Richard Smith is a rare voice that speaks to the ineffectiveness of environmental organizations. Green growth is not and cannot be green.
Since the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, when environmentalists began to turn to the market, “green growth” theorists and proponents have argued au contraire that “jobs and environment are not opposed,” that economic growth is compatible with emissions reduction, that carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade schemes could suppress GHG emissions while “green jobs” in new tech, especially renewable energy, would offset lost jobs in fossil fuel industries. Their strategy has failed completely, yet this remains the dominant view of leading climate scientists, including James Hansen, and of most environmental organizations.
All such market-based efforts are doomed to fail, and a sustainable economy is inconceivable without sweeping systemic economic change.
Unfortunately Smith studied economics and apparently did not study physics or biology and therefore incorrectly believes that a different economic or political system can solve our overshoot problems.
It is true that Capitalism has proven to be the most effective system for growth however every other economic and political system has also proven to be destructive to the environment.
The problem is not our economic or political system.
The problem is that humans are consuming a lot of non-renewable energy and materials, and too large a share of renewable resources. Full stop.
And another similar article by Richard Smith…
If we want a sustainable economy, one that “meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” then we would have to do at least some or all of the following:
- Put the brakes on out-of-control growth in the global North – retrench or shut down unnecessary, resource-hogging, wasteful, polluting industries like fossil fuels, autos, aircraft and airlines, shipping, chemicals, bottled water, processed foods, unnecessary pharmaceuticals and so on. Abolish luxury-goods production, the fashions, jewelry, handbags, mansions, Bentleys, yachts, private jets etc. Abolish the manufacture of disposable, throw-away and “repetitive consumption” products. All these consume resources we’re running out of, resources that other people on the planet desperately need and that our children and theirs will need.
- Discontinue harmful industrial processes like industrial agriculture, industrial fishing, logging, mining and so on.
- Close many services – the banking industry, Wall Street, the credit card, retail, PR and advertising “industries” built to underwrite and promote all this overconsumption. I’m sure most of the people working in these so-called industries would rather be doing something else, something useful, creative and interesting and personally rewarding with their lives. They deserve that chance.
- Abolish the military-surveillance-police state industrial complex, and all its manufactures because this is just a total waste whose only purpose is global domination, terrorism and destruction abroad and repression at home. We can’t build decent societies anywhere when so much of social surplus is squandered on such waste.
- Reorganize, restructure, reprioritize production and build the products we do need to be as durable and shareable as possible.
- Steer investments into things society does need, like renewable energy, organic farming, public transportation, public water systems, ecological remediation, public health, quality schools and other currently unmet needs.
- Deglobalize trade to produce what can be produced locally; trade what can’t be produced locally, to reduce transportation pollution and revive local producers.
- Equalize development the world over by shifting resources out of useless and harmful production in the North and into developing the South, building basic infrastructure, sanitation systems, public schools, health care, and so on.
- Devise a rational approach to eliminate or control waste and toxins as much as possible.
- Provide equivalent jobs for workers displaced by the retrenchment or closure of unnecessary or harmful industries, not just the unemployment line, not just because workers cannot support the industry we and they need to save ourselves.
Nowhere in Smith’s 10 possible solutions does he clearly state the most important thing: Restoration of the planet’s health requires poorer people and/or fewer people.
It seems Smith has fallen into the same trap as the greens he criticizes.
The only possible solution is to reduce total consumption. We can do this by reducing consumption per person and/or reducing the number of people.
Achieving this will be difficult and maybe impossible because it requires an override of evolved behaviors.
Nevertheless, if we fail to voluntarily reduce total consumption, nature will do it for us, soon.
Hat tip Bodhi Paul Chefurka.