UBI: It Changes Everything

Authors: Mary Lawhon*, University of Oklahoma, Tyler McCreary, Florida State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Natural Resources
Keywords: universal basic income; political ecology; automation; robots
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Bear with us: we’re going to sweep through some big ideas to build our conclusion. But here it is: in a world in which automation is increasingly making jobs obsolete, embracing technology and universal basic income is our best bet for obviating the jobs vs environment debate and enabling a just and sustainable society. We develop this argument from a recognition that i) despite narratives such as sustainable development, environmentalists are insufficiently attending to the politics of distribution; ii) prominent environmental strategies such as green jobs, decoupling and/or degrowth cannot overcome the impacts of automation; and iii) more and more people globally are recognizing the short-sighted extractiveness of state-aided global corporate capitalism, but struggling to identify new pathways. The most significant contribution of UBI to environmental strategy is empowering communities and individuals and communities to say “no” to extractive developments. UBI does not guarantee local control or what the outcome of a local decision will be; these will remain key sites for struggle. Nor is UBI a holistic solution: UBI is most useful as part of a suite of state interventions. To illustrate our argument, we highlight some of the ways in which consideration of UBI reframes some environmental struggles from our own ongoing research in South Africa and Canada. On this basis, we urge political ecologists to more aggressively pursue work that is engaged with this nexus of automation, labour, and the politics of distribution.

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