The old sustainability vs growth chestnut gets another roasting
Two interesting interventions caught my eye this week:
- First of all we had Naomi Klein, of No Logo fame, wading into the climate change debate by declaring that the problem wasn’t carbon but capitalism – and that all of us working with big business to facilitate change were as deluded as climate change deniers.
- Secondly, a report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate concluded that there was no fundamental conflict between economic growth and tackling climate change.
The two viewpoints couldn’t be more different. In my view Ms Klein is on the wrong side of this argument for the following reasons:
- Finger pointing is easy; facilitating real change is the real challenge;
- Big business is not just going to disappear overnight because of the righteous indignation of the activist;
- She admits she does not have an alternative practical solution to climate change (so why bother entering the debate?);
- I was inspired to embrace sustainability by witnessing the ecological legacy of the Soviet regime in Russia – it doesn’t matter whether carbon is emitted under socialism or capitalism, carbon is carbon.
But it still leads us to a fundamental question: is economic growth compatible with sustainability? And the answer from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is that it is. They set out a series of practical measures to harness capitalism to tackle climate change rather than trying to destroy it wholesale – for example removing the subsidies propping up the fossil fuel industry (which are estimated in the report as being six times that of the subsidy to the renewable sector).
I would go further. We must MAKE growth compatible with sustainability. A vibrant global economy is the only way we will continue to bring down the costs of, say, renewable energy technology. In conjunction with appropriate Government action on taxation, subsidies and investment, I do believe we can create a prosperous and sustainable society.
Naomi Klein’s vision would take us back to mid-90s noisy inaction on the climate while the global juggernaut judders on regardless.
Which would you choose?