Climate environmental problems and economic growth

Climate & Natural resources06 Dec 2009Pedro Fidelman

On Friday morning, a very interesting panel discussion took place at the ESG conference. The panellists – Roberto Guimaraes, Maarten Hajer and James Meadowcroft – provided their views on ‘New Theories for Earth System Governance’. A key issue that I felt was missing from many discussions at the conference was raised by Guimaraes; that is, the influence of the global political economy on contemporary global environmental problems.

The current economic paradigm is based on the assumption that material growth equals progress. Not surprisingly, emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil and others are following the ‘recipes’ for progress, which adds to the demand for resources and provides a growing market for consumption. Such a paradigm has led to over-exploitation, degradation and, in many cases, the collapse of resource systems. ‘Progress’ has transformed the planet beyond recognition and put the earth’s life support system at great risk.

Averting catastrophic impacts, particularly those associated with climate change, will require changing our current economic paradigm. Economies cannot grow indefinitely in a world where resources are finite. Material growth no longer translates into quality of life, especially where it depends on the goods and services provided by ecosystems. In addition, the recent global economic crisis has proven that some assumptions in which the economy is based need revising. The free market ideology, for example, was considered flawed.

A major issue needing attention is how to promote, in a deliberate way, the needed economic transformation before it takes place (irrespectively) induced by crisis. What are your views? Please leave your comments below.