Alternatives to the paradigm of growth: Towards a green economy

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

The Paradigm of Nature: The measure of human progress -- economic or otherwise - must be judged by whether our activities improve the quality of our air, water and lands. This in turn will only be possible if equity is the foundation of human life across the world. Not just equity between humans, but between humans and the rest of life on Earth as well.

 Postulation: Economics cannot possibly be sustainable if its mantra is unbridled "growth". After all, every bit of the technosphere (what humans make) - buildings, roads, agriculture, clothing, comic books, croissants, coffee, computers, cars, ships and planes -- comes from the biosphere. The 'technosphere' can ONLY expand by depleting the finite biosphere.

Diagnosis: The planet has a life-threatening fever. For ages economists have been in denial of the "limits to growth", suggesting that science tomorrow would inevitably find ways to overcome what we consider to be limits today. Climate change has made a mockery of this optimistic prognosis by economists.

It is because economists have consistently undervalued the services provided by the oceans, rivers, forests, coasts, corals, wetlands, mountains, polar habitats and even deserts, Earth's self-governing mechanisms have been damaged. The planet is therefore in revolt. The protective shield for the biosphere, our atmosphere, has been wounded.

Prognosis:  All imagined human progress- in rich countries and poor -- is likely to vanish, because the human circumstance will inevitably worsen at the hands of extreme climatic events, and temperature and humidity related disease and hunger.

IF, however, corrective short and long-term steps are taken right now by countries that discover the courage and foresight to reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations, we have an outside chance of saving ourselves and all life on earth. The planet's life-support systems are self-repairing. That has been the cornerstone of the blueprint for life on earth. But we must not overwhelm such systems.

The bottom line: "Poverty is not the greatest pollutant" as all our world leaders like to suggest. The greatest pollutant always was and will remain profligacy. We consume too much. We destroy too much. We understand too little. And we care too little.

We will need technology to overcome some of the most dangerous threats to the planet. But technology cannot save us if we fail to protect and restore ecosystems. Fortunately, like any cut or wound on our body, the planet can repair itself, but for this we must stop wounding an already damaged planet.

In effect, the planet is forcing us to pause, contemplate our actions and then alter human ambitions, laws and social mores to bring them in line with nature's laws. The instrument of nature's repair are the many species we are so unthinkingly sending into oblivion -- tigers, polar bears, elephants, bees, frogs and even flowers, grasses, mosses and algae.

The Earth's atmosphere and its biosphere are in exquisite harmony. Homo sapiens is the ONLY species that is destabilising this harmony. ALL other species are working to restore the planet's status. If we let the plants and animals fix the planet, they will. If not, we will perish much before they do.

As we debate the issues nature will not sit quietly. Nor will it judge us. It will merely deliver consequences.