I was invited yesterday to talk at a student-led conference on alternative paradigms in economics, part of the movement for Rethinking Economics. My main subject was Basic Income, but I also had the opportunity in a panel discussion to say things about economic growth and climate change. Half of that argument concerns growth. I put the case that, while there is both good and bad development, development had had substantial effects in improving welfare, by tests such as infant mortality. Growth matters in three ways: because growth goes hand in hand with development; because large parts of local economies are concerned with primary production, and they need growth to live; and because, as Crosland argued, it’s not politically possible to redistribute resources in a shrinking economy.
The other half concerns climate change. I don’t claim to have any special insight into the science, but I think I know something about policy responses, and I think we can state with confidence that the way into a problem is rarely the way out of it. The argument for ‘mitigation’ – stopping humans from generating climate change – assumes we can reverse all trends and change all behaviours. I see no evidence that we can. What matters is ‘adaptation’. If, for example, we’re going to need to relocate hundreds of millions of people, we need to start now. And even if we don’t need to, there’s a message to be drawn from the hundreds of thousands of people currently struggling to move from unliveable environments.