Dear Liz Truss,
In your recent speech at the Conservative party conference you mentioned growth 29 times; said “I will not allow the anti-growth coalition to hold us back” and named Extinction Rebellion as part of this coalition.
Thank you for opening up this critical conversation. We appreciate the opportunity to share our understanding and we hope many others will join us for a grown up conversation in these urgent times.
We know that members of your party understand our concerns, and are also worried about your economic ideology. When we met Michael Gove in 2019 he said:
“We have had an economic model for generations which has been extractive and exploitative, and in the same way as we’ve created debt fuelled economic growth that creates a burden for the next generation, so our approach towards natural resources has had to change and we’re wrestling as a government with how to do that, how to move towards a more circular economy. And also how to re think different parts of our economy, and again we may disagree over the imperative or the importance placed on growth, but certainly how we can achieve a greater degree of human flourishing and at the same time be more respectful to the limited resources that the earth has and critically also recognise that its not simply about drawing down resources, the earth is a system, our environment is a system of which we are a part and if we do violence to it then we are doing violence to ourselves, we are hacking at the tree of life.”
There are many forms of growth that are beneficial. Specific sectors of our economy badly need to grow, for example homegrown sources of renewable energy. A sector that would do so much better if this supposed free market was not distorted by the vast subsidies the UK gives to fossil fuels.
However, the data is clear, growth for growth’s sake, without limits, without purpose, is destroying life on earth. When unfettered growth happens in a human body we call it cancer. Economic growth is only beneficial up to a certain point, beyond which it is harmful to people and planet. Economic growth is lucrative to those who are already wealthy (who unsurprisingly then insist on keeping it as the focus). Trickle down economics has failed us for a long time, everyone knows it’s just an out of date idea, not a realistic method that improves the lives of the general public. When we are measuring GDP we would best consider it a measure of the Gross Destruction of the Planet by the Greedy Death Project!
Do you not agree when Margaret Thatcher said “We should always remember that free markets are a means to an end. They would defeat their object if by their output they did more damage to the quality of life through pollution than the well-being they achieve by the production of goods and services”?
Extinction Rebellion are calling for a Well Being economy, which has a clear and measured purpose to maximise wellness and minimise harm; at home and across the world. There is no shortage of fantastic ideas about how to achieve that, including ideas to support circular uses of materials whilst staying within planetary and social boundaries. We love imaginative ideas, such as regenerative finance and mission based economics; where there could be a focus of our specific strengths on tackling major challenges together, making use of the innovation and delivery capabilities in business and markets, the organising capacities of our civil service, the intellect of our academics. We are a wealthy country, we could afford to pay for universal basic services and lead the world on tackling the climate and ecological crisis. And Extinction Rebellion champions assemblies of ordinary people, to think together with experts about how to make this vital transition.
Because it doesn’t matter how attached your Government is, Ms. Truss, to a specific form of free market ideology. Physics and ecology are ultimately in charge and the life support systems of the earth are starting to tip. Doubling down on the extraction of fossil fuels commits our children and grandchildren here and globally to lives where food production fails and civilisation collapses. We charge that members of your Government, who are making decisions now, against the advice of scientists and international bodies, are committing crimes against humanity.
We see truths shared from many quarters. King Charles has said “We need nothing short of a paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace.” The Chief Executive of Shell Ben Van Beurden recently called for a windfall tax and Philip Kotler, father of modern marketing called for Degrowth (the academic term for an economy focussed on Wellbeing) In October 2018 the IPCC said that limiting global warming would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.
People will become increasingly desperate in this country as the consequences of years of terrible choices come home and impact us all. Choices to sell off our assets, to poison our food, air and water; while at the same time we failed to invest in homegrown renewables and insulate homes. We are left with little security and a cost of living scandal. Over 20,000 people in the UK already died unnecessarily this year since April. Those with the least responsibility for these crises are suffering in the millions, battered and uprooted by climate disasters, from the Horn of Africa, to Bangladesh, to Mozambique, to Pakistan.
We see the callousness and the corruption and the refusal to face reality. Those of us who have the capacity and the conscience will do all we can to stop this death machine. There are a growing number of people who just can’t pay the bills that are mounting and others who won’t work for poverty wages, unable to make ends meet despite their hard work (though I understand you, Liz Truss, think British workers “need more graft”). We will strike bill payments in solidarity and strength, and we will not let you frack the British countryside, poison the water and the people.
Yes, we are uniting, because we believe in our shared humanity, we love our country, and this Earth, and we are willing to take responsibility, whether that comes at a cost to us, on behalf of our collective wellbeing.
A key aspect of civil disobedience is a belief in the need to talk. I would welcome a dialogue with yourself or colleagues – please be in touch!
Dr. Gail Bradbrook, Co-Founder Extinction Rebellion
Notes for Editors
- A systematic review of the evidence on decoupling of GDP, resource use and GHG emissions, part I: bibliometric and conceptual mapping https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/159385/; Tim Parrique https://unevenearth.org/2020/06/decoupling/ Limits to Growth review https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3xw3x/new-research-vindicates-1972-mit-prediction-that-society-will-collapse-soon
- When countries have low GDP, economic growth brings a high marginal benefit. But, for developed countries with high GDP, the marginal benefit of economic growth is lower. There is a diminishing marginal utility of extra income and at higher levels, the problems of growth may outweigh the benefits. https://www.economicshelp.org/macroeconomics/economic-growth/benefits-growth/
- The academic term is Degrowth – eg see Jason Hickel Less is More, https://weall.org/ etc
- Circular Economy eg https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview
- Doughnut Economics https://doughnuteconomics.org/about-doughnut-economics
- Eg https://thefinanser.com/2022/10/what-is-regenerative-finance-refi-part-one
- Mariana Mazzucato https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/missions-could-make-europe-cool-again-prof-mariana-mazzucato
- UBS eg https://universalbasicservices.org/; Calls for UK to not drop its commitments : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/03/cop27-host-egypt-warns-uk-not-backtrack-climate-agenda
- Philip Kotler, father of modern marketing, supports degrowth: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/ben-tolhurst_degrowth-the-case-for-constraining-consumption-activity-6982821869351510016-jRQb?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_ios