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Running a Temperature



G20 won't bail out the eco-system

Whatever the communiqué issued by G20 leaders says today, it will not address the climate crisis. Rather it will present the shared thinking of governments desperate to get the global capitalist economy rolling again at any cost.

Just what a disaster this would be is set out in a report published this week by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), created to advise the government, but consistently ignored by it. 

Prosperity Without Growth moves within an inch of stating that capitalism itself is unsustainable – but then falls at the last hurdle! It rejects the idea that rogue individuals or incompetent regulators are responsible for the crisis, insisting that the economy “was undone by growth itself” and adds: 

For the last five decades the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago... This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent. It’s totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival. And it has already been accompanied by the degradation of an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems.

The report boldly questions the thinking behind the idea of a “Green New Deal”, which has become fashionable as an allegedly sustainable way of getting the economy out of its crisis. After offering some faint praise for a “green stimulus”, the report scathingly adds:  

Nonetheless, the default assumption of even the ‘greenest’ Keynesian stimulus is to return the economy to a condition of continuing consumption growth. Since this condition is unsustainable, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that in the longer term something more is needed. A different kind of macro-economic structure is essential for an ecologically-constrained world.

The questions that follow are what is this new “macro-economic structure” and how are we to achieve it? In his foreword, the report’s author Tim Jackson, economics commissioner of the Sustainable Development Commission, says a return to “business as usual” is not an option. Prosperity for the few founded on “ecological destruction and persistent social injustice” is no foundation for a civilised society, he rightly insists.   

Yet the 12-point plan the SDC then puts forward for consideration by the world’s leaders could never be implemented within the present economic and financial framework. Because the problem we face is not simply about “growth”, but “growth in pursuit of profit”. And if capitalism were to somehow move outside of the pursuit of profit – it would no longer be capitalism. And you can’t see capitalism voting to put itself out of business anytime soon. Put that way, it’s inconceivable that the SDC’s admirable programme can be achieved without transforming the fundamentals, creating a sustainable not-for-profit economy based on co-ownership and co-operation. 

The report says that “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries” but even if that is true, our ranks are growing. The vast majority of those on Saturday’s “Put People First” demonstration and yesterday’s anti-capitalist actions know only too well that the G20 leaders and the system they represent will never “put the planet first”. They can only ever “put profit first”. That’s why Obama and Brown constantly talk about the “need to restore growth”. 

“Nature doesn’t do bailouts” was one of the slogans of the climate camp, pitched yesterday outside the City of London Climate Exchange. And the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week that God would not be stepping in to halt climate change either. So then human society –  the conscious and most active part of nature – will have to do it, rescuing the planet’s eco-system and us at the same time.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
2 April 2009

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