Responses: 1. Re-design the Capitalist System

Section
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
Page
9.4

Just as with the previous section, ‘Energy’, there are basically two responses to the problems identified: 1. Re-design/improve the existing system to account for these problems, or 2. Build a whole new system; here we look at the first approach.

I know of no better book addressing the problems of capitalism for the environment and suggesting ways to re-design it properly to account for Nature than the exceptionally clear, clever and incisive ‘Blueprint for a Green Economy’, written by David Pearce, Anil Markandya and Edward Barbier in 1989. The whole book is so focussed and ‘to the point’ that it almost reads like a summary, so directly does it get to the heart of problems with the current system. Clearly, they think a green, capitalist economy is possible, and as per their recommendations, I am sure that if implemented the system could, would, and should be improved, but would that be enough? I have no doubt that their recommendations would improve a number of the seven key aspects of capitalism I listed in the table on webpage 9.3, particularly their mechanisms for broadening capitalism’s value base and scale to include matters beyond the immediate and the material (techniques such as Travel-Cost Method, Shadow Pricing, values of the future, such as Bequest Values, values that recognise others and other places, such as Vicarious Values). These would help the problems of points 1, 3 and 4 in the table considerably, but as to the bigger picture, the overall goal and operation of modern capitalist economies, I am much less convinced.

I devoted a whole webpage to ‘Blueprint’ previously in T10 (1.3.5) and I reproduce that here. I urge you to obtain a copy of this thought-provoking little paperback and see if it convinces in its argument that ‘the system isn’t broke, it just needs fixing’.

(See also Section 3.3 Ross Gittins’ article and the CSIRO ‘National Outlook Report’ for those arguing that the current system and economic growth can be ‘de-coupled’ from environmental destruction).

 

From webpage 1.3.5  Blueprint for a Green Economy1

David Pearce, Anil Markandya, Edward Barbier 1989

Kerryn Higgs and others see growth as the ultimate problem for the environment, as well as the absolute core of the capitalist machine; so much so that no amount of tinkering will make it ‘work’ for a healthy, diverse and sustainable future. By contrast, Pearce et. al. believe that it can be changed, can be rebuilt properly to account for the environment, and in doing so the environment will be protected through its proper inclusion in this most powerful of processes.

As I am in the Higgs and Heinberg camps (see 1.3.4 and 1.1.8), it seems strange that I would include a book that is in contradiction to this, but it is such a clever little book, and provides such insight into how the modern economy works and could be improved for the environment, that I think it is well worth including.

The work is a small paperback, but is so full of information and written in such a direct, no-nonsense style, that it packs a great deal into its 185 pages. Chapters on ‘The Meaning of Sustainable Development’ and ‘Valuing the Environment’ are particularly illuminating, with the former supported by an annex at the back – ‘A Gallery of Definitions’ – that highlights just how slippery this term can be.

Ultimately, the book leads to the so-common environmental debate (regardless of topic), of: Is the bird in the hand worth two in the bush? Or put another way for this specific topic, is it worth, or possible, sufficiently to improve capitalism to protect the environment, or is it a dead end and we would be better off to design something entirely different? After reading Blueprint one almost believes it could or should be possible, such is its clarity and intelligence – but? This debate is the at the heart of economist Yanis Varoufakis’ latest book ‘Another Now’, and we will examine this in webpage 9.6.

1 Pearce, D. et. al. 1989. Blueprint for a Green Economy. Earthscan Publications, London, UK.

Explore Other Economic System

9.1 Introduction

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 200 years, so too is this section – ‘Economy’ – real...

9.2 Capitalism: Benefits and Beneficiaries

“Capitalism can be defined as the deliberate and systematic societal encouragement of the accumulation of growth capital through the use of money and debt, the enforcement of private ownership rights (especially of land and natural resources), and...

9.3 Capitalism: Problems for the Environment

In 9.2 we looked at some of the key planks of capitalism and the benefits they have brought, at least to part of, humanity. Now we turn to the problems they pose, particularly environmental problems, and because of their scale and ubiquity, this i...

9.4 Responses: 1. Re-design the Capitalist System

Just as with the previous section, ‘Energy’, there are basically two responses to the problems identified: 1. Re-design/improve the existing system to account for these problems, or 2. Build a whole new system; here we look at the first approach. ...

9.5 Fatal Flaws

Despite the almost heroic efforts of Pearce and others to improve the capitalist system, to make it properly account for the environment, and to separate its destructive ways from its standard operation, there remains an irredeemable futility at t...

9.6 Build Alternatives I

Heinberg points out in his book ‘Power’1 (see Section 8.8) that critics of the current system are good at pointing out faults, but weak at mapping transitions, let alone constructing alternatives; this is certainly so for alternative ec...

9.7 Build Alternatives II

As well as Varoufakis, there are others – individuals and organisations – who refuse to be crushed and bullied by capitalism and are prepared, nay impelled, to think beyond the current straight-jacket. As so often in T10, Higgs1 serv...

9.8 Directing Money to the Environment I

We have already aired arguments as to whether the environment can be, or should be, better accounted for within the modern capitalist economy, but one thing not up for debate is that it is currently almost entirely outside this economy. As such, i...

9.9 Directing Money to the Environment II

While webpage 9.8 addressed indirect funding to the environment via pension funds or similar, 9.9 will examine direct application of whatever discretionary funds one may have available. At first glance this seems relatively straightforward, but...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...