An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change.
A number of progressive economists have been pointing out the facts relating to this statement for the last few years. Yet, political leaders across the world still seem to be deaf to their words and obsessed with a need to find ways to fuel economic growth through a market economy and promoting austerity, and then praise themselves for doing it, even though their austerity measures affect the poorest in society and damage the environment. It is part of an adherence to a competitive world, in which one’s own country must come out on top. This blinkered approach encourages the manufacturing industry, much of which uses fossil fuels, and trading across the globe, in order to balance the difference between imports and exports – what is termed ” a balanced economy”. I deal with the issue in Chapter 7 of my book, which can be found elsewhere on this website.
In the UK, this approach was perhaps pioneered by Margaret Thatcher and her crony in the US, Ronald Reagan. But it was later picked up with enthusiasm by Tony Blair and developed further, until it became an obsession with economists. According to George Monbiot, they are using the wrong mathematics and this approach is both outdated and harmful to the environment. See:
George Monbiot (2015) Guardian 24th November 2015. “Consume more, conserve more: Sorry but we just can’t do both.”
A number of progressive economists have been saying a similar thing for a number of years. Perhaps the late Richard Douthwaite was the first to say this in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999) but there have been others too: Molly Scott Cato MEP (“Green Economics”), Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics and also “Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us” Guardian 6th April 2017), Ian Fletcher (“Free Trade Doesn’t Work”), Paul Krugman (“How did economists get it so wrong?” in the New York Times), Pat Conaty and the New Economics Foundation among others (full details of each in my references section on this website).
The current Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, also wrote a booklet about this in June 2007, whilst a member of Tony Blair’s “market economy party”. It is entitled “Another World is Possible” and shows amazing foresight about the consequences of market economy politics, which we are living with now. He was courageous to write this, when Blair had been pursuing another path.
According to Kate Raworth in her Guardian article, “Things are not going well in the world’s richest economies. Most OECD countries are facing their highest levels of income inequality in 30 years, while generating ecological footprints of a size that would require four, five or six planet Earths if every country were to follow suit. These economies have, in essence, become divisive and degenerative by default. Mainstream economic theory long promised that the solution starts with growth – but why does that theory seem so ill-equipped to deal with the social and ecological fallout of its own prescriptions?”
And yet, despite all of these highly knowledgeable progressive economists writing at length about it, the old way of dealing with the British economy still persists. The present conservative government in the UK has used it extensively over the last 10 years, as a hammer to batter the opposition with – that they are weak on the economy – a deceitful myth that a gullible public unwittingly believed, when voting at the ballot box – until last June, that is. And the present Chancellor constantly brings statistical data to parliament, in an attempt to show that their economic austerity policies are working. What he does not say is that they are contributing to climate change, as well as making many marginalised people much worse off. Indeed, they seem to have abandoned any pretence to be working towards attaining the targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. George Monbiot has slated their 25-year environment plan, as “A Grand Plan to do Nothing”. See: http://www.monbiot.com
This last year, we have seen some of the extreme consequences of climate change:
- excessive heatwaves last summer;
- a prolonged unusual freeze-up this winter;
- last year having the most violent and numerous hurricanes;
- island nations losing some of their territory due to sea level rise;
- the last few years, global temperatures being the hottest ever on record.
Some of these issues have been described in more detail in other recent blogs on this website.
Just recently, I have read an article by Alan Cottey, a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility: “Environment change, economy change and reducing conflict at source”, just published in AI & Society, where he sets out alternatives. Here is an extract from the Abstract:
“At a time when fossil fuel burning, nationalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other retrograde steps are being promoted, the prospects for world peace and environmental systems stability may appear dim. Exactly because of this is it the more important to continue to examine the sources of conflict. A major obstacle to general progress is the currently dominant economic practice and theory, which is here called the economy-as-usual, or economics-as-usual, as appropriate. A special obstacle to constructive change is the language in which economic matters are usually discussed. This language is narrow, conservative, technical and often obscure. The rapid changes in the environment (physical and living) are largely kept in a separate compartment. If, however, the partition is removed, economics-as-usual, with its dependence on growth and its widening inequality, is seen to be unsustainable. Radical economic change, for better or worse, is to be expected. Such change is here called economy change. The change could be for the better if it involved an expansion of the concept of economics itself, along the lines of oikonomia, a modern revival of a classical Greek term for management or household. In such an expanded view, not everything of economic value can be measured. It is argued that economics-as-usual is the source of much strife. Some features are indicated of a less conflictual economy—more just, cooperative and peaceful. These features include a dignified life available to all people as of right, the word ‘wealth’ being reconnected with weal, well and well-being, and ‘work’ being understood as including all useful activity.”
The whole article can be found at:
I think that many of us have stood on the sidelines of this issue for long enough now. It is time for the progressive economists I have named above, and those cited in Cottey’s article, to come together, in formulating together a new economic theory, with a clear structure, that takes care of the environment, does not increase the gap between rich and poor, and which reduces conflict and competition between nations. They have written separately for too long. Now, we are looking for a new structure – a really new economics, based on compassion and equality, not austerity, which will work towards reducing the damaging effects of climate change.