A scientist, William J Ripple (who he? – Ed) tells us what really needs to be done about climate change. There’s a little phrase in there that should act as a warming. One of those big, red, flashingtopofthecopcar warning signs.
Or, in context:
transitioning to a carbon-free economy using ecological economics,
Ecological economics is that corner of economics that we know doesn’t work. It fails at the most basic level – it insists that economic growth is dependent upon the consumption of resources. As this is something not true – simply not true, it’s a complete error – the rest of the conclusions drawn from it are invalid.
Economic growth is the addition of value. We can even recast this within the language used by ecological economics itself, the difference between quantitative growth and qualitative growth. Standard economics agree that both of these can be growth because they are both the addition of value. Quantitative growth is feeding more stuff through the value addition process. Qualitative growth is adding more value to whatever we’re feeding through that process.
The ecological economics insistence is that we cannot, any longer, have quantitative growth. OK, sure, I think they’re wrong and all that but that’s not the point here. They then go on to insist that qualitative growth is the only thing we can have. Well, OK, again, perhaps I disagree but that’s another matter. The point that is true is that this is still economic growth by the normal economic definitions. We’re adding more value – it’s growth.
This truly is a gross misunderstanding of economics here. For our basic contention in the subject is that we live in a universe of scarce resources. Further, we’d like to decide how those scarce resources are to be allocated in order to maximise human utility over time. Cool. So, now we say that some more resources are limited in supply. OK, how has this changed our basic logical set up? It’s not changed it in the slightest, has it? We’ve just assigned values to some of the components of our societal equation, not changed the equation nor the manipulation of it in any manner.
This logical failure then pollutes everything else said by those who make it. For example:
Finding the solution to this problem is the focus of the World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency report I co-authored last year.
OK, in that report we get this:
Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.
Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year, or more than 200,000 per day (figure 1a–b), the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity. There are proven and effective policies that strengthen human rights while lowering fertility rates and lessening the impacts of population growth on GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. These policies make family-planning services available to all people, remove barriers to their access and achieve full gender equity, including primary and secondary education as a global norm for all, especially girls and young women (Bongaarts and O’Neill 2018)
We’ve got to stop pursuing affluence. We’ve also got to constrain fertility and thus population growth. And yet the one thing we know constrains fertility is growing affluence.
All the rich countries already have falling populations baked into the society. We’ve actually solved this problem already – if problem it is.
If you properly understand growth as being adding value – and that’s all it is – then you don’t end up tied in these knots. So, we face more constraints upon the scarce resources we can add value to, or use to add value. Hmm, OK, bit of a bummer but how are we going to continue to add value with this slight tightening of our choices in what we already agree is a universe of scarce resources?
Because economic growth, that expansion of affluence, is how we’re going to reduce fertility, isn’t it?
The important difference here is between environmental economics – studying the environment and our impact upon it using the standard tools and descriptions of economics – and ecological economics – misunderstanding economics in order to screw shit up.
A handy guide. When someone uses the phrase “ecological economics” they’re wrong. The correct reaction to someone doing so is to emit a high, keening, wail until they go away, back to their mother’s basement.