We need economic growth, regardless of climate change; and we need to rethink how to respond to climate change while maintaining growth.

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.




2 thoughts on “We need economic growth, regardless of climate change; and we need to rethink how to respond to climate change while maintaining growth.”

  1. I think there is a massive underestimate of the impact of population movements. The common perception is that immigration is driven by ‘people wanting to come here’. I reckon mostly it’s driven by people being forced to move away from an intolerable place which no longer supports a decent life. Most people do not relocate on a whim. Only an adventurous few do that.

    There is a cogent case that says the downfall of the Roman empire was largely predicated on mass migration caused by a temporary climate change caused by a major volcanic eruption which made northern Asiatic/Russian lands inhospitable. Compounded by political corruption at the centre of the Empire in Rome.

    As Mark Twain observed, History does not repeat, but it rhymes.

  2. A key issue is “how much time have we got to adapt before it is too late”/ Humanity is quite adept at adaptation if given sufficient time. However, some of the timescales quoted by climate campaigners for this or that to happen seem unattainable given current lifestyles. For example, we have literally built our lives, homes, businesses etc around the availability of private car transport so any change to that has major implications which have to be thought through. Governments at all levels are still working to “the old rules” in terms of economic planning, physical development etc (my local area is brimming with new housing development which will result in 2-3 cars per household). It is interesting that the Green Party are contesting very few seats at this UK GE and even in the 2021 Holyrood election they are only aiming for 14/16 Regional MSPs. It is a tacit admission that whilst the Green movement wants to have a major influence on mainstream economics and politics, there is no confidence that the public would “vote Green” in large enough numbers to place the environment at the top of the priority list? Selfishly, I am glad that at my age and with no children, dealing with the consequences of all this is going to be for others to resolve as there are no easy options or quick fixes.

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