Going to the Moon
We are going back to the Moon.
In 2023 and 2024 there will be the first woman, and the next man, on the Moon. These landings are planned as the next ‘giant step for mankind’ before creating Moon bases for mining purposes by 2028. In turn, these bases could be the launch pad to “enable human expansion across the solar system”. Next stop Mars.
But already there’s dispute. Space exploration is no longer the exclusive preserve of Cold War rivals. The UK, Japan, Italy, Canada and the UAE are all at it. So is Elon Musk- complete with Bolivian coup threats to ensure the lithium keeps flowing.
Who governs space?
There is a document dated from 1967 called the “Outer Space Treaty” upon which most of the rules governing the use of space are based. It says “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”.
But this is due to be replaced by the NASA-led “Artemis Accords” agreed this month by the USA, UK, Italy, Canada, Australia, UAE and Japan, but not significantly Russia or China. The Accords govern the exploration of the Moon and extraction of its resources; but Russia and China suspect, probably with some validity, that the western powers are stitching the Moon up for themselves.
The Moon is being treated like a colony and our actions are in clear breach of the Prime Directive- enforced by the Trumpian formation of the US Space Force as a vanity sci-fi pastiche, the weaponisation of the galaxy. The first thing we do when we strike out is begin mining: having eroded the basis of life on earth, where else is there to boldly go but off-world: taking imperialism into the cosmos?
Quebecois theatrical director Robert Lepage once wrote that while the Soviet space programme was about “exploring the cosmos” the American astronauts were “shooting for the stars”. Today such romantic semantics are redundant. We’re going to the Moon to mine.
The Space Shuttle programme served the same purpose of making us think we’re going someplace. Get over it. This light balm of eye-wateringly expensive self-delusion might have been plausible whilst we talked of the ‘white heat of technology’, had J.T. Kirk and J.F.K. at the helm, but now that we’re deep into climate chaos trauma, omnicide and trillions of pounds in hock, it’s all looking a little less fun.
As Maciej Cegłowski puts it:
“When the Cold War fizzled out towards the end of the eighties, NASA rebranded the Shuttle as a way of jump-starting the leap of capitalism from the Earth’s surface to outer space, offering a variety of heavily subsidized research platforms for the private sector (which proved remarkably resistant to the allure of a manufacturing environment where raw materials cost $40,000/kg).”
We may not even be the only civilisation that has gone down this pathway. Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department, discusses possible evidence for extraterrestrial civilisations with advanced technologies who have become extinct. Loeb urges us to take heed of what may well be their space junk: “As soon as it becomes clear that there really have been many civilizations that have become extinct, I believe that people will learn the right lesson. And if we discover remnants of advanced technologies, they will prove to us that we are only at the start of the road; and that if we don’t continue down that road, we will miss a great deal of what there is to see and experience in the universe.”
The task is not – we think – “re-industrialisation”, “astropolitics” or conquering space. It is not to transpose our imperialist and extractivist ways outwards, but to create new systems from our failing ones and nurture new values from the ethics that have brought us to the brink of destruction.
This means re-inhabitation and decolonisation, creating a restorative practice and challenging the concept of endless growth.
Down to Earth
This deep connection between coloniality and extractivism is at the heart of our degrowth analysis. Fantasies of interplanetary ascension are inevitably caught in the gravitational pull of our fragile, complex embodiment on Earth. Scotland’s contribution to all this is a lens in which to sum up the state of the nation. Glasgow manufactures more satellites than anywhere in the world outside California, while the proposed space port in A’Mhòine Peninsula, Sutherland is opposed by those who fear the impact on wildlife, ecosystems and habitats. Chief among the objectors is local landowner Anders Holch Povlsen, an advocate for rewilding and reforestation. The inconvenient truth is that Mr Holch Povlsen is Scotland’s biggest landowner, claiming thousands in public cash for forestry and farming while contributing no tax to the common good on his Scottish property- except in Denmark, where tax he pays on his land in Scotland pays for Danish kindergartens and health centres. Mr Holch Povlsen made his billions selling ‘fast fashion’ garments cheaply through his companies such as Asos, designed to be worn a few times then disposed of, manufactured in the majority world by workers in inhumane conditions who have been known to go unpaid. Meanwhile this contested ‘wilderness’ suitable for space travel is only devoid of population in the first place as a legacy of the Sutherland Clearances, during which settlements which were not considered to contribute to economic growth were cleared for more productive sheep farming, the inhabitants ‘set adrift upon the world’, ending up in places like Canada where the recapitulation of cycles of violence continued as settler colonialism.
Let’s reground ourselves. As the days of 2020 are shortening, we begin to reflect on a year that brought difficulties and grief to so many.As we grapple with the new realities of permanent crisis, it becomes clear that the old green narratives of sustainability transitions and reform no longer hold (or never held in the first place). The challenging path ahead needs to not only question the underlying economic principles that not only undermine our life support systems, but also had disastrous effects during the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Degrowth economics calls for new economic principles that allow for radically different ways of organising our work and livelihoods. In Scotland that means living and working as if we are in the early days of a just and redistributed economy within our fair share of planetary boundaries.
