Restart Leicestershire

An idea for a research project. Can be linked to application for Leverhulme grant under its “Innovation for Sustainable Living” theme (deadline=3.10.2013).

Complementary to the strands suggested below are perhaps three overarching themes:

A. Physical environment and ecology;
B. Social relations, social organisation, institutions;
C. Technology.

Markets have failed. Nicolas Stern has described climate change as ‘the greatest market failure the world has ever seen’ — and it shows no sign of being corrected anytime soon. The costs — for human beings — of ignoring climate change are catastrophic. But markets are also failing human beings in the here and now. Rising inequality; greater poverty; risk of social breakdown. Pensions crisis. More general crisis of elder care. We can understand this a crisis of social reproduction. (See George Caffentzis, ‘On the notion of a crisis in social reproduction: a theoretical review‘, The Commoner, 2002.) According to a recent GlobeScan survey only 57% of people in the UK believe ‘the free market is the best system of which to base the future of the world’ — a very low number given the lack of alternative visions. Even fewer people (50%) have ‘trust in global business’. These findings are replicated across the planet and echo those of two earlier BBC global polls.

LeicestershireThis project attempts to provide such an alternative vision on a local level — Leicestershire. Leicestershire covers an area of 2,150 square kilometres and currently has a population of almost 1 million people. Its scope will range from the concrete to the highly speculative and could involve collaboration across a wide range of disciplines: agricultural science, architecture, civil, mechanical and structural engineering climate and environmental science, finance, organisation studies, political science, psychology, science and technology studies, sociology, urban planning.

The project involves a number of strands or themes.

1. What will the territory that Leicestershire covers be like physically/environmentally in 50 years, in 100 years, in 150 years? Particularly in terms of climate, average temperatures, rainfall, seasonal variations, etc. If the planet warms by an average of 2 degrees, 3 degrees, 4 degrees.

2. What are the implications of 1. for agriculture and also for infrastructure?

3. The underpinning political-philosophy or value-system is that human needs and reproducing human beings must take priority over market rationality. Democracy is also a core value. This is the perspective of the commons (see Elinor Ostrom, “Beyond markets and states: polycentric governance of complex economic systems“; Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All; for a review of literature on commons and commoning, see Massimo De Angelis and David Harvie, “The Commons”, forthcoming in Martin Parker, George Cheney, Valérie Fournier and Chris Land (eds) The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization) and leads to operating principle of localism (which must be anti-xenophobic — see below) and broad self-sufficiency — food sovereignty, but also energy-sovereignty, health-sovereignty, etc. Such an approach also requires a reconceptualisation of work: in summary, many more people will contribute to production of food (but the challenge is to avoid the “social retrogression” associated with “back to the land” conceptions); the work of social reproduction (in particular care for young, old and sick) must be accorded far greater value; but many jobs will disappear — they will no longer be necessary — and so people will not have to work harder or longer. But one aim of the research project is to assess whether this is really the case.

The remaining research themes follow:

4. Could Leicestershire be largely self-sufficient in food, i.e. could it provide staples for a million people? If so, what sort of diet could we enjoy? How could such a diet be improved? Can we create 21st century equivalent of Victorian orangeries, e.g. Temperate House at Kew Gardens. temperate-house I.e. can we grow coffee and tea and oranges and spices — or must we ‘trade’? What are the energy requirements of this type of agriculture — both human and non-human energy?

5. Energy. What are the energy needs? For agriculture. For heating. For transport. How can these needs be met? Can we invent human-powered machines that replace hydro-carbon-fuelled agricultural machines? Think of the dynapod. How can we harness human energy in other ways?dynapod


gym-exercise-bikes6. Transport. What are the transport needs? For humans. For goods. What infrastructure might be built?  ‘Busways’? Sheltered velo-ways, velo-lifts. What types of human-powered vehicles (HPVs) or velomobiles might be designed or adapted?

7. Other infrastructure. How can the built environment be modified to meet human needs in a low-carbon society? If there are fewer cars then need less road space: Chris Carlsson has suggested ‘one lane for veg’. Leicester has nine multi-storey carparks. How could such structures be adapted? Could they be used to grow mushrooms? To play 5-a-side football?multi-storey

8. Social organisation. Clearly food, energy and transport are mutually determined. It’s almost certain more people will have be involved in agriculture; it’s almost certain people will have to reduce their (non-human) energy needs. This necessitates shifts in social organisation. Which, in turn, is related to architecture, urban planning, etc., not only technology.

The ideas here are very much influenced by those of P.M., in bolo’bolo, “It’s all about potatoes and computers” and Restart Switzerland. P.M. suggests various levels of social organisation, ranging from neighbourhoods (approx. 500 people), through cities and regions (between 100,000 and 1 million people), up to planetary level. If we accepted this broad schema, then Leicestershire would be classified as a region that might be made up of roughly 2000 neighbourhoods.

PM 3 spheresShifting patterns of work over the year. Perhaps large numbers of people engage in agricultural work during busy seasons — planting and harvest.

Eldercare and childcare: The “pensions crisis” is just aspect of a wider crisis of eldercare. In many countries, including the UK, retirement ages are being raised, and we might expect many people to work into their 70s. This prospect is unattractive, yet equally unattractive is the feeling that one is no longer of worth to society. At the same time, there are concerns about the extent and quality of nursery provision for young children. (Consider recent “relaxation” in rules governing number of toddlers nurseries and childminders can care for.) Perhaps a solution to both problems is to create new institutions in which elders can live and work alongside youngers. At present, many old folk are lonely; most children want attention!

Hospitality: we do not wish to promote chauvinism, jingoism, etc. Instead, we think it desirable that citizens can travel and can experience other cultures, environments, etc. So how can guests be accommodated?

What role, if any, might money play? Work on alternative currencies. Relates to questions about information and coordination and, even more broadly, economic governance.

9. Debt and “reparations”: as many bodies have recognised, climate change is already resulting in increasing flows of migrants and may lead to a billion displaced people by the middle of the century. Such migration is an important element in many (rich) states’ security planning. From the other side, poor countries have adopted language of “reparations”, demanding that they be compensated for their exposure to climatic and environmental changes not of their own making. Both ethics and self-interest would suggest that displaced people and other migrants be accommodated elsewhere. (Self-interest because the “security” spending necessary to repel such refugees would represent an enormous burden on scarce resources.) How might Leicestershire play a role in such accommodation?

10. Can the above be repeated for another, possibly more challenging region, such as London or part of it? A number of scholars have suggested that cities have more potential for environmentally-sustainable living, but megacities pose challenges in terms of access to agricultural land. In such cities some buildings might have to be removed or greened (e.g. green roofs) to create more farmland.

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2 thoughts on “Restart Leicestershire

  1. Interesting stuff! Just a note to flag up that if you get to the stage of pulling together a proposal, I’d expect that Transition Leicester would love to be involved, so do get in touch!

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