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‘Small is Beautiful’ fights climate change

Aug 15,2023 - Last updated at Aug 15,2023


‘Small is Beautiful’ is a phrase that originates from the title of a book by British economist E.F. Schumacher, published in 1973. The exact complete title of his book is "Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered". In this book, Schumacher advocates for an eco-centred, sustainable personal and decentralised approach to economics and development, highlighting the importance of considering the well-being of individuals, communities and the environment over the global pursuit of endless growth that is harming the environment and causing climate change to deepen and exacerbate.

The central idea behind "Small is Beautiful" can be put into a modest and practical human-scale development, where communities and individuals take the environment into consideration by considering an eco-centric behaviour, such as choosing a small home, or a small vehicle, which eventually leads to a more sustainable and equitable society, alleviating social injustice, reducing pollution and creating a more sustainable life for future generations. This approach also implies promoting local solutions and initiatives that cater to the specific needs (rather than wants) of people in a particular region under the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

Connecting farmers directly with the local community helps to facilitate local food distribution. Consumers can then purchase a share of the farm's produce in advance at competitive prices. This also guarantees a market for the farmer's goods and strengthens the local food system and sustainability. Many farms also host workshops, farm tours, product picking and educational events for their members. This fosters a sense of community and helps consumers understand the importance of sustainable farming practices. Members of the community can be invited to commit to purchasing a share of the farm's produce in advance, usually at the beginning of the growing season. This upfront financial support provides farmers with a stable income and helps cover initial expenses, such as seeds and equipment.

Schumacher advocates for local communities to have control over their resources and promote responsible resource management. Through this way, the environment can be conserved and utilised more efficiently, preventing overexploitation and environmental degradation. This is achieved by encouraging the growth of small, local businesses and cooperatives that can empower communities and create job opportunities. 

Investing in small scale local educational and healthcare facilities ensures that communities have access to quality services tailored to their needs, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility for these vital services. A community clinic provides basic medical services, preventive care, vaccinations and minor treatments that foster a sense of comfort, trust and belonging to the community.

Schumacher emphasises the use of "appropriate technology" that is suited to the local context, geography and resources. These technologies ought to be simple, affordable, and ecologically friendly, rather than being expensive, complex and resource-intensive. An example is using solar water heaters that are of simple technology and which reduce the consumption of electricity and the consequent burning of fossil fuels, as well as saving on capital that can be used more effectively wherever it is most needed.

Appropriate technology means using affordable technologies and green practices that are unharmful to the environment. Schumacher criticises the prevailing industrialised and resource-intensive approach to development, which often leads to environmental degradation, resource depletion and pollution. Instead, he advocates for technologies and economic practices that are ecologically friendly and support the long-term well-being of the planet; practices that fall within the green and circular economy category.

Instead of relying heavily on large-scale industrialised agriculture with extensive use of chemicals, it is recommended to use small-scale organic farming practices. These methods can help preserve soil fertility, underground water quality, conserve water, protect biodiversity and produce healthier food without harming the environment. These farms also produce a diverse range of agricultural products that are based on the season's harvest. This encourages consumers to eat locally and fresh products seasonally, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transporting out-of-season produce.

Instead of monoculture (growing only one type of crop), practice Diverse Crop Rotation where different crops are planted in sequence to replenish soil nutrients naturally, reduce pest pressure, and maintain soil structure. Such farming often prioritises planting a variety of crops, including heirloom and indigenous varieties. This helps preserve biodiversity by avoiding the homogenisation of crops seen in large-scale monoculture farms. The destructive nature of planting the same species, such as palm oil in the Far East, is a lesson to learn from.

Farming can prioritise composting to enrich the soil with organic matter, improving its structure and fertility. This reduces the need for synthetic fertilisers and prevents soil erosion. Also chemical pesticides and fertilisers are minimised or avoided entirely. Instead, natural methods like companion planting (where certain plants deter pests from others) and integrated pest management are employed to control pests and diseases.

Water-efficient irrigation techniques can also be used to making small quantities of water enough for the farm, such as drip irrigation, using mulch to reduce evaporation, cover surface soil with polyethylene sheets and practice rainwater harvesting. By optimising water usage, we can conserve this valuable resource.

"Small is Beautiful" principles advocate for fair trade practices that enable small-scale producers, particularly in developing countries, to access global markets at fair prices. This helps to improve livelihoods and reduce exploitation.

Instead of focusing solely on large financial institutions, "Small is Beautiful" principle supports microfinance initiatives and community-based banking, which can provide financial services to marginalised individuals and small entrepreneurs at reasonable rates that can control monopoly on capital lending and hence increases social justice.

Schumacher argues that economic development and profit ought not to come at the expense of ecological balance. He encourages decision-makers to take into account the long-term consequences of their actions on the environment, thus taking sustainability into consideration. This prevents the exhaustion of resources beyond their regenerative capacity.

In summary, Schumacher "Small is Beautiful" perspective calls for a more ecologically conscious and sustainable approach to development, recognising that economic growth should not be pursued at the cost of human unlimited wants and desires that cause environmental degradation and come at the expense and the well-being of future generations. It is a call for a more holistic and humane approach to development, economics, and societal progress that prioritises the well-being and equity of people and other ecological systems in our planet over relentless unjust pursuit of growth and profit.


Ayoub Abu Dayyeh is an energy and green building consultant


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