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Schor Speaks on Ecological Decline

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, November 11, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Elyse Taylor / Heights Staff


Last Thursday, Juliet Schor gave a presentation on her book, Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, as part of the Winston Center lecture series.
Plenitude, a book that deals with economics and ecological decline, is the latest of many books written by Schor, a professor in the sociology department. As a sociologist who has spent most of her career studying consumer society, Schor said she has more recently been combining her prior research with the issue of environmental sustainability and how it affects the lives of the daily American. "I've been doing the research for Plentitude for quite a few years," Schor said. "It also relates to issues I've been working on for my whole career." 
Schor began her presentation by explaining the current state of both the environment and economy today. Schor said that, together, these factors hint toward a predictable downward spiral in our economy. Showing graphs as well as other data, she said that despite the acknowledgement of climate change decades earlier, natural resource extraction has significantly increased. 
"Dematerialization is not materializing," Schor said. "We must address ecological deprivation, and we can." 
This, Schor said, would cause the economy to eventually become less successful, as over-extraction as well as a host of other factors would raise the costs of production. Furthermore, Schor said the most recent economic collapse in 2007 that caused the employment rate to spike to higher than 10 percent, and said that the United States needs over 11 million jobs to put itself back to pre-collapse levels. But, she said, this is an unrealistic goal to accomplish in a short period of time because of the current issue of technology replacing labor and the increasing use of offshore labor. 
"The conventional solution ... is no longer available to solve unemployment," Schor said. "We need to get our economy under control. It has turned into a ravaging beast." 
Schor then proposed her response to the environmental and economic crises, what she refers to as the "Plentitude Solution." 
"[The goal of this theory is] to put forward a concrete vision of a small scale, ecologically liked, high well-being economy," Schor said. 
Across the country and the world, many people are starting to withdraw or reduce their labor from the formal economy, as work has become more demanding and less profitable, Schor said. 
She said that some people have diversified their source of income and have become more self-reliant by doing things such as growing their own vegetables, sharing expensive goods like cars, running small businesses, and trading services within the community.
"They are emphasizing a new way of living," she said. "They learn how to make things, which they develop into skill, and then turn this into a living and a career." 
Further, Schor said that the rest of the population, and the government, should follow this trend. 
By spending less time in the formal labor market and becoming more self-sufficient, people would save money, energy, creativity, and their impact on the environment would decrease, she said. 
Schor also said that the government could help by enacting measures such as a four day work week, an act that would reduce energy costs and carbon emissions, and giving workers more leisure time. This time would be spent on making connections with neighbors, which would lead to the sharing of goods and the initiating of projects that would advance society, Schor said. 
Overall, the Plentitude movement would reduce environmental impact and help restructure the economy, something Schor said is desperately needed. "We must promote economies of reuse and change," she said.
Schor said she is optimistic about the success of the Plentitude movement. "This is a construction of a healthier way of life," she said. "These kinds of innovations will spread." 

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