It’s growth Jim, but not as we know it…

Akshay posts a great article on “growth-based climate politics” over a The money quote (‘scuse the pun):

As Australia’s income grows, the methodology of calculating GDP needs to be revised to incorporate the higher goods that are now demanded by consumers. Current methods of calculating income only explain standards of living up to a certain level, after which they become redundant. If air pollution decreases our standard of living, pollution should be deducted from GDP estimates. Likewise, if reduced risk of catastrophic natural disasters creates a more favourable business outlook, then efforts to decrease the likelihood of adverse climate change should add to GDP. Such a revaluation of income measurements would mean that a transition to a sustainable future would present us with more opportunities for growth, rather than be a threat to our standard of living.

Policy that does not emphasise the growth opportunities of a more sustainable future, concentrating only on emission reduction, is dangerous. The term “emission targets” sends a pessimistic and alarmist message that bad times are coming. The public may react unfavourably to the realisation that more and greater costs will fall on them as a result of treaties which promise emissions cuts.

(Emphasis mine) I’ve been in favour of this perspective for some time. In fact, my new business venture is founded on this principle – that a “bright green” future is what we want. There’s plenty of opportunity, but we have to think differently about what “growth” means – not just hard and fast numbers, but quality of life. Akshay’s suggestion that “the methodology of calculating GDP needs to be revised to incorporate the higher goods that are now demanded by consumers” is spot on the money.

I take issue with two aspects of the article – Akshay points out that:

A quick look at Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ shows that people first satisfy their basic material needs for food, shelter, physical security and health, after which they satiate so called “higher needs” – including creative freedom, justice, opportunities for political expression and even environmental goods such as clean air, clean drinking water and certainty of their own and their children’s economic future.

Isn’t “food, shelter, physical security and health” directly tied to the environment? Perhaps Akshay’s point is that they’re not perceived as being linked, but it’s clear they are.

Do we really need to continually run on this treadmill of environmental destruction before we realise that it is a primary need? We’ve done it in industrialised economies, and we’re doing it again in China, India and elsewhere.

I also don’t think that we can continually grow ad infinitum – there are natural limits to growth. And suggesting we need to get richer so that environmental issues increase in perceived importance, falls into the same trap that Akshay argues against in the article – economic growth above all else. But I suspect that’s more headline grabbing than central to Akshay’s argument.

Brett’s comment sums up this latter point pretty well.

P.S. thanks to GraemeF, who in the comments said “It’s growth Jim, but not as we know it” – which perfectly sums up the sentiment for me.