How can a guaranteed livable income help us to live equitably, sustainably, and peacefully? This was the central question explored in an event hosted by Sarah Mah and Thao Hoang of the feminist grass-roots organization Asian Women for Equality on the International Day to Eradicate Poverty on October 17, in Montreal, Canada.
Mah served as the moderator for the evening. She initiated the panel discussion by calling attention to the relationship between environmental sustainability, women’s rights, and a guaranteed livable income.
“We host these panels as feminist platforms for discussions about guaranteed livable income to bring academia, grassroots, and frontline groups together…to bring different fields together and build alliances and shared theory with each other,” Mah said.
In light of the recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the severity of climate change, she described how rapidly changing climate conditions disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society, especially women.
“Women are already vulnerable to male violence and exploitation, and this is made worse in climate-change induced natural disasters,” she said.
The first panelist was Rob Rainer of Basic Income Network Canada. Rainer argued for a paradigm shift in which basic income plays a central and inherent part. Shedding light on the already existing forms of basic income-like programs in Canada such as the child tax benefit and old age security, he drew attention to the emotional and financial security these that these programs already provide for large segments of the population. He argued that a basic income has the potential to promote and encourage citizen engagement in environmental protection.
“By ensuring or improving one’s economic security, basic income decouples such security from attachment to the paid labour market and supports the pursuit of non-market work that actually may be far more important for community well-being, sustainability and survival,” Rainer remarked.
For example, people might engage more in local food production, urban farming, and citizen wildlife monitoring and what about the simple, yet incredibly impactful, act of picking up the tons of plastic on our beaches and in our oceans. Yet, as Rainer pointed out, “it’s difficult to participate in this when you are struggling for survival.” A basic income could allow us to engage more sustainability with our surrounding environment, and pour more of our energy and presence into conserving, caring for, and protecting our planet.
Panelist Cathy Orlando from the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, spoke further on the connection between environmental sustainability and a guaranteed livable income. Orlando began by showing how our pursuit for a just, peaceful, and equitable world is inextricably connected to the environment. She zeroed in on the carbon fee and dividend policy as a very promising approach for climate justice, poverty alleviation, and re-distribution of wealth.
A carbon fee and dividend scheme is often likened to a “Robin Hood climate tax” which taxes carbon polluters, and gives the revenue back to citizens in the form of a monthly check (the dividend). It is a way of re-distributing wealth that works to discourage fossil fuel use, spur clean energy investment, and reduce CO2 emissions. The common thread, Orlando argues, is the analogous nature of the carbon dividend and basic income – which are both aimed at redistributing wealth to the poor. This, she remarked, “reduces inequality [as] the poor are more carbon virtuous inherently and the top one percent of earners in Canada consume six times as much as the bottom ten percent.”
After the panelists’ presentations, a conversation took place between the panel and various community respondents including Sean Devine of Revenue de Base Quebec, Vincent Duhamel from Climate Justice Montreal, Paul Clarke from Réfugiés Montréal and Penny Beames, organizer of McGill’s Sustainability Research Symposium. They explored further aspects on guaranteed livable income and a sustainable future. Among the issues raised was the question of how refugees figure into the discussion of a Canadian basic income – an important question in lieu of the millions of people who are, and will be, displaced because of climate change.
For instance, members of the panel agreed that basic income should be granted regardless of immigration status, which Mah noted is a position held by the organization Asian Women for Equality. Another issue brought up was how a basic income would render people less prone to over-consumption. In response, the panelists reflected that a basic income could provide stability, allow self-reflection, and strengthen social networks. They offered this as a possible explanation as to how guaranteed livable income might counteract over-consumption – a central issue in any conversation about sustainability.
In the end, the discussion highlighted the opportunities and challenges of a policy approach that would promote granting people an equal share of the wealth, and perhaps also protect the health of our environment.
