Guest post: Easier than persuading the laws of physics to change their minds

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug on There might be some coal under there.

For everyone out there who doesn’t understand the problem, I have a message for you: The economy is man-made. The environment is not. Which one do you think we could manage to remake if they conflict? And which one can we absolutely not live without?

Exactly. Beautifully formulated. Or to paraphrase Bill McKibben, as difficult as it may be to change the economic system, it’s almost certainly going to be easier than persuading the laws of physics to change their minds. My first question to anyone who argues that protecting the environment is going to harm the economy is “Compared to what?” After all, there can be no prospering economy on an uninhabitable planet. If doing whatever it takes to keep the planet habitable means the economy is screwed, then it’s screwed either way, and all the covfefe in the world is never going to save it.

I’ve been reading up on things like degrowth and steady state economic models lately, and, historically speaking, the all-destroying perpetual growth model has only been with us for the blink of an eye. If people could live without it in the past they can live without it today. Of course modern technologies and standards of living haven’t been with us for very long either, but there is no law of nature that says technology can only be used to keep the economy growing for ever. Imagine if increased efficiency meant we got to work less rather than produce more. Sounds great to me. And to those who argue that perpetual growth is necessary to lift people out of poverty, I can’t resist sharing the following quote from the book Enough Is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill:

Economic growth has been cited by the World Bank as the “essential ingredient for sustained poverty reduction.” But for every $100 of global economic growth that occurred between 1990 and 2001, only 60 cents went to people below the $1-per-day line. In other words, to get the poorest people of the world an extra $1 required a $166 increase in global production and consumption. Someone is profiting from economic growth, but it’s not the world’s poor.

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