Currencies of transition: transforming money to unleash sustainability

Bendell, Jem ORCID logo ORCID: and Greco, Thomas H. (2013) Currencies of transition: transforming money to unleash sustainability. In: McIntosh, Malcolm, (ed.) The necessary transition: the journey towards the sustainable enterprise economy. Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK, pp. 221-242. Full text not available from this repository.

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The idea that money needs to be more ‘local’ to enable more environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial economies is a theme in a variety of conferences and initiatives that ally with the concept of ‘transition’ to low-carbon societies. The first ever Transition Town initiative sprang up in the rural British town of Totnes in 2006. One of its activities was to pioneer a local currency that one could purchase with British pounds. Subsequently, the Transition Network, which promotes the concept of Transition worldwide from its base in Totnes, has promoted similar schemes across the UK. In 2012 the launch of the Bristol pound in the UK generated significant media attention, as Bristol became the first city in the UK to launch its own currency and gain the support of the local council, with the Lord Mayor spending the very first Bristol pound. People must purchase Bristol pounds by using national currency, and businesses can redeem them for national currency. Almost entirely ignored by mainstream media in the past, local currencies and alternative exchange systems are becoming familiar themes in mainstream newspapers such as The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian and Der Spiegel, as well as on both local and network TV. The reports focus mainly on attempts to keep money circulating locally instead of ‘leaking out’, as a way of enhancing the vitality of local economies and improving the prospects of local businesses in their struggle to compete with large corporate chains. This has been the key aim expressed by the originators of the pound-backed local currencies issued in Brixton, Bristol and elsewhere.

All of that is well and good, but could miss the main point of what ails our communities - and our world. The problems facing our communities, and civilization as a whole, stem from the mechanisms by which money is created and allocated by the members of the most powerful cartel the world has ever known. Our current monetary system is the main underlying cause for multiple crises with sovereign debt, environmental destruction, spiralling inequality and mass unemployment. Unless we transform the way money is issued, rather than repackaging it after the fact, then we are not addressing the underlying problem. This insight is not widely understood by people working on social or environmental issues, even those who work on economic dimensions. As one of the authors of the original The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972) report, Dennis Meadows explains: ‘I did not think about the money system at all. I took it for granted as a neutral aspect of human society. . . . I now understand . . . that the prevailing financial system is incompatible with sustainability’ (in Lietaer et al. 2012a: 1). On average, modern humans are monetarily illiterate, not understanding the essence of money, how it is created and how this influences their experience of life. This illiteracy restricts our ability to work towards transition. In this chapter, our aim is to help relevant professionals understand the monetary origins of our current malaise, the practical steps being taken by communities to manage their own economies and exchange systems, and to map out some emerging issues for research, practice and policy. In conclusion, we explain how a focus on monetary systems can re-frame how we understand the sustainability challenge, away from being a matter of exhorting each-other to behave ‘better’ and/or impose more restrictions on our behaviours, towards a step-by-step liberation of communities’ innate ability to thrive in the ways that they themselves determine.

Item Type: Book Section
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
ISBN: 9781906093891
Departments: Research Centres > Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS)
Additional Information: Chapter 14 within book.
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2017 14:30
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 11:32
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