Universal Basic Income: good for your wallet, great for equity and the fight against the climate crisis.
Capitalism, colonialism, and climate change are all inextricably linked. Tackling these huge, structural inequalities is daunting but must be done if we want to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
One way to begin the fight is to talk about why Universal Basic Income is good for the environment. And then advocate to get it into law.
What’s Universal Basic Income?
UBI is a very simple idea. Essentially, it’s a policy that guarantees everyone a basic income with absolutely zero conditions or obligation to work. Another important aspect is that the UBI must be given at a level that meets their basic needs and a little extra. This gives us the chance to acknowledge basic human dignity; that is, the right for everyone to live a satisfied, comfortable life regardless of their output.
In the context of the USA, we usually see this offered as a $12,000 yearly cash grant to each adult. (I’d argue this doesn’t meet “meeting basic needs” in most places but is certainly a start.)
And keep in mind, these are not like conditional cash transfer programs which come with requirements like making sure children attend school regularly.
UBI is just cold, hard cash. No exceptions.
Curious to see some UBI trials in real life?
Why universal basic income is good for the environment
The idea of just giving people money may seen counterintuitive to being good for the environment, but there are arguments to be made for the benefits.
Universal basic income…
Begins to address our systemic inequities
The systems that perpetuate the acceleration of the climate crisis are tied to injustice, particularly the oppression of Black and Brown people and the lack of emphasis on the value of non-money-generating activities under capitalism.
Plus, we can’t fail to give props to the historical context of UBI, which can be seen in many Black liberation efforts like the Black Panther’s Ten-Point Program (see point 2).
To put a metric on this point, “at $171,000, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150) in 2016.” (source) Our systems have set up white people to succeed and accumulate wealth – everyone else? Not so much.
This disenfranchisement comes from structural inequalities far beyond income (see: redlining) but creating a baseline of security gives people agency and the freedom to begin to consider and act on problems that are beyond just immediate survival, like the climate crisis.
Eliminates grinding poverty and lets people make higher-level decisions
Guess what? When you’re worrying about where your next meal is coming from or how you’re going to keep the water connected (yes, the US is an awful country that doesn’t think water is a human right), you’re less able to worry about the larger issues looming.
Studies show that people in chronic poverty are chronically stressed and suffer from the lifelong effects of poverty on physical and mental health. If you’d like to read more about the connection of poverty and mental/physical health, this is a great outline. This doesn’t even begin to touch the impact that poverty has on the developing brains of babies and children.
If you’re only concerned about meeting your basic needs, you probably don’t think too much about the plastic packaging piling up in your garbage can. (Or can’t take much action on it anyway.)
UBI takes away the most immediate fear and stress that comes with making ends meet. Imagine all the creative, passionate activists and innovators who just can’t take a breath and escape the cycle of poverty.
Hell, imagine all the completely average people who won’t contribute anything to the climate fight who also deserve a safe, secure life.
Breaks the work-consumption cycle
Our current economic model is clear and almost impossible to extricate ourselves from, even when we look right at it. In non-academic terms, we do work we hate in order to pay for things we don’t need or even really want.
To elevate the discussion to an academic level:
To usher in a new way of living, the core dynamic of ever-greater production and consumption of goods and resources must be broken, coupled with a societal focus on repairing environmental damage… We could work less and consume less, and still meet our needs.Mass extinction on the horizon: Is Universal Basic Income the answer?
Being kept in this unstable pattern of working, consuming, and never really being able to get ahead keeps us in constant fear of the future. We’re never quite sure our needs will be met in the future, so we can’t bring ourselves to begin dismantling the system that is – at least for now – keep some of us clothed and fed.
UBI allows us to escape that cycle. Less work, less production of unnecessary goods, less pollution and waste created. Win-win-win.
If you really want to dig into the mechanics of UBI, I highly suggest Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght or Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World by Annie Lowrey. If you can’t find them at your library, I’d recommend buying through Better World Books.
Universal Basic Income is good for the environment as people feel less pressure to work, produce, and consume unnecessarily. But more importantly, it allows people to have a basic level of security so they can have a happier life and take the time to fight for the world they want to see.