environmentWell, that was a very brief respite, wasn’t it? Last post, we wrote that the Eurozone was experiencing some rare breathing space and a break from economic turmoil. Now, however, news that the Greek Prime Minister wants to hold a referendum on the EU bail-out has thrown everything back into the maelstrom. Perversely, though, should Europeans be welcoming the return to chaos?

One topic we’ve been discussing in some depth on Debating Europe is a question raised by Peter Schellink about whether we need a “paradigm shift” away from our obsession with economic growth. Could the Eurozone crisis be bad for the economy but good for the environment? With economic growth slowing, is this a chance to re-evaluate our priorities and switch to an alternative model? We asked Tony Long, Director of the European Policy Office of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), whether we needed a “no-growth” approach:

We know that the task is to live within the physical boundaries of the planet – whether it’s in terms of water, soil, biodiversity, ecological cycles of rainfall, or watever these are. These are enormous challenges, and the fact is that we’ll never meet these challenges if we have a stale debate about ‘growth’ versus ‘no-growth’. The issue is how do we bring all our innovative solutions to the problem. It probably also means we’ll have to create a lot of new jobs in a lot of sectors – if you want to call that ‘growth’, I don’t care.

Shoe-horning environmentalists into this ‘no-growth’ box is counter-productive. The predicament of the resource and ecological crisis are so severe now that we’re going to need all instruments, including economic growth, to help us solve that. So, it’s not a growth versus no-growth argument anymore – it’s how to urgently find the solutions to solve those problems.

When we spoke to Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP), however, he saw things rather differently:

You don’t need economic growth to have innovation. I can sit in my armchair and think of better ways of doing things. Of course, I need revenue – but do I also need growth to innovate? That’s another question.

I’m a physicist – and infinite material production of waste in a finite world is something that doesn’t hold. I don’t believe in magic, and as long as we’re dealing with a finite planet we have to recognise that. Those who don’t want to recognise that are outside the circle of reason. The climate change we are witnessing today is a sign we are touching the physical limits of our world, and the unsaid equation that presides over this debate is that we define GDP growth = well-being.

To some extent, we have witnessed empirical evidence for this equation. If you are very low on the revenue side, indeed, then increasing your revenue and your purchasing power will correlate with your well-being. So, typically, for a Sub-Saharan African, a Western Chinese, a Latin American living in favelas – for them an increase in their available revenue will increase their well-being. So, to some extent, there is a link between per capita income and well-being. But there is a point where that relationship collapses. There’s a point where you simply have enough and an increase in your wealth has no impact in your well-being.

When you have a car, having another may be variable, but adding two or three or four adds very little; you can only drive one car at a time. Likewise with adding more than one TV; you can’t watch more than one at a time. You have enough.

Material consumption is not the solution to the equation. We have to split measuring well-being from measuring growth, and that’s this whole debate about having the right measurements and having the right metrics. And that means other indicators than GDP growth. Even within GDP, we have a problem because we don’t measure negative externalities. We don’t measure biodiversity. We measure negatives; spending on cancers, spending on clearing up after flooding, spending on cleaning up oil-slicks are all counted as positives in GDP, whereas in impact it’s a big negative. Not only do we need to measure other stuff than GDP, but GDP needs to be redefined. It’s not an old thing, it started being used since WWII and it’s very definition has changed since then; so it’s very definition can be changed again.

What do YOU think? Is the Eurozone crisis the best thing that could have happened to Europe’s environment? Is “no-growth” versus “growth” a stale debate? Does it risk shoe-horning environmentalists into the wrong box? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

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5 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Albert Saxén

    yes, I certainly, and gladly,will
    because this is ..
    have heard that i wld be. But how can it b gd ..

  2. United Dreams of Europe – An idea of the Foundation for Future Studies

    That´s a very good question! …we have to rethink the way we are living in many ways! An input out of our study: 56% of the Europeans agree, that “quality of life” will be more important than a “high standard of living”,… “growth” does not seems to be the answer of everything! Find more about our project here http://www.uniteddreamsofeurope.eu ! What do you expect from a European future? …post your ” dream” and get our new book for free!

  3. Christos Mouzeviris

    I agree…Why do we have to “commodify” everything? Why do we have to keep always a high growth? And who sets the standards? Who decides what country is best to invest in, which country can exploit its natural resources and under what way? If there is fish somewhere, some countries go bananas about protecting it, if there is oil elsewhere some countries reinvent democracy and freedom and invade other nations in order to “save” them..If not that, then they drive them into bankruptcy so they will be forced to ask their “help”..!!This World would be a better place if we redesigned our economic model and Capitalism…It does not do us any good anymore…Fix it or bury it..!!

  4. Giovanni Macchia

    The Eurozone crisis and the environmental problems are two separate issues that should not be confused. The environmental problems like the climate change due to anthropogenic CO2 and greenhouse emissions are global and the main emitters (China and UK) of those gases are outside Europe. Therefore, those problems are global, not only european. However, they are related to an unsustainable economic growth. On the contrary, Europe is acting on a sustainable growth, with the 20-20-20 policy. Therefore, the Eurocrisis can stop the the sustainable growth program of the European Union, since the needed investments could be frozen or used in other ways not related to the environment or to the sustainable growth. Therefore, it is quite unbelievable that leaders or other environmentalists (or people in general) expresses opinions in favour of the Eurocrisis as a way to “clean” the Europe.

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