So, it’s Green GB Week. It’s a landmark week of action, or at least that how the Government describes it. It also goes on to claim that it celebrates ‘clean growth’. Read on and you find that the Clean Growth Strategy represents “an ambitious blueprint for Britain’s low carbon future”, setting out proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the next decade. Great stuff, you’d think.
Forgive my slight cynicism here. This week has seen the start of fracking operations by Quadrilla, after a lengthy legal battle. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is about squeezing out further fossil fuel reserves and, as the company’s own Chief Executive admitted in a BBCRadio 4 interview, if “we don’t do it, someone else will”.
Remember that only one week ago, the IPCC issued it’s latest and perhaps most challenging climate change report. We need to keep no less than 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to stand any chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
There’s an awful lot of stuff going on here, not much of it logical. However, my biggest gripe is with the constant use of the term ‘growth’. Isn’t it growth that’s got us here? You know, in this mess? It’s been the obsession with economic growth that has led to the over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the resultant ecosystem degradation.
As chance would have it, I’m reading Kate Raworth’s excellent ‘Doughnut Economics’, and so forgive me if I’m a little obsessed myself. I’m obsessed with the idea of growth (mind you, I always have been; it’s just that I’ve found out that I’m not alone). Every politician, it seems, feels obliged to protect people from the uncomfortable truth, continuing instead to peddle the line that we can have GDP growth. We can’t. It has to end somewhere (even with clean, green, sustainable, balanced, long-term or all the other catchphrase versions they like to come up with).
But, rather than argue about the suitability of one definition over another, I’d prefer to look at the alternatives to growth in economic terms. What about growth as measured through health & wellbeing, access to food, housing, education and the development of skills, or social justice more generally? Besides, shouldn’t we be thinking about post-growth instead?
Don’t get me wrong. Anything that leads to big business genuinely stepping up action on climate change is to be welcomed. Investment in innovation is laudable, of course, and it’s right that we should be nurturing low carbon technologies, processes and systems. It’s just that there are always caveats (for example, the Government is clear that steps to decarbonising need to be '“as cheap as possible”); caveats that, in my view, rather ignore this bigger question about growth.
Isn’t it about time we stopped the ‘window dressing’, the rebranding of economic growth, and at least began an open, honest conversation about the need to make a radical shift towards a post-growth world, where we identify and work towards other forms of value? We might even stand a chance of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals if we did. It’s not an easy message to share, and certainly won’t be popular at the ballot box in the short-term. But, we need to get through these growing pains, to emerge on the other side in a world that can be sustainable.