The relationship between poverty and the planet is complex, which raised a myriad of questions and concerns, such as the potentially harmful impacts of ‘clean’ energy sources like land loss and displacement of vulnerable peoples, children’s rights, and the broader issue of how this relates to, or challenges, the existing paradigm of economic growth. Nonetheless, the panel discussion helped to shed light on some of the ways in which a guaranteed livable income might help us live more sustainably, addressing issues of climate justice and the protection and empowerment of society’s most vulnerable. Mah noted that Asian Women for Equality “sees it as a fundamental shift away from our culture of maximized profits, consumerism and exploitation, toward a world of mutuality, beneficence, and sustainable living – both for people and for the environment.”
Perhaps, more of us have begun to envision what this peaceful, equitable, and sustainable world will look like going forward.
Authors: Leah Werner
During the last year, I asked myself how the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) would affect our society and boost or undermine the transition to a sustainable way of living.
We live a complex world where many factors are inter-related and result into visible crises: forced migration, unemployment, violence, hunger and extreme poverty, among others. Pope Francis says we live one single crisis, which is complex and interconnected. The root of this crisis is at the way we behave: competing instead of collaborating and fighting for resources instead of sharing what we have as humankind.
As a result, in the twenty-first century, humankind will have to deal with some new challenges:
- 10 billion people living on earth
- Climate change and ecological crisis
- Highest migration rate ever
- Highest inequality rate ever
- Fourth Industrial Revolution
These five factors are the primary motivation for a paradigm shift. Each of these challenges must be addressed with specific policy, but we cannot be successful if we do not consider the connections between these factors.
We should transform the economy and prioritize the impacts over society and nature. This is the ecologic transition. This transformation must be deep at many levels, from production, to consumption, but also in our way of thinking. We cannot compete among ourselves and create a world of winners and losers. We cannot allow anyone to be left behind. So many people are losing under this system, which is why we have the highest migration and inequality rates in history.
Climate change threatens the lives of millions of people, and the poor are the most vulnerable to these climate disruptions. Climate change is caused by human activity and linked to our consumption patterns. This is another reason for ecologic transition. Climate change will worsen if we do nothing about it, so it is imperative that we transform the way we consume and produce.
The fourth industrial revolution is changing the structure of the labor market and the way things are done. Artificial intelligence and automation will make thousands of jobs disappear, while also dramatically changing the way the remaining labor is done. The most immediate effect is to cause high unemployment among low-skilled workers and requiring retraining for the rest.
In the last few years, many initiatives have pointed to basic income as an interesting policy to guarantee the wellbeing of citizens. Some areas that have tested the idea include Holland, Finland, Kenya, India, as well as the classic examples of Alaska and Canada. Most of these initiatives come from the state or local governments, but also civil society is starting to experiment with basic income through NGOs such as “Give Directly” in Kenya and UNICEF in India. Some private companies have shown interest too, such as Facebook or Google.
In the basic income experiments, it has been observed that wellbeing is improved. Poverty is reduced, while also producing a lower stress level, better health, more education time for young people, and a 13 percent work time reduction per family unit.
I found these effects interesting and well adapted to the 21 century conditions: 13 percent less work time is compatible with a high unemployment rate. Less stress is good news for a highly stressed world, especially in developed economies. Better health is always good news, and probably related to the stress level.
Increasing education time is probably the best side-effect. We start to see how technology is growing more important in our daily work, and many people will need to learn how to use it or even develop new skills. The education sector is creating a renewed process for itself. It is said that most of the high qualification labor in the future will need to adapt to AI, and most university degrees will need to be adapted in the next four years.
Looking at the main effect, which is poverty alleviation, I made a simulation for the Spanish context, 700 euros each month (tax free) and a fixed 49% tax for all labor.
Net annual Income in Spain (2014). Blue line is business as usual, orange line is with Basic Income after taxes. Martin Lago (2018). Data: Agencia Tributaria (2015): Informe Anual De Recaudación Tributaria. Servicio de Estudios Tributarios y Estadísticas. Madrid
The relative poverty line in Spain is 684 €/month, so if this policy was implemented throughout the country, we can say poverty would be drastically reduced. We must bear in mind that 22.3 % of Spanish population was under this level in 2016.
As we see in the figure, the poorest are the most benefitted by this measure, then gradually benefits decrease and the richest 30 percent actually pay into the system. Universal Basic Income was funded from savings in other subsidies (30%) direct taxes (50%) and indirect taxes (20%). Finding resources for it was easy and efficient considering the potential benefits.
