorer and weaker nations will be trampled in these struggles, increasing discontent and destabilising regions, adding to the difficulties and costs of securing resource supply lines.

A sudden catastrophic financial collapse is very likely at some point, in view of the astronomical levels of debt already hanging over all nations, and the difficulties that increasing scarcity will add to finding profitable investment outlets for the now vast amounts of capital seeking investment opportunities. The very large numbers in the Third World who have been drawn/forced into dependence on the global economy for jobs and necessities will be hardest hit. The rich world poor will also be heavily impacted. The few still living as peasants and tribal people will be in the best position of all the world’s people.

As economies falter in the richest countries it is likely that governments will have to resort to repression and denial of civil liberties in order to control increasingly angry, desperate and confused people who are being cast further into deprivation. The middle classes will support these repressive measures, to protect their property and privileges. Welfare etc. expenditures will be savagely cut (except for prisons) as state budgets deteriorate. Environmental protection will be cut back as unaffordable and impeding economic recovery. Thus many feedback effects will intensify the crisis.

It is difficult to see how these kinds of developments could be avoided, unless there is fundamental change to very different systems.  The hope is that as the problems begin to impact this will lead enough people to see the need for radical transition.



If the foregoing argument is basically valid the key principles for a sustainable and just society must be:


The following elaboration on these principles indicates the reasons for thinking that it would be easy to move to The Simpler Way --- if we wanted to --- and that it would liberate us from the consumer-capitalist rat race and provide all with a much higher quality of life.

Simpler lifestyles

Living more simply does not mean deprivation or hardship.  It means being content with what is sufficient for comfort, hygiene, efficiency, etc.  Most of our basic needs can be met by quite simple and resource-cheap devices and ways, compared with the luxury, expensiveness and waste taken for granted and idolised in consumer society.

Living in ways that are frugal and that minimise resource use should not be seen as an irksome sacrifice that must be made in order to save the planet.  These ways can be important sources of life satisfaction.  We have to come to see as enjoyable many activities such as gardening, "husbanding" resources, making rather than buying, composting, repairing, bottling fruit, giving surpluses and old things to others, making things last, and running a productive and relatively self-sufficient household economy.  In addition there will be many resource-cheap sources of interest and enjoyment within the local community, including the arts and crafts  groups, the working bees, celebrations, concerts and festivals.                              

Local economic self-sufficiency

We must develop as much self-sufficiency as we reasonably can at the national level, meaning much less international trade, and especially at the household level, and the neighbourhood, suburban, town and local regional level.  We need to convert our presently barren suburbs into thriving economies which produce most of what they need from local resources.  They would contain many small enterprises, such as the local bakery, enabling most of us to get to work by bicycle or on foot.  Much of our honey, crockery, vegetables, furniture, fruit, fish and poultry production could come from households and backyard businesses engaged in craft and hobby production.  It is much more satisfying to produce in craft ways rather than in industrial factories.  There would be many little firms throughout and close to settlements, some would be co-operatives but many could be privately owned, giving people the satisfaction of running their own small business.  They would mostly produce for local use, not to export from the region. Thus most people would work locally, eliminating most travel to work.

Many very small market gardens could be located throughout the suburbs and cities, e.g. on derelict factory sites and beside railway lines.  Having food produced close to where people live would enable all nutrients to be recycled back to the soil through animals, compost heaps and garbage gas units.  Grain and dairy products would come from areas as close to towns as possible.  Meat consumption could be greatly reduced but could mostly come from small animals such as poultry, rabbits and fish, rather than cattle.  Some sheep would graze orchards and woodlands to produce wool.  Food quality would be much higher than it is now.  There would be almost no need for food packaging, transport, or marketing and little need for fridges.

Because there will be far less need for transport, we could dig up many roads, greatly increasing city land area available for community gardens, workshops, ponds, forests etc.  Most of your neighbourhood could become a Permaculture jungle, an "edible landscape" crammed with long-lived, largely self-maintaining productive plants such as fruit and nut trees. We should convert one house on each block to become a neighbourhood workshop, including a recycling store, meeting place, craft rooms, art gallery, tool library, surplus exchange and library.

