Cooperative Accumulation

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Mike Lewis:

"Co-operative accumulation must be framed as one important means (Michel`s point) to navigate the cascade of challenges flowing from the need to rapidly uncouple fossil fuels as our primary energy source.

If it is not explicitly linked to the incontrovertible need to transition to a low carbon economy, then it is too easy to have it captured by the grand assumption of the dominant discourse on the economy, the vital necessity of economic growth to human well-being. What we know is that opposite is true, at least in ultimate terms.

We are gobbling up 1.4 times the earth now and projected to gobble up 3 earths within 37 years. Our current GDP (much of it carbon laden) is $69 trillion and projected to go to $180 trillion in 37 years. And if this happens carbon will reach 555 ppm in 37 years, way beyond the scientists boundary of catastrophic. And, unfortunately, it is now presumed we have 5 times the volume of fossil fuels in the ground needed to take us over the 2 degree limit, thought to be inevitable at 450 ppm.

My point is this, the language of accumulation has the danger of becoming associated with the neo-liberal zeitgeist of our times, a set of assumptions that elevate, economic growth, consumption and the freedom of capital into a holy trinity. An extreme distortion of `cooperative accumulation` can be imagined, for example, a movement that unwittingly spends its time, energy and resources to creating a more equitable and convivial way of travelling the road to precipice. Extreme? Indeed!

My point is that if we do not explicitly frame `co-operative accumulation` as a means to marshal our resources to address the core challenge of our species - how to transition to a steady state economy that gets us back to living within the limits of one earth – we will have missed the point.

The positive meaning one can associate cooperative accumulation within our given context is three fold, or so it seems to me.

1. Co-operative accumulation implies democratic ownership which holds within it the possibility for collectively shaping the priorities for reinvestment of surplus into transition to a low carbon, steady state economy. (though it is not guaranteed, as we know many co-operatives are captured by the growth impulse of our culture)

2. The nature of the unprecedented global crisis we are in the midst of has major implications for the 15,000 mile oil soaked supply chains of our current global economic model. Basic need provision – energy, food, shelter – is going to trend towards the local, regional and national. The challenge is how to become much more self-reliant with less oil. A greater emphasis on local and regional markets, distributed and decentralized ownership, rescaling of infrastructure, mobilizing capital closer to home for investment closer to home, etc. are all part of what we need to achieve

The qualities of spirit needed to sustain the necessary effort – cooperation and solidarity – are not only important attitudes, they are vital resource in and of themselves. The features of the kinds of organizations we need to sustain the necessary effort are those which recalibrate how we invest and organize to get the strategic tasks of transition done. By definition community benefit and carbon reduction is high in the hierarchy of metrics. By definition, any organization must have written into its DNA ways in which surplus is reinvested in the tasks of transition to a low carbon future where the well-being of people and planet are primary.

It seems to me that if economic surplus is generated for the purposes set out herein, it can be interrogated and comprehended by the productive purpose out of which the surplus arises and basis upon which it is reinvested. In contrast, if learning and practically advancing our capacity to live within the limits of the earth is not explicit, then I would say it is, at least in pedagogical terms, the use of the term co-operative accumulation is conceptually lacking.

3. Co-operative accumulation can also be understood as an expanding resource feeding a reservoir of non-material abundance. Here I am exploring the cultural change aspect of our challenges. Co-operative accumulation may not be the best term for elevating cultural meaning I am trying to articulate, but it is important, nonetheless. It may be part of the language we need to invent to bridge from the ancient story line we have been enacting over millennia to the new story we are trying to write and attach meaning to.

As human beings we have evolved and continue to enact of a story that has its roots in the agricultural revolution. In this story the world is made for us. We are the pinnacle of evolution. Thus we are entitled to exercise dominion of the resources and creatures of the earth. In short, the idea that the world is made for us is deeply embedded in our psyche. In the last 160 years, the age of fossil fuels, the unparalleled extension of human influence and power by the magic elixir of oil has enabled us to elevate `the truth of our dominion`. We are now the dominant force shaping the face of the planet, the species that ushered in the age of the anthropocene.

The story we need to recover, one that is still found in the remnants of indigenous cultures, is that human beings belong to the world. Herein lies the very heart of our struggle around language.

On the one hand we need to be precise in our use of language for all the reasons people such as those on this thread know. On the other hand, we just imbue our use of language with consciousness that part of what we must do is link our that unwittingly may contribute to the continuance of assumptions that are part of the old story. Thus the concern with the term accumulation. It is loaded with old story associations.

In summary, co-operative accumulation, if it is to be imbued with meaning in the new story, might be best seen is a result arising from actions consciously embedded in an agenda of transition to a ‘one earth’ goal. This is the story we need to learn to enact at every level, one we once knew as a species. Our new story has something to do with being a creative member species learning to become one part of live within the limits of the earth. This would surely be a credit to the best within us. Centuries from now our descendants could do moocs about how we actually evolved (I know, it is hard to believe just now perhaps) thus enabling the ongoing story of the evolution to be written, not just of human beings, but of all species. After all, we are just one species in an evolving world. " (email, September 2013)