But my question remained un-answered: Will the basic income help stimulate an ecological transition? I was quite worried since I consider this transition necessary for a sustainable future. I saw no point in sending money to everyone if we do not change anything more.
I found a few interesting effects synergic with ecological transition, including:
- Longer and higher-quality education
- Decrease in labor intensity, which probably leads to a better labor distribution
- Increase in family care and household work
- Shift to an inclusive mentality, since everyone receives this basic income
- Shift to empowerment of the individual, which is given resources and is free to make the right choices
- Massive reduction of poverty
An ecological transition is complex and includes many transformations, but it will not happen if we do not assure our standards of living are beyond the poverty line. We cannot ask a freezing family not to chop the trees to heat and cook if they do not have any other option. Basic Income is precisely about having options. One of the main objections is that many people will misuse these resources. I read last week an article that made the next question: Which is the best way to help a woman with a gambling problem and two kids, basic income or food and house coupons?
This question shows how some people perceive poverty basically blaming the poor. I have some experience working with the poor and they are as smart anybody else. The only difference is they did not have the same options in education, social inclusion or job opportunities. I am not saying basic income will solve poverty immediately, and a lot of social work needs to be done, but at least it will help to achieve some balance and provide a solid ground for a transition towards a more sustainable society.
Written by: Martin Lago Azqueta
Martin was born in Madrid in 1976, and he is graduated in biology with a Master in International Aid and Cooperation. He has worked with several aid agencies and now he is Phillipines and Central Asia Desk Officer for Caritas Spain. Apart from development projects and emergency interventions, he has specialized in climate change, working with several civil society networks since 2008. He has coordinated a number of “Documentación Social” dedicated to climate change (2016), and written a book about basic income (2018).
 Evelyn L Forget (2011) The town with no poverty. Community Health Sciences. Faculty of Medicine. University of Manitoba. 750 Bannatyne Ave. Winnipeg MB R3E 0W3. CANADA.
 Data: Instituto Nacional de Estadística 2016. If we consider other incicator such as AROPE, which is used in Europe context, 27.9% of the population in Spain is at poverty risk (AROPE, 2016).
In his new Kindle book Mending the Net, author Chis Oestereich describes how a basic income can address some of the “wicked problems” facing humanity.
For Oestereich, the basic income can help society rethink its consumption patterns and possibly upend the “treadmill of subsistence.”
In the book, Oestereich predicts that the economy could be headed toward a recession. In the interview he said that basic income can be a “shock absorber” of economic downturns. Without a basic income, Oestereich said he worries that the next recession will be much worse than the last for many people.
One of the most unique effects of the basic income is its potential to change how we view careers and allow “self-determination,” Oestereich said.
“By standing individuals up on an income floor, we could open the door for many to create unique, fulfilling lives that might not otherwise be possible,” he said.
The full interview can be found below.
You said in the book: “A universal program removes the opportunity for politicians to erode benefits in a death by a thousand cuts scenario”. Can you explain why you think universal basic income evades austerity?
I don’t think it evades austerity in general as there are other programs to cut that could still greatly impact lives, but rather that it evades austerity because since it is universal, any cut must be done to everyone. Means testing programs are a game of continually shifting goal posts wherein a small adjustment to a qualifying measure can mean the difference between families having enough to sustain themselves, and coming up short. By shifting to a universal program the goalpost moves could no longer trim away at those on the margins.
I’ve heard some say providing a greater array of people more money through basic income would exacerbate environmental degradation with their new consumption? Considering lower income individuals spend a higher percentage of their income. What do you think the overall effect on the environment would be from basic income?
I think environmental impacts are one of several valid concerns around basic incomes. That’s why I advocate for significant testing to see what we can learn. Some people may be enabled to purchase and consume more goods and services as the direct result of a UBI, but I think that’s an argument for finding an appropriate level of UBI that’s not so large that it allows people to go from living lives of unfulfilled needs, to being enabled to live destructive lifestyles. But I think some of us might cut back on some work and consumption that are part of today’s treadmill of subsistence. Take away the need for a full-time job to get by and some of us might only work three or four days a week and consume less resources through commuting and other related efforts. We need to gain a better understanding of the effects of a widely-implemented UBI, and then we might need to update social norms to align with systemic needs. And it’s possible that we could gain unexpected positive effects like those experienced in Utah where giving homeless people places to live resulted in reduced use of medical care.
