Monthly Archives: February 2008

Economic Vitality in a Transition to Sustainability

Economic Vitality in a Transition to Sustainability, by Neva Goodwin

This paper is part of series with what seems to me a most unpromising title: Growing the Economy Through Global Warming Solutions. Ignore that, and the first couple of obligatory blah blah pages – the good stuff is in the body of the paper itself. It concisely examines solutions to our position of environmental overshoot, as well as challenges and issues of transition (including global social justice, and the need to reconstruct our economic system beyond capitalism as we know it) and reasons for optimism about the kind of society (and economy) we could have if we start to implement the solutions now.

“The most general answers [on how to get to a sustainable society] are obvious: take all the climate change mitigation actions that are immediately available, while investing heavily in research and implementation of additional mitigation options, as well as a multitude of strategies for adaptation. In the short term – the next fifteen years or so – this approach can work well within existing economic structures. For the longer term, however, it will be necessary to undertake more basic changes in how we think about and carry on economic activity. All economic systems should be considered fair game for review and restructuring, including the patterns of production, financing, ownership, consumption, maintenance, and responsibility that are now taken for granted in industry, housing, appliance life cycles, waste disposal, agriculture, resource extraction, and all other major aspects of economic life. Changes will be needed; ultimately they are likely to be as much social and institutional as they are economic and technological.” (p.6, emphasis mine)

Read more about GDAE’s Theory and Education work on Climate Economics

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George Monbiot on climate change: Why we need a 90% cut in CO2 emissions, and how we can achieve it

In his book Heat, George Monbiot looks at the possibility of a climate change catastrophe. He argues that a 2°C rise in global average temperature would precipitate such a disaster, as it would cause many ecosystems to begin to collapse. They would become CO2 emitters rather than the CO2 sinks that they are at present, and runaway global warming would follow, regardless of what we humans might do.

In order to be sure of avoiding that scenario, Monbiot estimates that humanity must achieve a 90% reduction in its CO2 output by 2030. Is it at all possible? In his book, Monbiot attempts to show that it is.

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What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire

This movie deserves a long, thoughtful, elegantly composed review. Oh well. What I can deliver is a brief cheer: “Watch this movie!”

What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire is not Just Another Eco-tastrophe Movie. It’s a personal, poetic, and challenging cultural analysis of the mess Western and rich capitalist societies are in. The imagery and soundtrack deliberately seeks to move the viewer at the level of emotions, while at the same time the intellectual content encourages reflexivity and questions. Go with it, it’s a trip. It offers the challenge of unresolved questions and personal responsibility, rather than easy answers. There’s no ‘happy chapter’ at the end, but it offers hope, of a mythic, initiatory kind, for those willing to journey into the unknown.

The movie’s subsection headings (for the curious):

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Understanding the logic of capitalism: Efficiency, innovation … and inequality

Property rights in the means of production are the institutional basis of capitalism. While there is no economic theory that supports the need for the unequal distribution of property in a capitalist economy, inequality seems to be built into capitalism. As Christine Greenhalgh writes in an article published in 2005 in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the empirical evidence from rich capitalist countries generally shows that the rich are gaining over the poor both within and between generations. “Why then”, she asks, “are there so many champions of the cause of free markets?” (p.1093).

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A vision for the sustainable city: urbanisation with civilisation

Some greens may imagine the sustainable society to be a verdant rural paradise of small agricultural communities and market towns peopled by farmers and artisans. This Romantic dream is a delusion. While in 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities or urban areas, now, in 2008, the figure is 50%, and it is expected to reach 60% by 2030 (data here). Whether we like it or not, a sustainable society will be an urban society; the question for greens is: how do we make our cities sustainable? In a recent article in Capitalism Nature Socialism, Bill Hopwood and Mary Mellor have sketched out some answers to this question.

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The news media and climate change: Casting light on the contradictions of consumer capitalism

This is a general election year here in Aotearoa New Zealand and the election will hold the much of the attention of New Zealand’s political junkies. In some respects, though, even for New Zealanders the US presidential election taking place in November is of far more consequence.

I’m thinking in particular of the issue of global warming. Because the US generates around 22% of global CO2 output (2004 data, available here), the decisions of the next US president will – in one way or another – have a critical impact on the issue of climate change. Whether he or she takes action on global warming or follows the lead of GW Bush and places her or his head firmly in the sand, the outcome will affect just about everyone on the planet.

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Passion, compassion, and irony: finding solid ground for activism in a world of unsustainability, injustice, complicity, and paradox.

A summary of and brief response to: “The Post-ecologist Condition: Irony as Symptom and Cure”, Bronislaw Szerszynski, Environmental Politics, Vol. 16, No. 2, 337-355, April 2007.

It seems at first a most unlikely thought: irony as a basis for environmental politics. But according to sociologist Bronislaw Szerszynski, irony as a way of being in the world could – and should – take on such a role. In this post I will present Szerszynski’s argument, reflect on a couple of doubts, and look at how passion and compassion might intersect with irony to form a solid ground for environmental politics and social change activism in a world of unsustainability, injustice, complicity, and paradox.
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The sense of place in environmental protest: Insights from County Mayo, Ireland

Environmental protest very often appears in localised forms: grassroots opposition to ‘development’ projects that grows out of an intuitive sense that a particular project is inappropriate. Such locally based campaigns are almost always accused of selfish or reactionary ‘nimbyism’, simply because local groups only appear to be interested in the locality. It seems that the lack of a national organisation, paid staff, bureaucratic processes and an endless stream of policy verbiage somehow offends the Establishment: if you don’t speak their language and play their games, they won’t acknowledge your interest in the issue on your doorstep.

Nevertheless, there is great strength in grassroots organising and a locally based campaign. Irish academic and activist Mark Garavan has recently provided some wonderful insights into this strength by examining the (still ongoing) opposition to a major gas refinery project in North Mayo, north-west Ireland.

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