EARTH foundation (summary)
As our logo reflects, what we seek to achieve is a harmonious relation between nature, people and the economy. Our work is both theoretical, in the field of information and education, and practical.
When we started out in 1971, the general idea was that human beings had to change their mentality in order to stop ruining the Earth. A closer look taught us this is not untrue, but that mentality is very much being moulded by the modern economy and people’s position within it. So we studied that economy and how we might change it in order to alter the mentality. We discovered that economic growth, which is generally seen as beneficial and necessary, causes many ecological and social problems. We also studied the reasons and mechanisms behind growth and discovered a compulsion to growth and that this was caused mainly by the driving force of the money system, a system in which there is an inherent need for money – the dominant factor of production – to grow. This was a heretical finding, for mainstream (liberal) economics sees money merely as a facilitator. The results of our findings and practical solutions for economic change were laid down in the book The Economic Revolution (1991) . The practical solutions were based on our advisory work for trade unions and local government, on our broad experience with environmental education (for both schools and adults) and on a variety of courses and talks for the public at large.
It was not easy to get these pioneering ideas across during the decade of the New Economy (ICT, internet, etc.) in the 90s, in which it was thought nothing could go wrong with the economy any more. Everyone and everything is so tied to the short term, is according to us imprisoned by it. One of the foundation’s key proposals is to change the current, wasteful economy of supply, ruled by a compulsion to grow, into a more frugal one, based on demand - a demand within the ecological limits of planet Earth. In such an economy, businesses should be able to operate in a flexible way, i.e. no longer going bankrupt the moment they sell less (which is happening all the time with many products). This requires a ‘flexibilisation’ of both the remuneration of the capital invested and the organisation of labour – the incomes of workers now depending on the production of just one good or service. This economic transformation would mean a liberation of the entire business world from this compulsion. But even that couldn’t up to now open the eyes of the ‘prisoners’.
One immediate consequence of our proper understanding of entropy (a separate section in the book) was our early conviction that we cannot go on producing what is not strictly necessary. But this plea for ‘degrowth’ was years ahead of its time. Indeed, it could not be grasped, let alone accepted, by government workers and trade unionists, nor by mainstream, ‘light-green’ environmentalists. By the way, entrepreneurs do know about the compulsion to growth, more so than economists and all the executives who depend on their advice. But most people still believe that economic growth, even in rich countries, is wanted, necessary and possible.
Luckily, we were always supported by our participation in ECOROPA, a group of prominent, radical European environmentalists, and the same holds today for our participation in the group around the French magazine devoted to degrowth: Entropia.
The book The Economic Revolution is richly illustrated with educational drawings and the educational mission was largely realised through our sister Foundation for Environmental Education (established in 1980), which at the time had quite an impact in the Netherlands. Among the basic elements were the notion of entropy and its counterforce, the ordering of life which today is suffering from a dangerously high input of energy. This led to our critical attitude to mainstream thinking and policy.
Practical: influencing and regionalising
Today, the foundation is cooperating in the working group For a Change – Alternatives for Neoliberalism. This group organises annual conferences critical of mainstream economics and current economic and environmental policies (www.economischegroei.net). The resultant declarations (of Tilburg and Antwerp so far) are available in English. The aim is to influence government policy. Almost every year there is also a ‘Day of Alternatives’, where green solutions – from windmills and community gardens through to complementary money systems – are exhibited and debated (www.globalternatives.nl).
One of the foundation’s key themes is a relocalisation of the economy. More down to earth, therefore, is our stimulation of productive activities in a run-down area of the city of Dordrecht where people from hundred countries try to live together. A productive relationship has been established with the community centre there – productive, in addition to the recreational facilities on offer to residents. A cycle repair shop was set up, a catering group, a group that recycles clothes, while a fourth group is supporting a food bank. Two collective kitchen gardens are now flourishing in the area, moreover. The activities draw much attention and several prizes have been won. In June 2009 we organized a national conference about kitchen gardens in run-down city areas.
The goal is for such grassroots initiatives to one day form the building blocks of a larger, relocalised urban economy – green and social, with full citizen participation. The foundation therefore welcomes the start, in the Netherlands, of the Transition Towns movement that was set up in the UK in order to prepare cities and villages for the no-more-oil era (www.transitionculture.org).
Again practical, and larger in scale, is the foundation’s initiative to establish a regional food supply in the area round the city of Utrecht, in collaboration with the city’s environmental centre. The aim is to encourage production, distribution and consumption of regional produce.
On the one hand it will provide support for farmers and horticulturalists going through tough times. On the other hand, this added local orientation will enable richer farmers, i.e. those currently exporting much of their produce, to make their operations more robust for when exports start stagnating owing to oil shortages or other causes. Other elements of the initiative are promotion of sustainable farming and establishment of close ties between producers and consumers. This is why the campaign (known as Lekker Utregs) is organising a big sowing festival in spring and a big harvest festival in the autumn, both in the heart of the city. There are also working days for citizens at farmsteads. In 2009 a new firm connected to Lekker Utregs will start to market and sell regional food in the region.
This grassroots project has drawn an enthusiastic response from the local, provincial and national authorities, with whom an official agreement was signed guaranteeing their continued support. In Amsterdam, London and many other cities and regions similar projects are under way.
Besides food, the foundation is now studying measures to further localise the economy with respect to energy generation, waste disposal and the production and recycling of building materials.
To conclude: in view of our extremely modest means, we are proud of our achievements.
A number of articles in English are listed under ‘Publications’.