Green Drinks Flag

On Wednesday 18th April, Tooting Green Drinks played host to our first debate! Why run a debate? This was an experiment to engage more people and look beyond our (albeit wonderful!) usual hard working suspects. And it was to explore some of the more divisive areas of sustainability.

It worked! 40 people (ish) came along to join in our first debate on…

“Capitalism is the best system for a truly social, economic and environmentally sustainable future”
Standing Room only!

The evening showed there is huge energy for ideas exchange in Tooting. We’ll definitely be planning more debates in the future, hoping to engage head, heart and hands by way of an invitation for us all to become active in Tooting.

What would you like debated? Answers in the comments below please!

Did we assemble a room full of raging anarchists, ready to march on Westminster? Or were the challenges of sustainability just another problem to solve by Capitalist innovation, motivated by profit? Read on for the lowdown on how the evening unfolded…

Oli Griffiths, a Green Drinks regular, spoke for the motion and laid out a strong case for Capitalism being a tried and tested system around the world, lifting populations out of poverty, decreasing mortality rates, increasing access to education and even being the system that underpins the 5 most “happy” Countries… He cited the inefficiency of State actors to find solutions to societal problems affordably and the efficiency of the open market to scale up renewable energy, develop electric vehicles and even massively reduce the cost of reaching the International Space Station through Elon Musk’s gang at SpaceX!

Dave Darby, founder of Low Impact , started with the big guns, literally, “any system that makes profit out of war has to be bad”… and went on to outline the ecological destruction at the hands of Capitalism, the power of the solidarity economy and the democracy of the co-op movement. He leveed the fundamental idea of Capitalism perpetuating more stuff and persuades us to be greedy in the face of hugely powerful advertising, and that, he argued, was fundamentally un-sustainable.

Both speakers spoke with passion and belief, but it got most interesting when we opened questions to the floor. In the hugely appreciated, but pretty warm and stuffy, upstairs room of The Selkirk Pub our engaged and smart bunch of Tootingites insisted on firing in the questions and comments for an hour, prizing apart the Speakers arguments, testing their knowledge and airing their concerns.

For me, the open questions highlighted the challenges we can all work on for a sustainable future, either within the current system of Capitalism or in preparation to supersede it…

  • How do we stem the tide of greed endemic to Capitalism? When is individual wealth enough?
  • The solidarity economy maybe hugely desirable, but can it operate at Global Scale? 8 billion people big? And would it even be suited to providing some of the Global Scale solutions for a sustainable future?
  • If profit isn’t the motive, as it is in a privatised economy, then what is? Why is it that State actors don’t perform with the same drive and urgency as the open market?
  • What role for the State, National or Global, given the complexity of the issues around Climate Change and the cleverness of Corporation to work around tax law, international agreements and “Externalities”??
  • How can a finite planet support perpetual economic growth, an underpinning mantra for Capitalism???
I’ve come across the expression “appropriate technology” recently, in a book my good friend Chuck Whitehead, who posts here regularly, has lent me – “Rekindling Community“, a Schumacher Briefing by Alastair Macintosh. Appropriate Technology, for me, challenges us to think about what is appropriate for what circumstance. It is, I would argue, appropriate for our High Streets to be populated by local businesses with a strong relationship to the community they serve, providing social connection and avoiding the “leaky bucket” of shareholder-owned businesses. Considering the Global Scale, however, I wonder how the solidarity economy can scale up enough to provide wholesale replacement, for example, of fossil-fuel vehicles with low carbon alternatives, or operate train networks and all the infrastructure that goes along with it. I might well pose that question to folks who know a whole lot more about alternative business models and how those models would fit into a network or governance regime that would support them as well as keep them in check for the planetary good. It feels to me that something has to change from the current system that we have created for ourselves where owning more stuff is the norm, laying fake grass makes sense, throw-away fashion and umpteen holidays a year are all expected.

In an exchange after the debate, Dave encouraged Oli to keep working on reigning in Capitalism (although I’m not sure Oli offered to do that…) while Dave keeps on building the solidarity economy. Dave suggested it needs all of us to work towards a better future in the best way we think, proving, perhaps, that the biggest winner in this debate, if indeed there had to be one, was the notion of that which we have in common is far stronger than anything that divides us. Build Bridges not Walls, as the saying goes, and keep talking with an increasingly diverse group of people – perhaps the principle reason for offering debates in the first place. Do come along to the next one… Richard Couldrey

Useful Links: We asked for links from both speakers, this is what came through. Please do add links on this topic but commenting on this blogpost.
For more on the “leaky bucket”, check out this from the New Economic Foundation: Plugging the Leaks
To help build the solidarity economy:
For more on the current Mass Extinction Event: Biological Annihilation
For lobbying for a stable economy:
Fro building community business in the solidarity economy: Collaborative Credit.

PS. We forgot to take a vote at the beginning, but in the end we had 10 votes “for”, 12 votes “against” and 12 abstentions… I recon there was a few more people in the room though…