There would also be many varieties of animals living in our neighbourhoods, including an entire fishing industry based on small tanks and ponds.  In addition many materials can come from the communal woodlots, fruit trees, bamboo clumps, ponds, meadows and clay pits. Thus we will develop the “commons”, the community land and resources from which all can take food and materials.  All the wood needed for making furniture could come from those forests, via one small saw-bench located in what used to be a car port.  Small clay pits would provide clay for pottery and earth for mud bricks.

It would be a leisure-rich environment.  Suburbs at present are leisure deserts; there is not much to do so much money and energy is spent purchasing entertainment.  The alternative neighbourhood would be full of familiar people, small businesses, common projects, drama clubs, animals, gardens, farms, forests and alternative technologies and therefore providing lots of interesting things to observe and do.  Many crafts and hobbies are productive, such as gardening, sewing, knitting, and woodwork.  Any neighbourhood has abundant unused potential cultural and leisure resources including entertainers such as comedians, actors, artists, musicians, play writers, acrobats, jugglers and dancers. At present most Americans are watching a TV or computer screen 4+ hours a day for “leisure” purposes.  People would have many interesting things to do and therefore would be less inclined to travel at weekends and holidays, which would greatly reduce the national per capita footprint and energy consumption. The local leisure committee would organise a rich variety of concerts, festivals, mystery tours, visiting speakers and other activities.

More communal and cooperative ways.

We must share more things.  We could have a few stepladders, electric drills, etc., in the neighbourhood workshop, as distinct from one in most houses.  We would be on various voluntary rosters, committees and working bees to carry out most of the orchard pruning, child minding, nursing, basic educating and care of aged and disabled people in our area.  We would also perform most of the functions councils now carry out for us, such as maintaining our own parks and streets.  We would therefore need far fewer bureaucrats and professionals, reducing the amount of income we would need to earn to pay for services and to pay taxes.  (The Spanish anarchists ran whole towns without any bureaucracy, via many citizens’ committees and assemblies.  (See Dolgoff, 1990, and TSW 2018f.)  Especially important would be the sense of cooperation, solidarity, responsibility and empowerment that would be built by the voluntary community working bees.  We would be proud of the admirable town we worked together to build and run. 

The new economy.

There is no chance of making these changes if we retain the present economic system.   The fundamental concern in a satisfactory economy would simply be to apply the available local productive capacity to producing what all people need for a good life, with as little bother, resource use, work and waste as possible.

Most obviously there would have to be far less production and consumption going on, and there would have to be no growth. Market forces and the profit motive might have a minor place in an acceptable alternative economy, but they could not be allowed to continue as major determinants of economic affairs.  The basic economic priorities must be decided according to what is socially desirable and sensible.  The deciding must be via the town participatory democratic processes (below), not dictated by huge and distant state bureaucracies. Centralised, bureaucratic, authoritarian, big-state "socialism" could not run satisfactory town communities.  This does not mean the town must own all enterprises. Most of the small firms and farms might remain as privately owned ventures or cooperatives, so long as their goals did not include profit maximisation and growth.  Their goals would be to provide their owners and workers with stable, secure incomes and satisfying livelihoods, to provide goods and services the town needs, and to provide a sense of making a worthwhile contribution.

One of the most important aspects of the new town economy would be that there would be no unemployment.  It is easily eliminated, just by setting up cooperative gardens and workshops whereby those without jobs can work to produce things we need, being paid in our local currency which enables them to have a share of the things produced by our many cooperatives. 

Most people would need to work for money only one or two days a week, because they would not need to buy much, and many of the things they need such as fruit from the commons would come freely or could be paid for by contributions to community working bees. (In consumer society we probably work three times too hard!)  We could spend the other 5 or 6 days working/playing around the neighbourhood doing many varied, interesting and useful things every day.

The new national economy must be mostly made up of many small scale, local economies, so that most of the basic items we need are produced close to where we live, from local soils, forests and resources, by local skill and labour.  Some things like fridges and stoves would come from regional factories somewhat further away.  Very few items such as steel and cement would be moved long distances from big centralised factories. Very little would be transported from overseas, only important items such as high tech medical equipment that we could not produce conveniently.

These local systems would need to be supported and provided for by arrangements at the state level, for instance coordinating the rail system, although the role of the state in The Simpler Way vision is minimal. (See below.) There would have to be an effective, planned  distribution of medium sized industries (e.g., producing fridges, vehicles, railway carriages) throughout the land so that all towns can earn the small amount of export income they need to import the relatively few items not produced within their region.

