We’ve done a fair bit of criticising contemporary capitalism in this blog. One of the follow-up questions we have been asking ourselves all along is: “if not capitalism, then what?’
Well yes. If not life as we know it, with all its enormous ‘reality’, complexity, and slow-turning, apparently unstoppable power and momentum – then what? And how do we get from here to there? It’s quite a topic for a couple of part-time bloggers to tackle. The hubris! But then we’re not tackling it on our own – human society is always and inescapably a collaborative venture – we’re hitching a ride with the thinkers whose work we’ve commented on, hopefully in return bringing it to some who would not otherwise have met it.
So where have we got to so far, in our hitching, in our answer to this big question?
Jonathan Harris, “Ecological macroeconomics: consumption, investment, and climate change”, real-world economics review, issue no. 50, 1 September 2009, pp. 34-48,
Harris (Tufts University) begins his discussion by using the charmingly mild phrase “cognitive disconnect” to decribe the yawning great chasm between “scientists’ warnings of potential catastrophe if carbon emissions continue unchecked on the one hand and the political and economic realities of steadily increasing emissions on the other” (p.34)
It is, as he says, “the outstanding economic problem of the twenty-first century. Can economic growth continue while carbon emissions are drastically reduced?” (p.34) And asking that question makes us look more closely at what, in fact, economic growth is and how we might make a successful economic and social 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