Universal Basic Income Could Boost ‘Climate-Safe’ Practices, But Only with Careful Design
A universal basic income (UBI) could be a cornerstone of the shift to a “climate-safe economy”, and it’s time for the environmental community to embrace the concept, its advocates say.
“Proponents say the benefits of UBI are far-reaching, and that a stable source of income could help lift folks out of poverty; allow people to better balance responsibilities like caring for family members or pursuing a degree; encourage personal freedom; provide security for the self-employed; and simply allow people to work less,” The Revelator writes.
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“When you hear a politician say that no one who works full time should live in poverty, the unspoken statement is that if you don’t work full time, it’s OK you live in poverty,” Universal Income Project co-founder Jim Pugh told the U.S.-based publication. “What we’re trying to push is the idea that in a country with as much wealth as the United States has, no one should live in poverty.”
The connection back to environment and climate is a bit more anecdotal…but still makes intuitive sense. “More income, some experts say, could help people purchase longer-lasting and eco-friendly goods, including sustainably-produced foods, that are now financially out of their reach,” The Revelator says. “It could also free people from undesirable jobs in polluting industries or ones that involve long, smog-inducing car commutes.”
“I think it’s incredibly hard to quantify,” Pugh conceded. But “if you actually can give people the financial freedom to have more options generally, then I think that there is, at the very least, the opportunity that you could get people to make more environmentally responsible choices.”
As one proof point, the story cites a recent anti-poverty program in Indonesia that pretty much accidentally delivered a 30% reduction in deforestation, about the same that other countries have achieved with deliberate conservation programs. More broadly, UBI programs have been tested over the last 40 years in Canada, Brazil, Finland, India, Namibia, and Spain, and small pilot projects are currently under way in Stockton, California and Jackson, Mississippi.
The Revelator points to the possibility that a universal basic income could actually drive environmental impacts—by increasing consumption, or creating incentives for extractive industries. That risk points to the need to design programs with their potential pitfalls in mind.
“If a UBI is implemented without any consideration of the environmental impacts caused by a surge in consumption from a sudden increase in aggregate demand, it is highly likely that environmental problems will worsen and that—without an innovative regulatory regime that protects critical ecological systems and promotes disruptive technological change—these may not decline over time,” concluded a research team led by Ralph Hall, associate director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.