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Living Well on a Finite Planet

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Jan 24, 2014 3:15:00 PM

Economist Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the U.K.’s University of Surrey is glum. “Prosperity isn’t just about having stuff,” he said. “Prosperity is the art of living well on a finite planet.”

But a systems researcher named Brad Werner may be more interested in anarchy to tackle sustainability issues.

According to an article featured on Common Dreams: “If global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rate, humanity will eventually be left with no other option than a costly, world-war-like mobilization.”

“Climate change, pollution, damaged ecosystems, record species extinctions and unsustainable resource use are all clear symptoms of a dysfunctional economic system,” Jackson, author of “Prosperity Without Growth,” published by the World Future Society,  told the Inter Press Service (IPS).

The New York Times in reviewing the 2009 book quoted Jackson as saying,”that the current economic setup is that ever-increasing personal consumption gives the individual a social status that is utterly unrelated to environmental cost. Breaking that link and substituting it with a system that gives value to family, health and happiness...is at the core of the revolutionary economic rethink.”

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism writing for the New Stateman,asks “Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet?”Klein reports that “climate scientists who have seen the data are coming to incendiary conclusions.” She writes about how  “pink-haired complex systems researcher” Brad Werner spoke at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco where 24,000 earth and space scientists had gathered. The title of his talk was “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamic Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via direct Activism.”

For Werner, a geophysicist from University of California San Diego, the answer in plain English, was “more or less.” His talk justified his position with a lot of hard science. There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming but not within the current capitalism structure, “which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.”

Werner said there might be some hopes from what he termed “resistance movements,” in which people or groups “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture.” The activities include environmental direct action from those outside the dominant culture, such as indigenous people, anarchists and other activist groups. The comparison was to organizations and activities that lead to change such as the voting rights and civil rights movements. “We know that past social movements ‘had tremendous influence on...how the dominant culture evolved.’...So it stands to reason that if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future or our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamic.”

Klein writes that in November 2012, financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urged scientists to be “arrested, if necessary,” because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives—it is also the crisis of our species’ existence.” Werner’s research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability.

Similarly, Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the U.K.’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester has been publishing papers entitled “Climate Change Going Beyond Dangerous...Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope.” He writes that to avert disaster that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritizing GDP growth above all else. Using GDP as a measure is something that ecological economist Jackson says is akin to riding a bicycle and only measuring how fast it is going without regard to terrain or even direction.

Apparently, in some places, emissions are rising not falling. For example, the rise in tar sands oil production in Canada is causing Canada to actually increase its emissions by at least 20 percent.

Jackson says the “current self-destructive economy must be transformed into one that delivers a shared and lasting prosperity.” His version of a green economy is  “a fit for purpose economy that is stable, based on equity and provides decent and satisfying livelihoods while treading lightly on earth.”

Jackson and co-author Peter Victor from Canada’s York University have written a new report entitled Green Economy at Community Scale that showcases examples, such as the Transition Town Movement and the global Ecocity movement which has echoes of the 2030 Districts.


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