Copenhagen Conversations

In the leadup to the monumentally important Copenhagen climate summit, The UK Guardian is hosting forums involving MP’s who will be present at the talks, hoping to exert influence and see positive and lasting changes come out of the talks.  Liberal Democrat spokesman for energy and climate change Simon Hughes was available for questioning this week.  The following question was posed to him:


02 Nov 09, 2:50pm (about 20 hours ago)

The biggest quandary in my mind is the disconnect between the current economic system and the limits that both climate change and peak resources present to macroeconomics. We need economic growth to provide jobs and investment in our current system and without growth it would be difficult to finance the R&D and capital investment needed to roll out efficiency improvements, new alternative energy, transport and electricity networks. Professor Tim Jackson has recently written a very good paper on this problem – “Prosperity Without Growth”.

How do you and your party view this issue – is it possible to still have growing economies once environmental and resource considerations are added to the way we view economics? And if not, how do we provide new technologies the investment they need?

Thank you for your time today.

Tomas L. Martin

To which i responded:

I agree wholeheartedly with you. Moreover, whether it is “possible to still have growing economies once environmental and resource considerations are added to the way we view economics” is beside the point as far as im concerned. A radical shift in economic thinking – away from old models, that fail to incorporate externalities like species extinction, resource depletion, ozone destruction etc, and only focus on growth and production, rather than sustainability – is what is needed in order to ensure humanity’s longevity, while limiting the ecological costs that we pass on to future generations. This concept may seem improbable, suffocating (even negative), frightening or even impossible, but reduced consumption and a slow-down in growth is imperative, lest we further manufacture and quicken our demise. Do you think this is a possibility? How do you measure when an economy has reached the limits of its growth – where cost outweighs benefits? Is classical economic theory ready to move towards a more sustainable model?

I have no doubt that if we cannot move towards a more sustainable way of economic thinking – where we pay the true cost for goods and services, for example (factoring in the costs on the ecology – which are ignored, deemed “externalities” by current economic theory) that the demise of our planet will be crippling and sudden.  Most economists would baulk at the concept of limiting growth, and i sincerely doubt whether the vast majority of them currently practicing economics (as well as those who are teaching future generations of economists) would be able to pose a compelling answer as to when an economy reaches the limits of its growth – when the costs outweigh the benefits of increased prodution.  Resources and funding need to be directed towards renewable energy, public transport and carbon efficient industry, amongst many other efforts that have been ignored for too long.  Nobel prize winner Wassily Leontief once remarked that “departments of economics are graduating a generation of idiotic savants, brilliant at esoteric mathematics yet innocent of actual economic life”.  Undoubtedly, his words encompass all neoclassical economic theory, blatantly out of touch with people, and totally dependent on mathematical models.  As our ecology continues to suffer, and our resources near their limits, are we truly ready for this essential shift in thinking, or is the bottom line of those practitioners who deem growth and consumption an economic necessity destined to doom our existence?

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