A new system of supporting environmental advocacy is urgently needed: Does Universal Basic Income offer a solution?
Over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries recently co-signed the ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, highlighting the continued deterioration of the health and stability of our global environment. Since the first warning was penned twenty five years ago, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as the impact of citizens engaging in advocacy to demand the protection of our biosphere.
Volunteers sustained and formed iconic campaigns in Australia’s environmental history, however building organised grassroots movements requires time, skill, and money.
In Australia there are hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups who together – group by group, person by person – form the backbone of the environmental movement. They have had successes with the Daintree Rainforest blockade and the Franklin Dam occupation, and are mobilising across the country on the modern Stop Adani campaign.
However, the high cost to voluntary advocates is overlooked. These costs can include financial instability, unemployment, a criminal record, and in some countries, even death.
Luckily for our communities, and our planet, engaged citizens willingly bear individual costs to fight for our collective rights, equality and power.
With the escalating threat of climate change, we need a substantial percentage of our population dedicated to taking action, whether that’s through planting trees, raising funds for community solar projects, or organising and attending rallies and protests. A crucial factor in increasing the number of advocates is ensuring that current and future environmental advocates have the time, financial stability and equal access opportunities to be the active and engaged citizens we so desperately need.
Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the traditional model of paid advocates to do this work for us. Jobs in the environmental advocacy sector are few and generally unsecure. Advocacy can be silenced because of fears of political, legal or financial retribution against both the advocates themselves and those who fund their salaries or support their voluntary organisations. Furthermore, in Australia, a hostile Federal government has spent years attempting to gag non-profit advocacy work by trying to impose restrictions on their tax deductibility status.
We need a different way of supporting our social and environmental movements.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be the key to enabling more citizens to devote their time and skills to advocating for our environment. With the State providing a set basic income for all citizens to cover their basic needs, those who are able to devote their time to advocacy may finally have the opportunity to do so without risking their livelihood. Additionally, a UBI system increases the ability of citizens to retrain, start businesses and have more time as caregivers. However, a UBI system, is not a panacea. Many philosophical and practical questions still need to be answered about its effect on social and economic systems.
Fortunately, with Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland currently trailing versions of UBI, we are a few steps closer to answering these questions. As a result we may be closer to a system that better supports grassroots and unpaid advocates to continue to speak up for our biosphere and our collective future.
As the World Scientists’ Warning notes, ‘with a groundswell of organised grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing’. We all have an opportunity to contribute to this effort.
One of the best ways of contributing is by better enabling the powerful and persistent voices in our communities the resources to advocate for us and the environment.
It is only through that groundswell of grassroots strength that we have any hope of safeguarding our environment and guaranteeing a healthy future for generations to come.
- Robyn Gulliver
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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