Business pages don’t often carry articles about the need to forsake the growth model. I was somewhat startled to come across one prominent in the NZ Herald business supplement last week. Journalist Chris Barton wrote about the ideas of Chandran Nair, author of Consumptionomics and a speaker at this year’s Auckland Writers & Readers Festival There’s a Kindle edition of Consumptionomics so I was able to read it over the next couple of days, which I did with considerable interest.

Nair, a Malaysian of Indian descent, is founder and chief executive of the Asian think tank Global Institute for Tomorrow and writes for Asian audiences. His basic intent in Consumptionomics is to urge Asian countries not to follow the pattern of Western models of economic growth, consumption-driven and built on the exclusion of environmental and social costs.  While the West may have got thus far by leaving those costs out of account there is no way in which the much larger populations of Asia can aspire to the same kind of economic development. The economic model only more or less worked when a relatively small proportion of the world’s population was using it, and then only by excluding the long-term damage to the world’s environment which now confronts us. It is folly to think that consumption-driven capitalism can be realised across the vast populations of Asia. Instead he calls for sustainable ways of living which will pass on to future generations an environment with rainforests, with biodiversity, with adequate resources, with fish in the oceans, with cities that are a pleasure to live in and with a climate that is not running out of control.

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Reframing the Problem of Climate Change

There’s no reason why facing up to the challenge of climate change should not result in wide benefits to human society, including economic benefits. That’s the argument of the multiple authors of Reframing the Problem of Climate Change: From Zero Sum Game to Win-Win Solutions. The book is based on papers presented at a 2010 international conference in Barcelona. They cover a wide range of topics and disciplines but centre around the proposition that it is a mistake to think of action on climate change as though gains can only be made at the expense of losses.

This zero sum mentality the editors see as an understandable consequence of the complexity of the challenge posed by climate change, a complexity not only of the climate system but also of its effects on society and the economy.  But it is a mentality which needs to be overcome. We need not be trapped in a tragedy of the commons.  Renewable energy is unlimited and the book argues that the transformation to such energy can not only solve the climate problem but also alleviate many other global problems. Continue reading “Reframing the Problem of Climate Change”

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

A couple of months ago when the publishers sent me a review copy I’d requested of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth they enclosed another shorter book in case I might like to review it as well. I thought from the title it was possibly too similar to The Ecological Rift to warrant a further review. And it is similar in its broad thesis. But it’s also short and punchy, and encouraged by Naomi Klein’s recommendation of it as “relentlessly persuasive” and “indispensable” I read it through and decided to give it mention on its own account. The title is What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism. It’s written by Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont, and John Bellamy Foster, one of the authors of The Ecological Rift.

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The Ecological Rift

Why do we continue with business as usual when we know that it is leading us to disastrous climate change? According to the authors of The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth it is because our capitalist economic system is driven by forces which cannot stand back and weigh the consequences of their drive. The blind accumulation of private wealth at the expense of the environment has enormous momentum which the system is not geared to control.

The authors, John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York are all sociology professors. They write from the broadly Marxist standpoint exemplified by the Monthly Review magazine of which Foster is the current editor. As might be expected, their attack on capitalism is not limited to its environmental devastation but also takes in its exploitation of human labour for private profit. One of the interests of the book, for me with only a superficial acquaintance with Marx’s thought, was its explanation of the unity which Marx saw in nature and society and which western Marxism failed to sustain. The authors point, for example, to Marx’s interest in soil science and awareness of the nutrient depletion accompanying a more industrialised agriculture. Nature as well as human society needed to be protected from the capitalist juggernaut.

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America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward

America is much better in technology than governance. That’s the sentence that leapt out at me and remained prominent throughout my reading of economist Robert Repetto’s book America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward. I sought the book for review because, although its focus is on the US, what happens there will crucially affect the rest of us, in terms of both the level of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and the likelihood of international agreement to limit them. The book doesn’t exactly inspire hope on either count, but it is constructive in the path it suggests for the US to follow and puts the ball squarely in the court of the policy makers.

It’s always good to read an economist who gets the full seriousness of climate change and Repetto certainly does that. In his opening outline of the problem he stands with the unequivocal statements of the National Academy of Science and uncompromisingly sets out the risks both globally and within the US, emphasising the scariness of reinforcing feedback mechanisms, some of which are already under way. America’s response must be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 per cent over the next forty years. Some measures are under way, he notes, but they are far from adequate to the task. Continue reading “America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward”