Strong climate or economic action would only fail if they do not address social tensions. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and climate emergency, universal basic services are an overlooked approach to addressing both. I am therefore pleased that Hot or Cool has just released the latest Think Piece: Universal Basic Services: Provisioning for our needs within a fair consumption space.
Our economies are not optimized to deliver on wellbeing. Instead, products and services that contribute to the wellbeing of citizens are just a by-the-way of chasing profits in today’s hyper capitalistic society. It is this same approach that policymakers have taken to addressing climate change. Even in a declared climate emergency, main attempts to heal the climate must still pass the test of profit generation – almost all said profits going to the already rich.
Why is this basic understanding important? It explains why the crop of “solutions” to the current inflation and cost-of-living crisis are only making things worse – it is only transferring more money to the top 20% richest, while those outside of this privileged ring of economic access continue to feel the heat. It also underscores why every climate policy programme should have a strong social dimension, recognizing that human and planetary wellbeing are inextricably linked and must be pursued in tandem.
With the wrong politics and policies, a green transformation risks widening inequalities, while deteriorating living standards may yet disrupt and delegitimize progress towards environmental sustainability.
Discussions about social policy and welfare reform tend to focus disproportionately on cash transfer systems. These stigmatise those in particular income groups – e.g. that lazy people are receiving cash handouts – without proper regard for the skewed economic context that perversely sees income transfer from the poor to the rich. Income alone is also a reductionist measure when it does not recognize that wellbeing needs cannot only be afforded through income but also depend on other services, some of which (do not have monetary value and) cannot be provisioned through the market.
To quote the Think Piece author Anna Coote: The phrase “universal basic services” is used here as
shorthand to describe a range of collective measures that aim to ensure universal access to life’s essentials. As this paper argues, collectively provided benefits have considerable potential for supporting decent living standards, maintaining democratic consent and delivering the twin goals of social justice and ecological sustainability that define a fair consumption space – with a dignified social floor below which no one should fall, an ecological ceiling that should not be breached, and equitable access for all within the space.
About Hot or Cool Think Pieces
The Think Piece series publishes short, policy-relevant contributions on ideas that are not yet widely explored, intended to push the frontier of policy making and inform public discussion on emerging perspectives on sustainability transition. Authors are leading thinkers with broad experience and innovative ideas. Published pieces integrate knowledge from different fields of science, are research-based but non-academic in style, and are solutions-oriented, and written in accessible language.
To propose a topic or suggest an author for a Think Piece, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org