For many challenging growth is terrifying.
“Degrowth” is a provocation, a lifeline and a call to focus on what really matters. The idea is not to degrow everything. The pandemic has spotlighted the necessity of care work, which must be central to an economic recovery, as well as other workers that are essential for our physical, social and cultural flourishing. Meanwhile, we must shrink those sectors of the economy which threaten our survival.
“A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.)”
– David Graeber (1961 – 2020) from ‘Bullshit Jobs’
It’s in the context of this complexity, precarity and predicament that we offer you a warm welcome to the first issue of LESS, a journal on degrowth, radical sufficiency and decolonisation in Scotland.
LESS questions and challenges dominant narratives about what economic progress means in Scotland, and sketches out alternative visions. The focus is on collective and democratic solutions to sustaining livelihoods that meet people’s needs while rising to the threats of climate change, ecocide and mass extinction, inequality, racism and the far right, and the interconnected oppressive and extractivist logic and mechanisms that feed all of those.
Our first issue grapples with the question, what does degrowth mean in Scotland during the pandemic and for plans for an economic recovery?
One of the central myths of the growth economy, and the growth mindset is that economic growth creates abundance for all: jobs, prosperity and progress. The biggest lie that capitalism has told us is that growth equals life and that exponential growth is sustainable for all time. Both the left and the right are enthralled to that mythology: productivism and consumerism being two sides of one coin.
In ‘Degrowth and Community’ Gehan Macleod begins to take some of this mythology apart, writing: “The “right thing” to do, or the moral imperative, is clearly apparent. The kind of wholescale restructuring of society necessitated by degrowth carries opportunities to right past wrongs, and crucially the means to redistribute wealth, resources, freedoms and security more equitably. This constitutes effectively ‘doing right’ by those communities who have least benefited from economic growth and its technological advances – often the very communities who’ve been subjected to the most damaging extractive processes.That said, I want to explore not what ‘degrowth might do for community’ but rather what community might do for degrowth. To do that, it’s necessary to start sketching out what has happened to communities over the preceding centuries.”
One of the key aims of this journal – and of the wider work of the Enough Collective – is to collapse the divide between ‘brain work and hand work’ between the abstract and the concrete. Each issue we will be exploring key projects and communities that are demonstrating degrowth on the ground, here and now. In this issue (‘Climavore, Tool Libraries and Re-Makery’) we look at the work of food activists on Skye, tool and skill sharing in Edinburgh and the ‘re-makery’ movement as examples of positive futures, and Lucy Conway from Eigg writes about the lessons to be learnt from their community renewables: “Eiggtricity”.
We are delighted to publish an extract from Jason Hickel’s new book Less is More: How Degrowth will save the World. While many of us are stunned and confused, Hickel offers ‘Pathways to a Post-Capitalist World’.
Echoing our galactic theme, Hickel writes: “Once we understand that we can flourish without growth, our horizons suddenly open up. It becomes possible to imagine a different kind of economy, and we’re free to think more rationally about how to respond to the climate emergency. It’s a bit like what happened during the Copernican Revolution. Early astronomers started from the assumption that the Earth sat at the centre of the universe, but this caused endless amounts of trouble: it meant that the movement of the other planets didn’t make any sense. It created mathematical problems that were impossible to solve. When astronomers finally accepted that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun, suddenly all the maths became easier. The same thing happens when we take growth away from the centre of the economy. The ecological crisis suddenly becomes much easier to solve.”
In “Culture beyond extractivism: What might a post-growth cinema look like?” Maria A Velez Serna explores a cultural aspect to degrowth and begins envisaging a future for cinema in a different economy.
Finally we have Luke Devlin in conversation with Benjamin Zachariah, a Research Fellow at the Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies at Heidelberg University and a scholar of global fascism and international co-operation among the far-right. They discuss the interplay between fascism, the Covid-19 pandemic experience and Brexit.
We are indebted to our poets and artists – to Tawona Sitholé, Andy Arthur, Marta Adamowicz, Deborah Mullen, and Stewart Bremner. Less will be a space for art, not just words, for poems not just analysis.
We were initially to launch Less earlier in the year and had much of the copy already written before the virus struck. We stopped, paused, collapsed, re-thought it all, re-wrote and re-commissioned. We present it to you with some pride and more exhaustion. We hope you will read it, share it, correspond with us and come towards us as we try to create conversation, discussion and learning in an hour of chaos.
Arundhati Roy has written that the virus is a portal: “ …a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
We’d suggest it is a bealach (a way and the pass that leads through or over). The task is not to escape to the moon, but to imagine another world right here on earth.
The LESS Editorial Collective
Luke Devlin, Mairi McFadyen, Mike Small & Svenja Meyerricks
Marta Adfamowicz, Andy Arthur, Stewart Bremner, Calum Carr, Lucy Conway, Luke Devlin, Jason Hickel, Gehan Macleod, Mairi McFadyen, Svenja Meyerricks, Deborah Mullen, Tawona Sithole, Mike Small, Maria Antonia Velez-Serna, Benjamin Zachariah
If you would like to request a copy (or multiple copies) email us with your address at: firstname.lastname@example.org