It has become an a matter of widespread belief, as Giesen asserts, that economic contraction not economic growth is essential for an ecological future.
I would like to offer another prospective based on the pursuit of sustainability and making economic growth mean ecological improvement. It is a fundamental error to conflate all economic growth with ecological pillage — for example, trading information in cyberspace on a renewably powered internet is a sustainable practice.
The pursuit of sustainability as a high-growth, zero pollution strategy can be the basis for an end to industrialism’s path toward self-destruction and the means for building an ecological civilization. Economic growth as a means for ecological improvement is the accessible path for both the pursuit of sustainability and an end to global poverty. Pursuing profit can and must be made the path to ecological improvement and the restoration of natural capital. We can move within two generations toward a sustainable reality. Is this really possible?
The recent PWC report, “Decarbonization and the Economy: An Empirical Analysis of the Economic Impact of Energy and Climate Change Policies,” finds that European renewable development efforts successfully combine economic growth and ecological improvement. This is a start.
The goal is a zero-pollution zero waste future guided by a mandated industrial ecology where the outputs of one process becomes inputs for another in a virtuous production cycle. The transformation of industrial business as usual to an ecological civilization can be accomplished through a comprehensive range of measures. These include ecological consumption taxation sending market price signals for sustainability where sustainable conduct is more profitable, a complete efficient renewable energy transformation; an order of magnitude improvement in efficiency including second law of thermodynamic efficiency; sustainable practices in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.
Certainly, we cannot expect that profit seeking businesses by themselves will automatically do the right thing. We don’t have to. A combination of new market rules, a mandated industrial ecology, and, crucially, ecological consumption taxes on all goods and services, such as an ecological value added tax (EVAT) will send market price signals for sustainability throughout the economy. Sustainable goods and services will become less costly and gain market share and become more profitable; unsustainable goods and services will become more costly, loss market share and become less profitable. Profit seeking behavior with the right market rules and regulations can be the path for sustainability.
As director of the China International Working Groups, I am working with China on developing a continental scale efficient renewable energy grid that eventually could replace all fossil fuels (including gasoline). See http://wkly.ws/1mg.
An ecological transformation will not be easy, but it can be done. A plan for ecological sanity is also a high profit business plan for economic growth, for a renewable energy transformation, for an end to poverty, an end to pollution and waste. There are trillions to be made and many many millions of good jobs that can be created from building an ecological civilization.
The challenges are, above all, political to adopt the new market rules, ecological taxation, and investment politics that send clear market signals for sustainability that will move the global economy toward the generation of sustainable profit. This is a political struggle that must be waged by a global movement for ecological change. It will not be handed to us by politicians on the polluter’s payrolls. An ecological future will not arise from calls by Tom Giesen for an end to economic growth.
Yes we are on the path toward self-destruction, and are not exempt from the consequences of our actions. But we are exceptional in that we have the conscious ability to participate in the grand process of sustainability by making social decisions to respond to industrial excess and move the biosphere toward a balance beneficial to all its creatures and that includes us.
Now is the time for engagement to make economic growth mean ecological improvement.