You mentioned that we are probably counting down to a recession. How would a basic income address the issues of economic recession?
I called UBI an economic shock absorber because it would be there to blunt the negative impacts anytime the economy went south. (If we had a UBI in 2007, how many of the millions of people who lost their homes to foreclosure might have squeaked by without falling into those dire circumstances?) With a little something coming in each month comes a modicum of hope, rather than the steady drumbeat of a straight-line declining balance in your checking account. But if we don’t have a UBI in time for the next recession, I think we can expect that the outcome of the next one will be worse than the last one—at least for some segments of the population—as losses from the Great Recession “were disproportionally concentrated among lower income, less educated, and minority households.”
Why do you think the profit motive is destructive? And how does basic income help address the profit motive force?
I don’t think the profit motive is inherently destructive. But when it’s the sole focus of an organization, the profit motive allows businesses to hold extractive relationships over their employees. When a person has no other means of subsistence, the terms of employment are often highly-unfavorable. Give an unemployed person a decent monthly payment via a UBI and the choice is no longer one of zero income or an extractive employment relationship, so the calculus around the decision changes tremendously. Instead of being in a take-it-or-leave-it scenario with only savings (if that) to fall back on, you have a choice of tightening your belt and squeezing by on any savings you have along with your monthly UBI check. It would give workers a little bit of leverage in scenarios where they often have none.
You mentioned “If you hear someone talking about Milton Friedman and basic incomes in the same breath, it’s probably safe to assume that they’re looking for overall cost savings to reduce their personal tax burden.” Do you think libertarians that support basic income are primarily concerned with bringing down costs? And along those lines, do you think a coalition including fiscal conservatives and libertarians on basic income is possible?
My sense is that libertarians are primarily concerned with optimizing their personal tax effects. If a UBI could reduce administrative costs, and they would end up with a net financial benefit, you’d probably have their ears. But if they ended up paying more into the system, I think you’d quickly stop hearing about how great it was. So, I think they could be willing partners up to a point, but that they’d likely drop off from the cause at some point, and that they would eventually oppose efforts to increase the amount of UBI payments. My thought is that we could probably work together to get the proof of concept testing done, but that in working to make an initial UBI happen libertarians might become a drag on the effort as they would likely be aiming for systemic savings, rather than an outcome that would be measured in improved lives.
What inspired you to write this book?
Mending the Net wasn’t planned. I was invited to write chapters for a couple of different books, the ItsBasicIncome project that will be published out of the UK soon, and another anthology around environmental issues. I wrote them both independently and then realized that they would fit together nicely in a Kindle single format as the essays offer two different perspectives on “why” we ought to consider trying UBIs. (Readers will have to look elsewhere for the “how” argument as that’s not my bailiwick.)
As for the topics of the essays, I’ve never been a big fan of the rat race, and I’m a huge proponent of self-determination. Basic incomes help along both of those lines. By standing individuals up on an income floor, we could open the door for many to create unique, fulfilling lives that might not otherwise be possible.
What is your involvement in the basic income movement?
I guess I’m sort of a passionate advocate, but I certainly don’t see myself as a movement leader. There are others (like Guy Standing and Scott Santens) whose work I regularly look to for ideas and updates on the topic. For my part, I’m working to systematically address all wicked problems. To that end, I’m currently working on a book on the UK’s Brexit issue, as well as the second anthology from the Wicked Problems Collaborative (my publishing company), that will look at the promise and peril of our rapidly advancing technological environment.
Safety is a crucial issue. Without a sense of security, we don’t think straight, we don’t connect as well, and we don’t align as well with our core values. If we are not secure, we don’t feel safe, and if we don’t feel safe, fear grows from within. And with that fear comes distrust, anxiety and stress. And all of those blur clear-sighted decisions.
