Going for Green or Growth?
Societies and their economies clearly exist within and dependent upon the natural environment, drawing resources such as oil and natural gas from it and emitting wastes such as carbon dioxide to it. Sustainability therefore is a matter of the environment and society and the economy. It is necessary, desirable and in the end inevitable for us to achieve sustainability because human health, well-being and quality of life would be greatly improved and the stability and security of our world would be enabled. Tackling poverty for instance is as much an environmental as it is a social and economic issue. Why then do most politicians, economists, businesses and many others talk and act as if the environment is something to attend to only when the economy allows it? Why are economic and social issues still not seen as interdependent with environmental issues, requiring an integrated, coordinated approach? Or is this fact known but simply not acted on because of power relationships? Has the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne, whose recent budget demonstrated a near complete disinterest in the green economy, really not noticed the economic success coming from it despite the generally dire economic situation and lack of support from the Government?
Oil and gas supplies are finite, running down, high and/or unstable in price and when used cause climate change (amongst other problems such as oil spills!). Yet GDP and GNP growth - which take no account whatsoever of the depletion of resources or the build up of climate changing gases – are the main measure of economic progress! The pursuit of GDP growth as the key goal of governments - equating growth with progress - has been and is a part of the problem. GDP growth based on non-renewable resources is one of the reasons that Chancellor George Osbourne's budget promised to deliver shale gas and oil industry tax breaks to promote early investment in shale gas in his recent budget. He wants a shale gas boom and presumably is not bothered that reliance on gas is unsustainable, not least because it will make hitting our climate change targets impossible.
Seeking GDP growth in the way we have been is reducing our capacity to live without undermining the systems that support our lives by:
To become sustainable we need to achieve a set of economic and social goals not centred primarily on GDP growth. Growth in the economy needs to meet conditions and be selective, to be of the right sort, in the right places, so that we attain and maintain economic stability and security – and sustainability. Aside from announcements on extra incentives for ultra-low emission vehicles, a pledge of support for the next stage of two new projects for carbon dioxide capture and storage from power stations and indicating that the government would come forward with a plan for zero-carbon homes (that won’t actually be zero carbon) by May, Chancellor George Osbourne chose in his budget not to begin building an economy we can sustain into the 21st century and the next however. He pretty much assumes that what we have done in the past is good enough for the future. Instead of setting a clear regulatory framework to drive investment and export opportunities for low carbon technologies the Chancellor exempted some energy-intensive firms from the Climate Change Levy designed to incentivise energy efficiency for instance.
Renewability needs to replace resource squandering yet the budget made no mention at all of renewable energy. We must not continue to exceed environmental capacities yet Chancellor George Osbourne has not encouraged our transport system to move away from its oil dependency and has instead withheld the fuel duty escalator rises and boasted about the amount govt is spending on new roads. This generation and those to come, the world over, deserve to get their dues but the Chancellor’s focus is backward or static, not forward. Yet without an integrated and coordinated approach to social, economic and environmental issues we won’t have dynamically stable, secure ways of living that are able to persist over time.
Working for economic wellbeing, social justice and environmental protection, something I've done since the early 1980's in Bristol, UK. I'm an Open University Associate Lecturer in Environment (see here and here), having previously been a science teacher and before that a research and development technologist in the polymer industry. I'm pleased to be an Associate Member of the Institute for ...