I stand with the climate striking students – it’s time to create a new economy
I initiated a letter of support to climate striking students – an English version of the German letter coordinated by ecologist Gregor Hagerdorn, signed by more than 1,000 academics – for many reasons.
My role as a university lecturer means that I am committed to fostering better lives and opportunities for each generation. I am also a parent, so when I consider the request from youth, including my students and child to stand with them, I am naturally inclined to give their case fair consideration.
But I am a scientific researcher, too. The first, core demand of the striking students, led by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, is to “unite behind the science”. How could I not recognise the significance of this demand in a landscape too often dominated by short-term sensationalism, rather than the core challenges facing society and the living planet?
But there’s a deeper, more fundamental reason to support the global strike for climate, grounded in my own field of political and ecological economics.
My research focuses on how, if at all, we can create an economy that is focused on achieving human well-being and avoiding damage to the environment. The current landscape is not good. No country yet meets most needs of citizens at a sustainable level of resource use.
But my research also shows that it is possible to do this and more. We have the capability to meet basic needs and achieve high levels of human well-being at modest levels of energy use. And beyond this moderate amount, there is no reliable relationship between energy use and well-being. In many cases, added energy can even harm human health and well-being through air pollution, climate impacts, road accidents, and lack of exercise.
A rapid, radical reduction in energy demand could perhaps fulfil both goals of addressing climate breakdown and enabling our students and children to live good lives. So why is this option not debated and put forward through an ambitious policy agenda?
A different future
The answer is both simple and profound. My research area remains marginal, and its results neglected, because to accept it would require a fundamental transformation of the prevailing economic philosophy. We would need to pay less attention to growth and profit as the measures of prosperity, and replace them with sufficiency and equity – a fair division of resources to provide what is sufficient for well-being and not more. After centuries of entrenchment, that’s no easy feat.
But neoclassical economics itself is not the main culprit in our planetary predicament. When we look deeper, and seek to understand the factors underpinning the rise in consumption culture that drives our energy use, we are confronted with a problem of the way production relates to politics.
The production, pricing, and consumption of goods and services are not simply driven by the natural balancing of supply and demand. The economy is best understood as a social and political arena. In this arena, highly productive industries invest heavily in advertising to artificially grow consumption. As my upcoming research will show, they coalesce in aligned mega-sectors, such as the automotive, road-building and real estate industries, all of which wield outsize political influence, and have a vested interest in trapping consumers in car-intensive, road-intensive, suburban housing.
The paradox of high resource use that results in little or no human benefits has its roots in the very structure of our political economy, and the industries that are some of its most important mainstays. Transforming this structure means challenging these sectors, and finding ways to counter their excessive influence in our democracies.
This is why we must support the students’ strike this Friday, and every Friday for the foreseeable future. Significant change will not come into being without protests and solidarity movements that rigorously question unacceptable modes of living and politics. It is time for all of us to wake politicians, businesses, and institutions up to the immense task of transforming our societies.
Feature image: Google
- Water, Air and Land Nexus: A Safe Space for Preserving Climate and Achieving Food Security | UnsustainableWater, Air and Land According to the classical economist David Ricardo, the drivers of food production such as water, air … Continue reading Water, Air and Land Nexus: A Safe Space for Preserving Climate and Achieving Food Security | Unsustainable
- The global appetite for sand and fuelling crisisWork conditions for sand miners vary starkly. In Cambodia and southwest China, highly mechanized sand mines offer little local employment. … Continue reading The global appetite for sand and fuelling crisis
- The coronavirus is just a beginning of catastropheThe age of stability is over, and coronavirus is just the beginning Wolfgang Knorr, Lund University Humanity has only recently … Continue reading The coronavirus is just a beginning of catastrophe
- Food that feeds the world and heals it tooJordan Raine, The Conversation According to experts, today’s global agriculture system faces a crisis. Intensive farming with heavy ploughing machinery … Continue reading Food that feeds the world and heals it too
- Climate crisis: We are the system that needs to changeYet to solve the major environmental problems the world now faces, we actually need to do both – to change the world and ourselves. In fact, it is even more nuanced than that – because changing ourselves is a prerequisite for changing the world…
- Climate and Inequality : It’s Time to Create a New EconomyI stand with the climate striking students – it’s time to create a new economy Julia K. Steinberger, University of … Continue reading Climate and Inequality : It’s Time to Create a New Economy
- Climate and food: Together we work, we will be strongerWhat they did and did not do in the past were the reasons for those consequences from which humanity has been at risk.
- We hate pollution and love planet; but they hate us…US reportedly opposed deal, which follows concerns that villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia had ‘turned into dumpsites’ Almost all … Continue reading We hate pollution and love planet; but they hate us…
- Human’s ill activities against eco-systemThe population growth is unlimited but the capacity of the earth to sustain its services is limited. Due to increasing … Continue reading Human’s ill activities against eco-system