With this short essay I aim to provide support for the following proposition: given a minimum level of safety, people will make better decisions. In particular, they will invest more in green technology, which is unaffordable to many at the moment.
Before going into any details, though, we should ask this question: what is it that people want, anyway? Do they want more holidays? iPhones? Well-paying jobs? As it seems, at a deeper level, what they want most is none of that.
According to an international questionnaire, created and administered by the association Together, people want the following:
Guarantee of purchasing power and financial safety for all
Redistribution of wealth for greater equality
Promotion of exchanges and circulation of means without money
The end of rampant consumerism, especially when producers are suffering from underpaid work
The development of a deconcentrated and stable economic system
Use of technology for the well-being and comfort of all
Zero poverty, zero exclusion, and zero carbon
Affirmation and implementation of the principles of co-responsibility
Empowerment of all and development a relationship of trust, freedom, and equality, to remove laws, regulations and cameras that focus on the control of people
Encouraging and teaching co-responsibility
Supporting all people’s engagement in society, regardless of role
Giving participatory and direct democracy a holistic place
Improving representative democracy and abolishing dictatorship
Bringing elected representatives closer to citizens
Developing an ethics of democracy
Learning co-construction of policy by involving different actors including crossing perspective, skills and abilities
Empowerment of policy makers, making sure that they keep the promises that they have made
Transparency in actions of the government
Firmness and impartiality in justice
Simplification of the administration and legislation, and improved logistical organization
Policies to support the population, particularly for providing access to essential needs; an enhanced social state.
The end of media trash-talk that enhances racism and insecurity
Changing our relationship with nature, plants and animals
Reducing population pressure
Ensuring a rapid energy transition
Fight against waste
Fight against pollution
Production that is more natural and small-scale
Cleanliness in public places, thanks to co-responsibility
Maintaining and protecting biodiversity
Preserving and developing agricultural and food-production areas such as family or community gardens
Arranging space to make it user-friendly and to facilitate common life, multiculturalism, creativity and new ideas
Adapting public roads for all while reducing traffic and enhancing transportation safety
Making the city a pleasant common good
Increasing the time available to people and improving management of time
Increasing time available for the family
Promoting volunteering by enabling candidates to get community service and recognizing volunteer spaces
Enhancement of opportunities to live together and learn about others
Eliminating and prohibiting all forms of discrimination and racism in all areas, including employment
Avoidance of all forms of violence, harassment and war, plus eradicate those related to physical integrity
Facilitate networking and communication of the organisations and individuals
Maintenance of ethical and respectful behaviour for the sake of democratic functioning
Changing behaviour to encourage living together and respecting each other
Development of a common culture, whatever our religion
Solidarity with excluded and/or vulnerable people so that all are made to feel accepted
Reception of migrants and refugees as well as the homeless
More care for the poor by taking an upstream strategy to combat poverty
More aid for the disabled, including children and those who are alone and poor
These results are derived from the application of a specific methodology, the Spiral Approach, which has been applied in over 20 countries, involving around 120,000 people1. While this might be a small sample of all humanity, it is big enough to be taken very seriously. If these results mean anything, I assume, it’s that people would prefer to invest more in technologies that would lower their environmental footprint on this planet–if only they could afford it. And affordability has indeed been a major issue in contemporary Portugal. As we can observe in Figure 1, people have been losing purchasing power consistently over the past few years, except for a tiny percentage of people. At the same time, as expected, inequality has also risen (Figure 2).
Figure 1 – Personal income savings in Portugal, percent of GDP
Figure 2 – Income inequality in Portugal (quotient between the 20 percent richest and 20 percent poorest average income)
This is, of course, also mirrored in the growing number of poor people living in Portugal (Figure 3). These people might get free lunches (yes, these apparently do exist) if they prove their poverty – that’s how it goes these days – but, needless to say, it’s much harder to get a solar panel or an electrical vehicle, for example, just for being poor. But if you’re interested in learning more about solar panels check out Sandbar Solar’s residential solar services. You might be surprised as to what you can learn from them about the ranges of services that are available.
