Green economy is distinct from the dominant economic paradigm as practiced by politicians and taught in the universities in three main ways:
It is inherently concerned with social justice. For mainstream economics ‘welfare economics’ is an add-on, a minor part of the discipline which is only considered peripherally. For a green economist equality and justice are at the heart of what we do and take precedence over considerations such as efficiency. Many of the contributors to green economics have a history of work in development economics, and those who do not are equally concerned to forge an international economy that addresses the concerns of all the world’s people equally.
Green economy has emerged from environmental campaigners and green politicians because of their need for it. It has grown from the bottom up and from those who are building a sustainable economy in practice rather than from abstract theories.
Green economics is not, as yet, an academic discipline with a major place in the universities. In fact, this is the first book which has attempted to pull together the various contributions to this field into a coherent whole.
The green economy applies 3 general measures for progress:
- Measures the degree of economic transformation in relation to investment and growth in green sectors.
- It represents the impact of development in terms of extraction and depletion of resources.
- The green economy measures the welfare of society according to the population’s access to basic resources, education, health and social security.
The main objective of the Green Economy is to enable economic development by reconciling it with social equality, eradicating poverty and improving human well-being, reducing negative environmental impacts and ecological scarcity.
Key Features of the Green Economy:
- Low use of fossil fuels (gasoline, coal, diesel, etc.) and increased use of clean and renewable sources of energy;
- Efficiency in the use of natural resources;
- Practices and processes aimed at social inclusion and eradication of poverty;
- Investment and promotion of green agriculture;
- Appropriate treatment of waste with efficient recycling systems;
- Quality and efficiency in urban mobility systems
The obvious problems being caused by economic growth have not been ignored by academics: they were noticed by some in the economics profession, who then attempted to incorporate these concerns into their discipline. This led to the development of environmental economics, and also the related study of natural-resource economics. Conventional economics considers environmental impact to be an ‘external’, something outside its concern. Environmental economists were keen to bring these negative impacts back within the discipline.
However, they still approached the subject in a scientific and measurement-based way, for example using shadow pricing to measure how much people were concerned about noise pollution or the loss of habitat. In other words, the way in which economics traditionally marginalized or ignores something that cannot be priced was still adhered to, but the response was to attempt to evaluate in some way aspects of life which economics had ignored, Green economists would consider this To be a category error; in other words, they believe it is important to accept that some aspects of life have social or spiritual worth that simply cannot be measured.
In fact, many green economists go so far as to suggest that the counting itself is part of the problem. To take one example, in order to count anything we must divide the world into separate categories, say part-time or full-time workers, men or women, and so on. This challenges the principle of holism that lies at the heart of a green approach to the economy and society. Another example: while considering the economy, we can celebrate rising rates of productivity and higher percentages of lab-our-force participation, while ignoring the fact that those who measure social changes are reporting increasing levels of stress and mental disease among children. It is the nature of the process of measurement itself to compartmentalized our experience so that the left hand cannot see the damage the right hand is doing. While this sort of ‘accounting for the environment’ can be beneficial, it remains within the paradigm of placing quantity before quality.
When green economists do engage in measurement they try to do it in a more human and accessible way. This is partly based on a belief that in the past economics has been the province of those with PhDs and preferably in mathematics. This has limited the discussion and reduced the economic choices available in areas that are crucially important to our democracy. An example of a measure that might be useful to a green economist is the ‘ecological footprint’, the area of land and water that is required to support indefinitely the material standard of living of a given human population using prevailing technology.
This allows us to make straightforward comparisons between the land available and the demands we make on it, such as that the ecological footprint of London is 120 times the area of the city itself. The concept actually grew up within the ecological economics discipline, but it has been valuable in developing awareness of the climate change impact of our economic behavior. However, a green economist might go a step further and seek a simpler, more human-scale economic indicator – perhaps the average distance food travels between sire of cultivation and site of consumption.
Green economics proposes a move away from a focus on economic growth and towards a ‘steady-state economy’, which is the only type of economy that can he sustainable in the long-term. In the steady-state economy, the planetary frontier is respected and the Earth is therefore the most scarce resource. This leads us to conclude that we should use it as wisely as possible, maximizing its productivity while at the same time minimizing our use of it. We should therefore focus more on quality and less on quantity. In order to achieve the steady state we need to pay attention both to the number of people who are sharing the Earth’s resources, and to their level of consumption. We should also be aware of the regenerative capacity of the planet, our only basic resource, so that non-renewable resources should not be removed at a rate faster than renewable substitutes can be developed, and our outputs of waste, including pollution, should be limited to the level where they do not exceed the planet’s carrying capacity.
The issue of resources is crucial. Economics is defined as the study of how resources are or should be distributed. Green economics suggests a whole change of perspective in our attitude to resource use, one that can be portrayed as a shift from the perspective of the cowboy to the perspective of the spaceman. The cowboy views his world as infinite and lives without a frontier in an environment where there arc endless resources to meet his needs and a vast empty area to absorb his wastes. The attitude of the spaceman could not be more different. He is aware that his environment is very limited indeed. He has available only the resources that can be fitted into his small capsule, and he is only too familiar with his own wastes.
Green economists suggest that we need to leave behind the attitude of the cowboy and move towards that of the spaceman. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the world of business, where the gunslinger stills rules supreme but where viewing the Earth as our only available spaceship would be a better guarantee of our survival as a species: