Alternatives to growth?

It is easy to sympathise with the green commentators who are unimpressed by the results (as opposed to the rhetoric) of the various stimulus packages, and how far they fall short of a “green new deal”. However, there are more radical critiques than that which are worth considering, even though they lead to even more downbeat conclusions. For instance, I spent much of the day of the G20 summit reading the UK sustainable development commission’s think piece on whether there could be any stability to be found in a system which has somehow been adjusted to manage without growth, in the already rich countries anyway. It’s an impressively argued piece, worth spending time on. It suggests that “responses to the crisis which aim to restore the status quo are deeply misguided and doomed to failure”, both economically and environmentally. Like lots of others, the SDC paper argues that the downturn presents an opportunity to reappraise the culture of consumption, recognise the disadvantages of being wedded to growth at all costs (and that the costs are in the end likely to be catastrophic), and generally rethink our priorities. In that light a Keynesian strategy, be it ever so green, is still fundamentally missing the point. The SDC recognises the profound difficulty of thinking this through, and even the difficulty of imagining how it might all work. It still manages to end the paper with 12 policy measures Governments might consider which would help move things in the “right” direction – which are duly highlighted in the accompanying press release. However, the report’s main author, economist Tim Jackson, rather undermines this positive impression in an interview which goes out with the report. There, he admits that “the reason why nobody asks the difficult questions that we are asking here is because nobody really has any answers to them”. If he is right, and I reckon he is, where does that leave us? With an analysis which suggests both that business as usual is impossible and that there is no credible alternative, I suppose. Gee, thanks, Tim!

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