finally, an honest report on climate change hits mainstream media

January 25, 2010

A short piece on BBC News this morning describes a new climate change report, by a group calling themselves the New Economics Foundation (NEF).  Suggestively titled, “Growth isn’t possible: Why rich countries need a new economic direction,” the report doesn’t beat around the bush and tells us straight up that there is no way to reconcile economic growth and carbon dioxide reductions.  From the BBC’s piece:

They then considered whether economic growth could be maintained while “retaining a good likelihood” of limiting the global average temperature to within 2C of pre-industrial levels.  The report concluded that a growth rate of just 3%, the “carbon intensity” of the global economy would need to fall by 95% by 2050 from 2002 levels. This would require an average annual reduction of 6.5%.

Of course, the report hasn’t been well-received, even skipping over the bit about carbon dioxide levels causing global warming — I’m not sure if folks in Britain take as much issue with that as some over here in the US.  The Adam Smith Institute (no, I’m not linking them like I did NEF.  It’s my blog and I never intended to give any impression of being unbiased.  Use google if you must read about free-market think tanks) has this to say in response:

Tom Clougherty, executive director of the Adam Smith Institute, a free-market think-thank, said Nef’s report exhibited “a complete lack of understanding of economics and, indeed, human development.”

“It is precisely this economic growth which will lift the poor out of poverty and improve the environmental standards that really matter to people – like clean air and water – in the process, as it has done throughout human history,” he told BBC News.

Methinks he’s the one with a “complete lack of understanding” of the environmental issue they’re actually trying to discuss, which is not clean air and water.  And since when has economic development improved the environment?  I must’ve missed that bit somehow amongst all the coal plants and mountain top removal mines that have produced the electricity powering this improvement of environmental standards.

Anyhow, I’m glad to see somebody cutting to the chase and getting something out there telling us like it is — that endless growth is not possible.  Granted, they’re only dealing with a minor aspect of why it’s not possible here, but still.  I’m not sure where the entrenched idea that endless growth is not only possible but necessary came from, and why it caught on so tightly (I’m no economist — I’m sure I could be quite fairly described as having a complete lack of understanding too).  But, just think for a second.  Endless growth requires endless resources.  We don’t live in an endless universe, or on an endless planet.  So one day, something’s got to give, and somehow I doubt that’ll come in the form of the planet suddenly coughing up more vital resources.


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