ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIES: UPLIFTING ACTIVITIES FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE, U.S. SURVEY RESULTS
Our extractive economic system relies on endless growth and exploitation and hurts humans and wildlife. The harms of this system range from continued fossil fuel combustion, which threatens our health and climate, to voter suppression and growing wealth inequality.
Research conducted by the Pew Research Center found that more than 65% of people in the United States believe that the American political, economic and healthcare systems must be completely reformed or need major changes. The growing frustration with our present systems has caused people to turn to alternative economy practices, like participating in community-supported agriculture, land trusts or sharing and bartering programs.
The creation of an alternative economy requires community-oriented solutions grounded in equity, cooperation, democratic practices and sustainability. These alternative economy values embody the belief that the needs of people should be prioritized over the endless pursuit of profit.
But creating and scaling alternative economy practices so they’re widely accepted requires an understanding of how people perceive the present economy and support an alternative economy. To gain that understanding, the Center for Biological Diversity conducted an online survey of the U.S. public to get a sense of their existing knowledge of alternative economy principles, their perceptions of the role corporations play in the economy, and their willingness to engage in community-level alternative economy actions.
The survey revealed that three-fourths of Americans agree that our economic system needs to change but only one-third are comfortable using alternative economy language in conversation. It also found that the majority of those surveyed are familiar with alternative economy practices, but financial resources and time significantly limit their ability to participate in them.
Our recommendations to overcome these barriers include creating resources for the public and policymakers to support scaling alternative economy actions and advocating for increased corporate transparency and accountability in the political process and the economic system.
The results of this survey provide crucial insight into the public’s existing beliefs about our current capitalist economic system and people’s understanding and willingness to participate in a new and inclusive alternative economy. It’s our hope that the wisdom gained from this survey will help environmental advocates build support for a new economy.
1. Respondents agree that our present economic system needs major changes.
Three-fourths of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that an economy shaped by major corporations is compatible with a sustainable future but our current economic system needs major reforms to ensure everyone has clean air and water regardless of race, class or gender. Respondents also believed that corporations have too much power and influence in the political process.
Three-fourths of respondents were familiar with alternative economy terms such as “degrowth economy,” “democratic socialism,” “just transition,” “new economy,” “post-capitalism,” “redistributive economy,” “solidarity economy” and “steady-state economy.” However, only one-third of respondents said they’d be comfortable using these terms in conversation.
Respondents said that all five pillars of the solidarity economy — cooperation, equity, environmental sustainability, democracy and pluralism — are important to them, but cooperation and equity were the top two choices.
2. Respondents are already knowledgeable about alternative economy practices but many face financial and logistical barriers to participation.
More than 90% of respondents were familiar with alternative economy practices like community land trusts, community supported agriculture (CSAs) and gardens, co-operatives, credit unions, do-ityourself (DIY), mutual aid and sharing. More than 63% of respondents indicated they support these alternative economy practices. However, only 30% said they currently participate — or have participated in the past — in these practices.
More than 60% of respondents said they support, or are willing to engage in, activities that represent an alternative economy such as participatory budgeting, community sharing and cooperative ownership, but 51% indicated that lack of financial resources — and 49% said lack of time — held them back.
These survey results provide crucial insight into perspectives on alternative economy practices and the larger systemic changes required of corporations and the political process. The findings in this report will help inform future outreach and advocacy campaigns as well as future research. Our recommendations for next steps are listed below.
1. Conduct additional research into communication strategies and campaigns that will motivate participation in alternative economy actions.
The results in question 2 about terminology suggest that additional research is needed to determine the best messaging to engage people in alternative economy outreach and advocate for these practices across political differences. This research could also include investigation into which terms can most effectively mobilize and motivate action. Additional research could also include a deep dive into ways to overcome the perceived barriers to action to help build better campaigns.
2. Create resources for the general public and policymakers to support the scaling of alternative economy actions.
The survey results suggest that additional resources and support from local governments, organizations, funding entities and community advocates are needed to address the barriers of time and money and make it easier for people to engage in alternative economy examples. This could involve the creation of educational resources, outreach initiatives and technical assistance to increase knowledge about easy, convenient, and low-cost ways of getting involved in alternative economy activities like community organizing through land trusts, shopping at co-ops, and participating in mutual aid.
In addition to the work needed to scale alternative economies, advocates must simultaneously uplift the fights of all communities who are facing harm from the extractive nature of our present economic system. This includes promoting policies that limit corporate influence and involve diverse stakeholders. There needs to be an increased commitment from academics and organizers alike to discuss alternative economies and provide education to policymakers and the business community.
3. Advocate for increased corporate transparency and accountability in the political process and economic system.
Survey respondents demonstrated concern about the economic and political power that corporations hold in society. The transition from a system based on extraction and exploitation to a system based on sustainability, regeneration, solidarity and equity will require policies that hold corporations accountable for the harm they cause to people and the environment. This could include advocacy for public access to information about production processes, regular labor audits, enforcement of existing environmental and labor laws, environmental impact assessments and accessible and understandable information about political campaign contributions.