Figure 3 – Poverty risk rate in Portugal, percent (footnote 2)
The question is: would they (or most of us, for that matter) actually buy these things, if they could afford it? Any direct response is, of course, mere speculation, since it’s impossible to run an experiment given the present mode of things. But we might take a look at what people who can afford greener technologies are actually doing with their money. Figure 4 and Figure 5 show a couple of trends in investment in electric vehicles and photovoltaic panels in recent years.
Figure 4 – Solar and geothermal energy generation, in tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) in energy mix
Figure 5 – Number of electric vehicles sold in Portugal
A quick look at these charts clearly shows increasing trends in purchases of these items. In the case of photovoltaic panels, Figure 4 refers to energy output, but higher output is of course linked to increased solar panel installations. This has happened in the midst of the present day austerity-driven impoverishment of nations, of which the Portuguese society is a victim.
According to a 2012 inquiry / poll, housing and other property amount to 81 percent of all assets3 owned by the 25 percent poorest families, with motor vehicles accounting for 18 percent. This basically means these families own nothing else (or close to nothing). Meanwhile, the richest 10 percent of families own 71 percent of their assets in their own house and other property (30 percent in their own house), 25 percent in businesses and 2.2 percent in vehicles. It is also noteworthy that, according to the same inquiry / poll, 91 percent of all the richest 10 percent of families own vehicles and 20 percent own other valuables compared to 39 percent in vehicle ownership and 5 percent in other valuables for the 20 percent poorest families. These differences are also mirrored in the value structure of those assets: a typical rich family (from the top 10 percent) owns a median value of 17 300 € in motorized vehicles, while the poorest 20 percent own only a median value of 2000 €. In other valuables, the differences are even sharper, with the richest families owning a median of 17 500 €, while poorest own only 300 € (median). Finally, up to the 90 percent richest families, vehicles and other values stays at a median of 13 000 €, which is about 37 percent of the amount the richest 10 percent of families own in these items (median values).
What this means is that, apart from the 10 percent richest families, and maybe some of the 20 percent richest ones, no one can really afford to buy electric vehicles, which have an average cost at 33 400 € (with 7 year batteries), and photovoltaic panel systems (micro-scale systems start at 10 000 € per 4.6 kW package). Given this scenario, what could a basic income to give people the opportunity to purchase these low-carbon technologies and contribute to solve the climate crisis?
According to a basic income viability study for Portugal, a 435 €/month payment to every adult would generate income increases for everyone earning 1200 €/month or less, before taxes. However, that increase will only be truly significant (after taxes) for those earning nothing, or close to nothing. Of course, 435 €/month basic income will only allow for a person to care for basic needs, such as food and shelter–not electric cars or photovoltaic panels.
It would, however, mean more money in the hands of people who are nowadays consuming less than they ought to, given their basic needs. And this will lead to higher economic outputs, especially in local economies. That, in turn, will increase monetary circulation, and eventually enough accumulation that some families will be able to afford green technologies. Another possibility is that people will come together in condos, neighbour associations, cooperatives and such, and pool their basic incomes (or whatever extra amounts they can get, given the existence of basic income). This way, they can acquire this equipment through their shared resources and manage it cooperatively. Also, the prices of these products are getting lower. This is especially true for photovoltaic panels, the price of which has fallen as much as 75 percent since 2009, and is expected to continue falling. The forecast for electric vehicles prices is more uncertain; however, due to technological advancement and higher supply, it is expected that these prices will also drop in the next few years (Joana Balsa, 2013).
The relationship between basic income and increased purchases of low environmental impact technologies is not obvious, at least for the products discussed in this short analysis (photovoltaic panels and electric vehicles). However, I’ve hinted at some factors that may determine that rise, given the implementation of something like a basic income in Portugal. Of course options to reduce environmental impact is not limited to the purchasing of photovoltaic panels and electric vehicles. Many other possibilities are available, at much lower costs, such as replacing existing low efficient lamps for LED technology lamps, riding bicycles or even reducing the ingestion of meat (while eating more vegetables).
1 – More information on the data gathering method and resulting platform can be obtained here (in French).
2 – percent of people living in poverty or in risk of poverty.
3 – Non-financial assets.
