Greed is the reason for climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution
Torstai 15.6.2023 klo 19:04 - Mikko Nikinmaa
Growth has been the ultimate aim of economies throughout the world. If economic growth of any area is smaller than in other countries, it reaches headline news. If there is no growth at all, media talk about recession and in worst case of doomsday looming. Growth was easy to reach as long as the number of people remained low so that it was impossible to use all the world’s resources and land, and cause significant pollution. However, those days are long past. Since there are now 8 billion of us and many consume the world’s resources excessively, the basic tenet of economic growth, i.e., no need to take environment into account in economic activity, is not possible any more. All today’s major problems, climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution are symptoms of our overuse of the planet.
We have reached the stage in economic activity that any increase in material consumption causes a loss in other countries or environmental deterioration. And one needs to raise a question: what for? Currently used economic theories have two fatal flaws: first, they do not take into account that the planet we live in has limits and, second, they do not consider environment as a decisive component of economy. One still hears politicians and other decision makers saying that one needs to take economic realities into account before one can carry out environmental actions. They have not realized that environment is as much a part of economic realities as employment or industrial production.
So, what is the reason for the need of growth or increase in consumption? I remember times 50 years ago when the level of consumption was only a fraction of what it is today, almost sustainable. One was happy then with a lot fewer material goods than today. In fact, consuming a lot less than today would not decrease the overall quality of life. So why is degrowth such an evil thing? The main reason is probably that it doesn’t fit into the growth-based economic theories. Since economic growth is a necessity for healthy economy, degrowth is necessarily bad. However, economic growth does not take the environment into account. If it was done, old-fashioned economic growth could mean a reduction in the standard of living: if the state of the environment deteriorated as a result of the increased material growth, the quality of life would decrease. This is what is actually happening today.Thus, because environment is not a part of economic thinking, its deterioration is not considered as an economic loss, although it should be. Since this is the case, greed becomes the major factor in causing all of the environmental problems that we experience today. As maximizing profits (=greed) is an economically acceptable thing, one does not take into account the environment as long as possible. And greed has led to climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution. What is really worrisome is that even today most politicians, decision makers and voters/common people think that greed (=economic growth) should be the primary factor in policy making.