Thursday, January 24, 2008

What sorts of economic growth are good??

At long last some discussion of whether we can continue to have the usual economic growth patterns and still tackle climate change, on a major news and current affairs program. Its pretty clear that we need a stable climate in order to conduct economic activity effectively. Newsnight has this on its website after last night's program:


The European Commission has announced plans to make Europe the first "economy for a low carbon age". The measures will add around £10 a month to household and include a new emissions trading scheme and targets for producing energy from renewables. But how damaging will these measures be for European competitiveness against emerging markets in India and China - especially in a period of global economic uncertainty, when already many are expecting growth to slow, or halt altogether? A number of economists and scientists are questioning whether it is possible to tackle climate change while continuing to pursue a go-for-growth economic strategy. So do we need to give up on growth?

I posted my response to the story on their site:

Good to see the economic growth issue covered in a program. We definitely need more on this issue though. There wasn't enough depth in the treatment to do this very big issue and all that it relates to justice.

The kinds of economic growth we've had in the past have caused the climate problems science now details. They have been and are carbon-intensive.

What, if any, kinds of economic growth are consistent with fighting climate change? And indeed building general wellbeing?

Those economic growth patterns with the most promise of being consistent with wellbeing are presumeably likely to be much more controlled and selective than in the past: how?

It now seems clearer than ever that the achievement of a growing economy as the primary aim of governments of all political colours has been misguided - we've been seeing growth as equivalent to progress and improved wellbeing when the evidence shows a much more complex picture.

Can we beat Robert F Kennedy's words on growth as measured by GNP:

"The Gross National Product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. GNP includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm, missiles and nuclear warheads.

And if GNP includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country…"

Part of the solution is to measure the right factors in our society and economy, as long as we dont at the same time get obsessed with and tied in by a rigid approach to measurement.