Much of the new local economy would not involve money, and most people would not need to earn much money.  Many goods and services would be “free” from the commons and cooperatives run by our voluntary committees and working bees, and many would come to us via barter and the giving away of surpluses.  However we would have town banks and business incubators to enable us to set up the firms we need. The Spanish town of Mondragon pr9ovides this kind of support for new businesses. In a zero-growth economy there can be no interest paid. That means most of the finance industry will have to be phased out!)

There would be many “mutuals” and co-operatives, just groups of people with common needs and interests, e.g., child-minding, house building, or bee keeping, who come together to share ideas, labour and good will and to develop and run things.  In general co-ops are far more efficient and productive than private firms.  The town would assist co-operatives to provide necessary goods, using working bee labour and interest-free loans.

The town economy will have two sectors.  The foregoing comments refer to those processes which the town sets up and runs to meet its basic needs, to ensure that everyone is provided for well enough to have a satisfying life. Our town meetings and committees would research what the town needs, for instance is more company for isolated old people needed, or more activities for bored young people?  It would then organise our resources to deal with those needs. This sector is what we call Economy B,  and what happened in it would not be driven by market forces or profit.  It would be planned and operated via rational, collective decisions focused on applying the town’s capacities to eliminating problems, making the town highly productive and self-sufficient, and maximising the welfare of the people living there.

Economy B would be gradually built up alongside the old Economy A, which would continue to provide some essentials that we could not produce in the town. Over time as the town became more self-sufficient Economy A would shrink.  It might remain as the domain in which non-essentials were provided.  For example if someone wants to make elaborate furniture or clothing they could see if there were enough people willing to buy these items, or if a hobbyist wants special materials she could see if these were being sold by a firm within Economy A.  In the longer term future we might see that various important goods can come from this private sector, or we might opt to phase it out entirely; we don’t have to decide now.

                                 Government and politics.

The political situation would be very different compared with today. The focus for government would not be at the state level, but at the level of the town or suburb. That’s where most of the decisions that determine our welfare would (have to) be made. There would (have to) be genuine participatory democracy.  This would be made possible by the smallness of scale.  Big centralised governments cannot possibly run our small local communities. That can only be done by the people who live in them because they are the only ones who would understand the local conditions, know what will grow best there, how often frosts occur, how people there think and what they want, what the traditions are, what strategies will and won’t work there, etc.  They have to do the planning, make the decisions, run the systems and do the work. The town will not function well unless its people “own” it.  In any case in an era of intense scarcity we will not be able to afford much centralised and professional government.  Above all the town will not work well unless people contribute willingly, enjoy doing this, and have control over their situation.  These conditions are incompatible with centralised control.

Most of our local policies and programs could be drafted by elected unpaid committees (with advice from experts where appropriate) but all people in the town would vote on these at regular town meetings.  There would still be some functions for state and national governments, but relatively few, and there will be a role for some international agencies and arrangements.  The production of items such as steel, computers and railway equipment would need to be coordinated across large regions and internationally.  (In the 1930s the Spanish anarchists were able to organise and coordinate these big wider regional economic functions via their citizen assemblies and committees, without any paid politicians or bureaucracy.) 

The core governing institutions will (have to) be voluntary committees, town meetings, direct votes on issues, and especially informal public discussion in everyday situations.  In a sound self-governing community the fundamental political processes take place through discussions in cafes, kitchens and town squares, because this is where the issues can be slowly thrashed out until the best solutions for all come to be generally recognised.  The chances of a policy working out well will depend on how content everyone is with it.  Consensus and commitment are best achieved through a slow and sometimes clumsy process of formal and informal consideration in which the real decision making work is done long before the meeting when the vote is taken. 

So politics will again become participatory and part of every citizen’s daily life, as was the case in Ancient Greece.  This is not optional; we must do things in these participatory, cooperative ways or the right decisions for the town will not be found and people will not “own” the decisions and will not try hard to make them work.

Thus our intense dependence on our local ecosystems and social systems will also radically transform politics.  The focal concern will be to work out what policies will work best for the town and region.  Politics will not be primarily about individuals and groups in zero-sum competition to get what they want from a central state.  There will be powerful incentives towards a much more collectivist outlook, to find solutions all are content with. Everyone’s welfare will depend on there being a high level of morale, good will, concern for the public interest and eagerness to contribute.  We as individuals will only live well if our town thrives.  Without a cooperative and happy climate people will not conscientiously and energetically turn up to committees, working bees, celebrations and town meetings.  The situation would require and reward good citizenship.

