It is quite possible to meet the basic material needs of every man, woman and child on this planet without destroying the natural systems on which we depend and of which we are a part.
1. The practice of types of farming that preserve and enhance the natural fertility of the soil;
2. The systematic recycling of materials (such as metals and glass) obtained from non-renewable mineral sources;
3. Developing energy sources base upon natural processes that continually renew themselves (such as solar energy, wind power, and hydroelectricity);
4. The implementation of industrial processes which avoids the release of poisonous chemicals or radioactivity into the biosphere;
5. The manufacture of products made to last, not to be thrown away after use or deliberately to break down after a calculated period of time.
So what stands in the way? Why isn’t this done? The simple answer is that, under the present economic system, production is not geared to meeting human needs but rather to the accumulation of monetary wealth out of profits. As a result, not only are basic needs far from satisfied but much of what is produced is pure waste from this point of view—for example, all the resources involved in commerce and finance, the mere buying and selling of things and those poured into armaments. The whole system of production, from the methods employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by the imperative drive to pursue economic growth for its own sake and to give priority to seeking profits to fuel this growth without consideration for the longer term factors that ecology teaches are vitally important. The result is an economic system governed by blind economic laws which oblige decision-makers, however, selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste. This growth-oriented and profit-motivated capitalist system exist all over the world, in the West in the form of an economy dominated by large multinational corporations.
If needs are to be met while at the same time respecting the laws of nature, then this system must go. If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way we must first be able to control production—or, put another way, able to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature—and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership of the means of production. By common ownership, we don’t mean state-owned property. We mean simply that the Earth and its natural and industrial resources should no longer belong to anyone—not to individuals, not to corporations, not to the state. No person or group should have exclusive controlling rights over their use; instead of how they are used and under what conditions should be decided democratically by the community as a whole. Under these conditions, the whole concept of legal property rights, whether private or state, over the means of production disappears and is replaced by democratically decided rules and procedures governing their use.
This is why a fully democratic decision-making structure must be an essential feature of the system that is to replace capitalism. The centralised, coercive political state must be dismantled and replaced by a decision-making structure in which everyone is free to participate on an equal basis. It is possible to envisage, for instance, the local community being the basic unit of this structure. In this case, people would elect a local council to co-ordinate and administer those local affairs that could not be dealt with by a general meeting of the whole community. This council would in its turn send delegates to a regional council for matters concerning a wider area and so on up to a world council responsible for matters that could best be dealt with on a world scale
(such as the supply of certain key minerals and fuels, the protection of the biosphere, the mining and farming of the oceans, and space research). Given the replacement of the coercive political state by such a democratic decision-making structure, the network of productive units could then be geared to meeting needs. We deliberately use the word “geared” here because what we envisage is not the organisation of the production and distribution of goods by some central planning authority but the setting up of a mechanism, a system of links between productive units, which would enable the productive network to respond in a flexible way to the demands for goods and services communicated to it.
In the needs-oriented society, we are describing here the concept of “profits” would be meaningless while the imperative to “growth” would disappear. Instead, after an initial increase in production needed to provide the whole world’s population with an infrastructure of basic services (such as farms, housing, transport and water supplies) production can be expected to platform off at a level sufficient to provide for current needs and repairing and maintaining the existing stock of means of production. What is envisaged here is a society able to sustain a stable relationship with nature in which the needs of its members would be in balance with the capacity of nature to renew itself after supplying them.