Economics and Environmental Costs

I fear not doing justice to the seminar presented on October 18, however I can attempt to describe it.  October 18 was the day of the Beatty Memorial lecture given by James Gustave Speth.  He began the lecture with a discussion of the environmental problems that are taking place today.  Aside from global warming, there has been an increase in species extinctions, eutrophication and a higher occurrence of toxins within the body.  We are living in an age of spiritual and social deficit coupled with longer work hours and a crumbling family structure.  One of the major factors; our economy is not taking into account these environmental and social costs.

I was surprised that Speth included the social environment as part of his talk.  Normally the first thing one considers when thinking of the environment is the ecosystems along with its flora and fauna.  However our community is a part of who we are.  One might argue it is our immediate environment as it is where we connect with each other.  The statement was made that our progress is measured by the GDP.  Speth suggests that this is counterproductive as people who are earning more are not necessarily happier.  In addition along with the progress of our economy we are seeing greater disparities between the rich and the poor.  If we wish to decrease the amount of poverty in the world this cannot be seen as progress.

It is difficult to change the economy to suit our environmental needs.  Because it appears to be more costly to incorporate these new environmental policies we are faced with the dilemma of wishing to save our current environment but being fearful of damaging our economy.  In addition, because of the stronger influence the private sector is having over the government, it is harder to seek government support conflicting with the needs of the private sector.  This statement appears similar to that made in the Linzey Seminar, Building Activism Stripping Corporate Power and Recognizing the Rights of Nature.  Finally it is difficult to put forth an environmental agenda when people are currently struggling to support themselves.  Thus they’d prefer lower cost options.

If we are going to seek to change an economy that conflicts with our environments (ecological and social) we our going to have to make sacrifices.  It has been suggested we are currently living beyond our means.  It has therefore been proposed that we lower our consumption and (as put by Speth) consider the market of nothing.  Buying less, buying local, and buying “slow food” would have a decreased impact on the environment.

Concluding Speth’s lecture are many powerful statements.  He seems to aspire to a future where there is collaboration with the political, social and environmental aspects of life.  He also aspires to a future where we focus on “needs, rather than wants, dependence rather than transcendence, [seeking to be] a part of nature rather than apart from it, [and seeking to become] better, not richer” (Speth, 2008).  To us in particular Speth beseeches us to get off the sidelines and get active in our goal for improving this world.

3 Responses to “Economics and Environmental Costs”

  1. supernova says:

    I just want to present an interesting side sujet to Speth’s presentation (i attended as well). He said that GDP was merely a growth mesurement of economy. In fact, it’s a mesurement of how money transfers from one point to another. I basically means that anywhere money is spend, GDP will grow. Many other indicators exist but the one i prefer remains the europeen ISEW, which is Index of Sustainable Welfare. This index incorporate various cost to the traditional GDP in order to assess the real progress of the economy. The GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) is derived from the ISEW and it’s used in the USA since 1995. That index includes a value for durable product, free work and tehnology improvement. What is interesting we is that if look at those «corrected» index we clearly see a slowing economy (see figures on this website Maybe the first step towards changing this unfriendly economy towards environnement could be the usage of these index.

  2. patagonia says:

    It was a wonderful lecture and I definately think you did it justice. I was also pleasently surprised by the way Speth acknowledged and stressed the interconnected issues of social environment and social well being with the shift towards an environmental politic and economy. This reminds me of social ecology theory founded by Murry Bookchin; this theory is based on the concept that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems. This view would therefore express that these ecological problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without a careful understanding of our existing society and the irrationality or paradox that dominate it; man inevitable influences nature and is inherently dependant on nature.
    I attened both the seminars, ecologically sustainable golf courses and Speth’s Beatty lecture. There is a link between these two seminar’s. Speth spoke of the need to break away from traditional modes of environmental change (those working within the worldwide market economy system) because it is fundamental change to that system itself that is needed to allow for real environmentally and socially sustainable and just survival on earth. The seminar on ecologically managed golf courses represents seeking enviornmental change within the current world market economy. Therefore, according to Speth, though a good idea that is still definately valuable and needed, ecological golf coure managment does not represent the future of the environmental movement.

  3. guesswho says:

    Patagonia, the theory of Bookchin you mention seems quite interesting. Could you give an exemple of this link between social problems and environmental problems ?