Note that these crucial changes must be made in economic, geographical and political structures and systems.  They can’t be made just by individuals changing their lifestyles.

                            The  new values and worldview.

The biggest and most difficult changes will have to be in world view and values.  The present commitment to individualistic competition for affluent-consumer “living standards” and endless increases in wealth must be replaced by being happy to live simply, cooperatively, and self-sufficiently in admirable and csring communities, and to find purpose and enjoyment in non-material pursuits. 

Obviously the chances of the present society making such huge changes in world view are not at all good.  However the foregoing argument has been that we will make them or fail to get through to a sustainable and just society. The coming era of intense scarcity will jolt people into facing up to these issues. 

                            A higher quality of life.

People working for The Simpler Way have no doubt that the quality of life for most of us would be much higher than it is now.  We would have fewer material possessions and we would have much lower monetary incomes but there would be other powerful sources of life satisfaction.  These would include a much more relaxed pace, having to spend relatively little time working for money, having varied, enjoyable and worthwhile work to do, living in a supportive community, giving and receiving, growing some of our own food, keeping old clothes and devices in use, running a resource-cheap and efficient household, practising arts and crafts, participating in community activities, having a rich cultural experience involving local festivals, performances and celebrations, being involved in governing one’s town, living in a nice environment including farms and gardens, and being secure from unemployment and poverty and insecurity in old age or illness. Especially valuable would be the peace of mind that would come from knowing that you are not contributing to global problems through over-consumption. 

The main sources of our quality of life would be public.  Our private wealth and possessions would be of little significance.  What would matter is whether we lived in a culturally and ecologically rich community with lots of top quality artists, magical picnic spots and festivals.

                              Abandon modern technology?

It should be stressed that the Simpler Way would enable retention of all the high tech and modern ways that are socially desirable, e.g., in medicine, windmill design, public transport and household appliances.  We would still have national systems for some things, such as railways and telecommunications, but on nothing like the present scale.  We would have far more resources for science, research, education and the arts than we have now because we would have ceased wasting so many resources on unnecessary research and production, including most arms, advertising, aircraft and ships and roads, commercial entertainment, skyscrapers, packaging, fashion, electronic games…

                               The significance of integration.


The crucial importance of integration of functions and systems must be stressed here. This is why a sustainable society must be based on small, local communities.  Only in these can the many inefficiencies and wastes of globalised consumer society be eliminated. Consider the supply of eggs:

Industrial/commercial/globalised egg production involves lots of steel, fuels, international transport, machinery, trucks, tractors, ships, chemicals, bank loans, insurance, outrageous CEO salaries, agribusiness feed production, packaging, advertising, cool rooms, supermarket lighting, offices and computers, experts with PhDs, and chickens crammed into bad conditions in big sheds. Manures become a waste problem because they cannot be returned to the soils they came from. Artificial fertilizers must be trucked to fields. Chemicals are needed to control disease in the crammed sheds…etc.

Backyard, co-op and small farm egg production makes it possible to eliminate almost all those costs. Kitchen and garden scraps can be fed to chickens and manure can go into the gardens and aquaponic ponds. Chickens clean up and cultivate garden beds, eat slugs etc., reducing the need for pesticides, find some of their own feed by free-ranging, provide meat, reproduce themselves, and are a source of diversity and entertainment in settlements. Backyard chickens are happy.

These multiple and overlapping functions, recyclings and synergies are possible because of the very small scale in localism. “Wastes” from one operation can become inputs to another close by with no transport energy cost. Sub-systems and operations are highly integrated. This includes social and psychological functions. If facilities for care of aged and unwell people are located in the middle of town beside the main community garden the people in them will be able to interact and observe and be involved, reducing the need for professional “carers” while improving their experience, the gardeners will benefit from their ideas. In a caring community where people only have to earn money  a few days a week many will have time to help out and chat, and to help old people to remain in their homes longer.

