Thursday, 1 December 2011

Changing fortunes?

This month may not have been a good one for ‘green’ causes. The Duke of Edinburgh described wind farms as utterly useless, and thereby gave focus to a great deal of dissent about the ‘growing army of monster structures marching over the landscape’. Growing disillusionment is emerging, for example, in The Economist, about the prospects for Rio + 20. As politicians focus on domestic and financial needs, there is more talk about growth than sustainability, and much vaunted infrastructure projects, including airports and larger roads. The visibility of a carbon tax, pioneered in Australia, is receding. ‘Cost’ and ‘cutting’ are the buzzwords, economic forecasts cry out for austerity.

So, does this mean that the tide is turning?

Is ‘green’ a luxury we can’t afford? Actually I don’t think so. There will always be a group of climate change deniers, probably until the sea boils, but they don’t necessarily represent broader public opinion. The understanding of environmental capacity has sunk deep into the psyche of most of us. The questions now could come of value and cost. A few years ago this seemed to be sufficient prosperity to subsidise research and development of green technologies. Thank goodness. But now we have to make tough choices: we can’t have it every way. Sustainability has to fight his corner – but this is good because the arguments become stronger and solutions more realistic. green24 exists to help and inform this vital debate in every quarter of the economy and society.

The important questions are questions about shared values and a changing vision of what prosperity and wealth looks like on a global scale. These are questions of purpose, not technology. John Ruskin, that famous Victorian reformer, who, incidentally, lived a few miles from my home, concluded that ‘there was no wealth but life’ in his critique of Adam Smith entitled ‘Unto This Last. It is worth a read, and he is very relevant to today’s situation. On a very human scale, environmental management and sustainability cannot simply be a cost. Ruskin saw that and practically experimented in ways of bringing creativity together with care for the environment, way before anybody talked about organic farming.

We need to think very carefully about what we see as wealth, and cost and profit. Cost as function of supply and demand will be hugely affected by the way developing countries respond. Here there are promising signs, in Brazil, in India and to some extent in China too. There is a balancing act to be struck and cost is not the right word to use.

David Jackman

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