More information at:
Sónia Costa, Luísa Farinha, “Inquérito à situação financeira das famílias: metodologia e principais resultados [Inquiry into families financial situation: methodology and main results]”, Occasional paper 1, Banco de Portugal, 2012
Miguel Horta, “RBI financiado pelas pessoas [Basic income financed by the people]”, October 2015
NOCTULA, Consultores em ambiente, “Energias renováveis: a revolução do preço da energia solar [Renewable energies: the price revolution of solar energy]”, August 2015
Joana Balsa, “Avaliação do impacto da introdução de veículos elétricos na procura de combustíveis em Portugal [Impact evaluation of introducing electrical vehicles in the demand for fuels in Portugal]”, Masters Thesis, Coimbra University, September 2013
Fundação Manuel dos Santos, PORDATA – Base de dados Portugal Contemporâneo website
Sónia Peres Pinto, “Há cada vez mais carros elétricos em Portugal [Electric cars are increasing in Portugal]”, SOL Economia, May 19th 2016
Associação Utilizadores de veículos elétricos, “O Mercedes Plug-In C350e da Mercedes, foi o veículo elétrico mais vendido em junho de 2016 [Mercedes Plug-In C350e was the most sold eletric vehicle in June 2016]”, August 6th 2016
TOGETHER – territories of coresponsibility website
Statistics Portugal website
What does the future look like? No one knows and it is folly to argue one does. But we can think, we can even try to make predictions, depending on how much risk we are willing to take. To say, as Jeremy Rifkin suggests, that the future will look like a collaborative commons, based upon zero marginal cost, internet-linked nodal, laterally scalable shared green energized economy is all very well, and I definitely resonate with it, but is it inevitable? How zero cost is it? The price of generating an extra energy unit from a photovoltaic panel may be close to zero, but what about the panel itself? Who pays for it?
Proponents will say that photovoltaic panels are cheaper than they have ever been, huge economies of scale were possible in the last few years and any person these days can purchase photovoltaic panels. But is this true? Panels are cheaper than they were some years ago, no doubt, but a person first needs to eat, have a shelter, access some basic form of transportation and energy for cooking, lighting and such. Only after all that is guaranteed, can someone consider the photovoltaic panels, the electric car, or the 3D printer. The “future”, it seems, will not come until poverty is eliminated. Because poor people – 24.4 % of all European population was at risk of poverty in 2014, or 122 million people – cannot participate in this futuristic vision of the world unless their basic needs are met.
You doubt it? Then think about it. In most places, if you run out of money to pay for electricity, it is unlikely that your neighbors will help out by supplying you with some electricity, and even less likely that you will be given a photovoltaic system to produce your own energy. Where I live, at least, if I stop paying the electricity bill, they will cut me off, without a doubt. No matter how generous, how educated, how creative, how tolerant I might have been in life, the power company is completely indifferent: you do not pay, you will have to go without power. Period.
Things might be different in the future – and they certainly will. But at this moment the amount of money one has is less related to levels of education, generosity, creativity or tolerance, and more to status, power, social networks, dominance and violence. Attributing monetary value to people is a trap. The instant you say “this person is worth 1000 euros”, you automatically create an underclass of unworthy people. Those people might even be subject to discrimination and violence you object to, from deprivation and poverty to constant surveillance. So definitions or layers of worthiness cannot solve a core problem in present-day human species: our difficulty to share. To trust.
This is why I defend basic income. It represents a bold and clear statement: human dignity is not and must not be subject to discussions about worthiness or value. These attempts to quantify human beings are bound to fail, since our “value”, if we must speak of it, is incalculable. You cannot calculate it, so there is no use in trying. Basic income is also a crucial tool for participation. You cannot truly participate and contribute to a better society – let’s say by investing in a photovoltaic system – if you do not have the money to meet your basic needs.
This is why major societal challenges like climate change cannot be solved without addressing poverty. Because while there is poverty, people will simply not “do the right thing” when they cannot afford it. If the costs of living in a more sustainable way are higher than what they can afford, there is little choice but to eat whatever they can, buy the cheapest power appliances and drive the most affordable vehicles. And all these are still among the major polluters we are trying to eliminate.