In addition there is the even more important phenomenon, social integration. You will have many overlapping relationships with people. In present socity we tend to have only one weak connection with most people we deal with; for instance you might know Mary only as the supermarket check out lady. But in a village the person who bakes your bread could also be the wicket keeper in your cricket team, the comedian at the concerts, chair of the fruit tree committee, the one who enticed your cat down from the roof last Easter, and your go-to man for bee hive advice. This is a multi-faceted familiarity involving a history of many connections and bonds with most individuals around you.  Your neighbourhood would have an extremely complex network of these connections feeding into many factors such as reputation and respect, community solidarity, readiness to care and support, collective wisdom, resilience and capacity to find solutions to problems. This enables synergism to flourish in small communities. One consequence is that the presently huge dollar and psychological costs of social breakdown will probably be largely if not entirely avoided. (Of course small communities can be oppressive too, but Eco-villages work on procedures and skills to make sure that discontents and problems are aired and dealt with.)

The importance of integrating functions is a central element in possibly the most impressive example of Simpler Way alternative development in existence today, the Catalan Integral Cooperative movement (TSW: 2018g.)

                            To summarise.

The Simpler Way vision would resolve many of the most serious problems we have now, would be practically workable, and would yield a higher quality of life than most have now in even the richest societies. Again it should be noted that thousands of people presently live in Eco-villages practising many of the ways described above. The Transition Towns movement seeks transform existing towns in this direction.


Following is an indication of the Simpler Way perspective on the transition process, and how best to work for it. (For the detail see TSW, 2018h.)

Our chances of achieving such an enormous transition are not good. It will only be when people are jolted by something like a serious and lasting petroleum shortage that they will realise that consumer-capitalist society is  not going to provide for them, and be ready to consider the alternatives we are putting forward.  It is likely that within the next two decades global resource and ecological problems will begin to impact heavily on the rich countries.  Our task is to work hard at spreading Simpler Way ideas so that when the troubles begin people will realise these make sense.

We do not have to get rid of consumer-capitalist society before we can begin to build the new way.  Fighting directly against the system at present is unnecessary and unwise.  The concern should not be to defeat it; we just need to start replacing it, by seeking to create an Economy B in the suburbs and towns where we live.

The transition will not be, and cannot be led by governments.  The Simpler Way cannot come into existence unless people in general want it and enthusiastically plunge into building it.  It is by definition about the willingness and eagerness of ordinary people to live frugally in highly self-sufficient and self-governing communities.  It can only be built and run by aware and conscientious citizens. The required understandings and values cannot be given or imposed by centralised governmental authorities.  Consequently in our situation it is a mistake to set out to take state power in order to change society.  Changing the state will take place much later, after the crucial cultural revolution has taken place. (See on Stage 2 below.)

This is the classical Anarchist perspective on transition, which recognises that a genuine revolution cannot take place unless it comes from deep and widespread commitment by the people to a new worldview.  Nothing would be achieved by taking state power while most people do not have the ideas and attitudes required to run the new communities well. When most people opt for The Simpler Way the revolution will have been won, and remaking the state etc. along new lines will be a fairly easy consequence.

The task for activists here and now is therefore working to get people to see the desirability of moving to The Simpler Way in the places where they live.  The main target, the main problem group, the basic block to progress, is not the corporations or the capitalist class.  They have their power because people in general grant it to them.  The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general.  If they came to see The Simpler Way as preferable, consumer-capitalist society would quickly fade away. 

Therefore the most effective thing to do is to work here and now, within the settlements we live in, to create elements of the new society. The main goal is not to construct more compost heaps and community gardens etc., important though that is, but to be in the best position to attract the people in the town or suburb to The Simpler Way perspective.


Over the last decade or so many people around the world have begun to build, live in and experiment with more sustainable settlements especially within the Eco-Village and Transition Towns movements.  But these initiatives are not clearly driven by a Simpler Way perspective; they do not focus on radical lifestyle simplicity, the need for communities to take control of their fate via town self-government, or the fact that the global economy has to be largely scrapped.  The things they are doing are desirable but too limited.  They will not achieve the big structural changes needed. (For a friendly critique of the Transition Towns movement see TSW, 2018i.)

We do not want a sudden collapse of the present economy; we need time to establish the alternatives for people to move across to.  But change will be rapid when it comes, because people will realise that the old system cannot provide for them.

At a later point in time huge structural changes will have to be made at the level of the state and the national economy; that is Stage 2 of the revolution, and it could be relatively easily achieved if Stage 1 is achieved well.



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