Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Can you believe it?

I have been surprised that more has not been made of the British Conservative Party's new policy document: Blueprint for a Green Economy. Perhaps it has in the UK but in Oz it has mostly slipped below the radar - with a few exceptions! It is in many ways a radical document and although not yet adopted as Conservative Party policy it seems to move the debate, in some respects, light years ahead of where it is here in Oz. If only the current Oz election campaign involved discussion about these matters!! The description on the Conservative's home page says:

The Quality of Life Policy Group, chaired by John Gummer and vice-chaired by Zac Goldsmith, released their final report on Thursday September 13.

The Group have spent 18 months developing an agenda to make Britain a world leader on green growth by:
- Using markets to help create positive change
- Helping individuals change their behaviour
- Making industry use resources more efficiently

They have outlined a series of proposals to reduce pollution and improve the wider environment and quality of life.

Refreshingly the paper addresses a number of complex issues systemically. For example co-author John Gummer said:

"If we are to create a way of living that can sustain, then water, waste, transport and energy, as well as farming, food, fishing and the built environment, have to be thought of as a whole."

This can be interpreted as a need for investment in building systems practice capability. Systemic insights can be found elsewhere in the document:

'It is increasingly clear that the global economy must be retooled in order to ensure that it operates sustainably, within environmental limits. In this urgent task, it will be the world’s developed countries which lead the way. Over nearly three centuries we have grown ever richer but we have done so at the expense of the environment upon which our lives depend. We have therefore both the means and the obligation to repair the damage.'

'Yet, although Conservatives understand the vital role of markets, they recognise too that markets are mechanisms not gods. The market is crucial to our vision, but cannot deliver it alone. The strength of the market is its unique ability to meet economic needs. Its weakness is myopia. The market lacks the dimension of time. Unrestrained, it will catch till the last fish is landed, drill till there is no more oil, and pollute till the planet is destroyed. Its efficiency in creating material wealth is both its strength and its weakness.'

'We believe that growth and progress need to be redefined for a new century. ‘Growth’ should also encompass growth in the value and richness of society, of tolerance, diversity, and variety and of the strength and empowerment of family and community As a leading American economist, Herman Daly, has argued, economic growth is focused upon quantitative expansion and the notionally ‘limitless transformation of natural capital into man-made capital’. Sustainable development, by contrast, is about qualitative improvement, promoting increased economic activity only insofar as it does not exceed the capacity of the eco-system.'

'The social cost of material growth is becoming increasingly clear. Even as the global economy continues to consume beyond its ecological means, the long-assumed link between increased financial wealth and increased social wellbeing is showing signs of stress. Levels of income and consumption have soared over the last three decades in most developed countries. Yet consistently, the people of those same countries report no increase in their sense of contentment or wellbeing. In many cases they report a decline. It seems that in wealthy countries, a continued increase in economic growth, is not increasing wellbeing. '

'A measure of wellbeing that takes such environmental accounting into consideration needs to respect the four interdependent ‘securities’ of nature – energy security, water security, food security, and climate security. All overlap in complex ways. For example, if we put huge areas of fertile land over for production of biofuels to gain energy security or increase climate security, what will be the effects on food and water security? Failing to understand how these things mesh together ultimately damages us all.'

Not for one minute am I recommending the uncritical acceptance of all that is here. But as a report for a major political party in a western democracy I hope it has the effect of taking us collectively onto a new, much needed conversation and policy space.

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