Cardiff economist seeing things the Green way!

Calvin Jones is Professor of Economics at Cardiff Business School.

This piece was originally called: Economic Growth: Grabbing the Elephant

http://www.clickonwales.org/2013/04/technology-cannot-tackle-climate-change/

I have shared platforms with Calvin on a couple of occasions and followed his work for some time. There is ever more convergence in our views.

Let me focus on this passage first:
“Worthy attempts to develop replacement technologies in energy generation and storage, in weight saving, in bio-engineering and so on, ad infinitum are born from a belief that technology and increased resource efficiency can solve our ecological and climate problems. This is Walter Mitty land. It is populated by well-meaning, intelligent people to be sure, but a fantasy none the less. On current trends we can expect three billion more people in the global middle class by 2030, at the same time as the West gets richer, albeit perhaps more slowly. To enable this, we require a mere doubling of world electricity production. Let me say this slowly. This. Will. Not. Happen. There is not enough stuff in the world for material consumption to effectively double on a global basis. There is not enough water for the dishwashers, or indeed to drink. There is not enough aluminium for the Audis, and not enough kerosene for the short-haul holidays to Hong Kong. There are certainly not enough prawns for the cocktails.

Any efforts at resource efficiency and technical transformation to enable this growth have to contend with the fact that firstly, companies like Tata (nee British Steel) have, over the last 60 years, already taken out the vast majority of possible energy costs. Secondly, as any economist knows, we use up the easy stuff first.”

This is not Calvin trying to tell us that technological innovation is a waste of time; just that it is not likely to be enough – certainly for us to continue using resources as we currently do and to continue the lifestyles we still seem to aspire to. I happen to think, and I think Calvin agrees, that technological innovation does have enormous potential to help us re-shape our futures (e.g. http://www.ted.com/talks/justin_hall_tipping_freeing_energy_from_the_grid.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2011-10-19&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email ) But his premise is sound enough, that the current capitalist economic growth model is not capable of delivering either the technological solutions to the masses, or the socio-political change to our societies.

It is also clear, that like most on the Green Left, Calvin has no time for Malthusian arguments. In the comments below the article he responds thus:
“Ah yes, Malthus. There should be a version of Godwins Law for that.

In the US kids can already aspirationally look forward to being fatter, unhealthier, unhappier and shorter-lived than their parents. How long, exactly, would you like growth to continue?

Human population will peak by 2050. The issue is not population but distribution of finite resources.”

There is, of course, a legitimate argument that issues around the re-distribution of finite resources can only be harder when there is a bigger population involved. But again Calvin’s premise is sound enough in that the current capitalist economic growth model cannot facilitate the required re-distribution of resources and/or people. His assertion that human population will peak in 2050 is based on statistical trends that may not come to pass, but there are good grounds to believe that once capitalism is dismantled and some form of ecosocialist system put in its place, the drivers of population growth will disappear and bring about stability. The Green Party is currently getting itself in a bit of a flap over what our stance on population should be while capitalism continues to prevail. (See other posts on this blog re Population Matters)

Calvin does, however, shy away from the ‘socialist’ label. In fact he uses it creatively in stating:
“And it really, really hacks me off when defenders of the status quo (which is socialism & bail out for the rich, capitalism for everyone else) just paint any alternative as socialism. Where in this piece do I suggest the state has any significant role to play?”

I am not sure we share quite the same definition of ‘socialism’, but Calvin may be re-assured that modern Eco-socialism, while seeing a bigger role for the state than we have now in providing key public services, is fundamentally based in a belief in localism and the commons.

In essence then, Calvin is very much in tune with Green Party, and the Green Left especially, in its belief that capitalism’s fixation with economic growth is what will bring it crashing down – if it is not taken apart in a planned way. He states:
“We need to deal with economic growth, the elephant in the room. Insofar as it relates to the increased material throughput of an economy (and believe me, it really always does) growth is not only undesirable (for the West at least) but in the medium term impossible.

Yet this fact (and I use that word advisedly) is completely un-discussed in any mainstream policy context, particularly now in our repeat recessions. We assume that an increased level of economic activity is required to protect jobs and prosperity. Lets be clear: increases in growth (achieved most recently by offshoring production to cheap Asian locations, and by flat-out-lying about the value of our financial wizardry) reward not labour but the owners of capital. Median middle class disposable incomes, adjusted for inflation, peaked in the 1970s. That is in contrast with the best-off, and for the owners of land and other capital.”

Un-discussed in mainstream policy context? He clearly fails to see the Green Party as part of the mainstream at this point in time, but we are the only ones singing from his song sheet!

GPEW’s current economic policy (http://policy.greenparty.org.UK/ec) clearly enshrines most of Calvin’s core arguments. It is not perfect, but I would like to invite Calvin to join us and get involved in refining it alongside other ‘green’ economists like Molly Scott Cato.

If Calvin wants to see meaningful change, he needs to engage with us in the political system to bring it about. This is the only way we can hope to become that crucial part of the mainstream!

For Calvin and others: http://join.greenparty.org.uk/

2 thoughts on “Cardiff economist seeing things the Green way!

  1. green gran

    Calvin’s information and the map of resources are from a Bristol conference last December, launching the Regen report sponsored by the S-W region. That report failed to mention the front-running Tidal Reef (http://www.severntidal.com/), which has already secured DECC endorsement and is better quantified than lagoons. It would run from Aberthaw to Minehead and generate more power and less discontinuously than the Barrage.
    See Green Party’s Severn Tidal Power Briefing http://bit.ly/15fkXw9
    While building a consensus to address Calvin’s argument for less power and less consumption, let’s get on urgently with substituting renewable for fossil-fueled power.

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