A green path through hard times?

Author:Cox, Stan
Position:Thinking about Shrinking - Economic activity and the environment - Viewpoint essay

As the most serious economic crisis in 80 years rolls across the planet, financial panic has shoved food shortages, public-health emergencies, and ecological disasters into the background. With fantastic fortunes at stake, the number-one priority of governments and businesses must be economic growth; those "green" initiatives announced not long ago with such fanfare have already been deferred or forgotten.

We Americans are now told that because our economy has been kept afloat for so long on borrowed money and borrowed time, "our" wealth and "our" jobs have gone to the other scapegoats. We shouldn't cut our carbon emissions, we're told, until India and China cut back. If our food crops end up in landfills or petrol tanks, we're told, that doesn't affect hungry people; rather, eating habits in the Eastern Hemisphere are the real key to the food crisis.

In all such pronouncements, the message is consistent: "We in the West have gotten what we want. Now, if the rest of you try to do the same, you'll spoil things for everyone." Where I live, there appears to be little awareness of the grotesquely contorted positions that such arguments require their proponents to assume.

I lived in India in the early 1980s and the late 1990s, married into an Indian family, and have returned for months at a time in recent years. I have cheered on those Indian citizens who are going against the grain, urging respect for nature and sufficiency for all, and showing how both can be achieved.

That's in contrast to the model of the traditional industrial powers, which translates to efficiency for the few and deficiency for everyone else. But government and business elites, both East and West, continue working on the assumption that India, China, Brazil, and other emerging powers will follow the same destructive road to wealth that Europe, Japan, and America continue to travel.

Too much more of that lopsided growth will make this planet a very nasty place to live. If green-house-gas emissions are to be reduced to a level that will avert runaway global warming, economic activity will have to shrink, not grow.

According to a recent analysis (1) by Minqi Li, economics professor at the University of Utah, the world economy must contract at a historically rapid clip--at an annual rate of about...

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