Nieuws - 27 september 2012

Proposition: focus on sustainability, not growth

To get ourselves out of the crisis we should focus on sustainability, not on economic growth.

Marlies Bos (the left-wing fluffy type) and Jillis Herweijer (the right-wing Hooray Henry type) rarely see eye to eye on matters of politics, the environment or student life.

Marlies: I am convinced that the current economic system has serious shortcomings: it is based on endless growth, whereas the earth's natural resources are finite. And the environmental costs of products are not included in their price. These are two causes for concern. We need to work towards a system that clearly takes these limits to what the earth can offer us into account. We need to aim for a circular economy in which we recycle more and more and therefore throw less away. A system that targets 'enough' rather than for 'more' and which does as much as possible to limit damage to the environment. Good first steps would be higher taxes on waste dumping, to stimulate recycling, and calculating environmental costs into the prices of products, instead of letting them fall on society as a whole.
Jillis responds: An inexhaustible supply of fossil fuels is not a necessary precondition for economic growth. I certainly agree with you that we need to make better use of our natural resources. But the age-old Pavlovian leftwing response of raising taxes yet again has proven itself ineffective - unless the aim is precisely to damage the economy.
Jillis: By definition, you can only get out of an economic crisis by creating economic growth. In which case. sustainability is not an answer to the crisis but at most one of the conditions for realizing economic growth. I dispute the idea that we are running up against the limits to economic growth, and that future economic growth is not realistic.  What the economy needs in order to grow is technological development. This makes processes and products more energy-saving and it also makes production methods more efficient. This both slows down the rate at which we exhaust our natural resources, and saves time. Both these savings contribute to economic growth. But technological development doesn't happen by itself: the quality of education and science will have to be improved drastically and to do that you need to draw up sound government policy. Sustainability should be among the results of technological development too. I think it would be good to focus efforts on science and technical education.
Marlies responds:  Of course things could always be more efficient but there is a limit to that. The determining factor should not be our economic system but what the earth can cope with. Because if we really want to, we can change our system. But conjuring another earth from somewhere would be a lot more difficult.