World Economy

Economic Growth Key to Saving the Planet

Economic Growth Key to Saving the PlanetEconomic Growth Key to Saving the Planet

cgrowth and technology can go hand in hand with green living.

For the past 50 years the environmental movement has been in thrall to a simple, powerful and utterly wrong idea: that the best way to save the planet is to curtail human activity, whether in the form of breeding, building, burning or business. Anybody who suggests a different strategy–that economic activity is not just compatible with environmental benefits, but vital to creating and improving them–has been howled down, Owen Paterson, former UK environment secretary, told AFP.

But that is changing, and a new idea is gaining ground, under the term “Ecomodernism”. The key idea behind Ecomodernism is that the more technology human beings adopt, the more they can decouple from dependence on the natural environment and live lives that are prosperous but green.

Something remarkable is happening to the human race. Today’s seven billion people have both more food and more nature reserves than the five billion of 30 years ago. “We in developed countries are using less land, less fertilizer and less water to produce more food. We are using less iron and less wood to build more buildings. We are using less oil and less gas to achieve each increment of economic growth. We are using fewer trees for paper and copper for wires, to communicate with.”

The Green Blob said non-renewable resources, like oil, copper and phosphorus, were going to run out, whereas in fact they grew more abundant and cheaper. It said hunger was going to get worse, whereas in fact it has vastly improved, except in countries like North Korea. It said population growth was going to explode, whereas in fact it slowed down. It said economic growth was incompatible with nature conservation, whereas in fact the countries with the most growth have the healthiest wildlife. It said genetically modified crops would hurt biodiversity, whereas in fact they have led to a dramatic fall in insecticide use. It said climate change would have created havoc by now, whereas in fact the Sahel has grown steadily greener.

 Natural Conservation

The rich parts of the world, like Europe and North America, are now teeming with far richer wildlife populations than for many centuries, to the point where it is becoming a problem in cities – foxes in London, turkeys in Boston, bears in Philadelphia. Outside the developing world, forests are increasing in extent and diversity all the time. Britain now has more woodland than before.

 What makes this possible is the fact that people don’t need so much wildlife or so much land to support themselves. They have coal so they don’t cut down forests; they have oil so they don’t kill whales and penguins; they have gas so use fertilizer to quintuple the yields of corn and need less land to feed each family; they have chickens so they don’t kill wild geese. That’s decoupling and it is the real answer to nature conservation.

The reason poor countries have the worst environmental problems is that they have not yet made these transitions. They are still relying on renewable, natural resources such as wood and bush meat to support their lifestyles. They are still coupled to the natural environment.

 Influence on Environmentalism

“And this is why I think Ecomodernism is such a critically important and positive influence on environmentalism. It works on both the local scale and on a large scale. Rather than focus in a defensive way on stopping bad things happening, Ecomodernism encourages good things to happen. The best way to grow food is in poly-tunnels so you minimize the land and water you need, rather than on huge organic farms with low yields. The best way to generate electricity is a nuclear power plant so you minimize the land you need, rather than in a vast subsidized wind farm chopping up birds and producing little energy,” Paterson said.

Ecomodernism lets you escape this negativity and celebrate the measures that can be taken to improve the world’s wildlife if people have enough money and can spare enough space from servicing human needs.