How many times have we heard Al Gore, Thomas Friedman, and others say that unleashing green technology to fight global warming will also drive economic growth? But is economic growth really compatible with fighting global warming? No it isn’t says Stan Cox, the author of a new book entitled “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer).” In an interview posted on Grist he cites a paper by an economics professor at the University of Utah which concluded that to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide below 450 ppm, considered by many scientists as the threshold for dangerous climate change, “the world economy is going to have to shrink by 1 to 4 percent per year over the next 40 years.” If that isn't bad enough news for consumption-obsessed societies he also says that we will need “a pretty massive transfer of wealth from wealthy individuals, areas, or countries to those that are less wealthy. When you say we have to reduce the output of the economy by so much each year, there are many, many people in the world that have nothing to reduce. They actually need a bit more production just to get the basic necessities of life.” That’s probably not going to go over too big in Tea Party circles or in the executive suites of major corporations.
A similar conclusion about the need to shrink the economy was reached in a study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Britain. The study called for a reduction in living standards in the wealthier countries over the next 10 to 15 years.
Cox says that a different economic system is required. He also admits that “Unfortunately I'm not, and I'm not sure who is, smart enough to know how to get out of our situation.”
It seems our best hope is that these studies that call for a shrinking economy, a redistribution of wealth within countries and among countries, and even the end of capitalism are wrong. It seems impossible to imagine such radical change taking place within the next few years, which is when it would have to occur to be effective. Right or wrong it should be a topic of discussion in the mainstream press but even that seems too much to ask for.