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The students' climate protest proves: it's time to create a new economy

A rapid and radical reduction in energy demand could possibly fulfill both goals of dealing with the climate crisis and allowing our students and children to live good lives. So why is this possibility not debated and brought forward through an ambitious political agenda?

Teenagers demonstrate at the Climate March for the Future, Turin, Italy, May 2019. Photo: shutterstock.com
Teenagers demonstrate at the Climate March for the Future, Turin, Italy, May 2019. Photo: shutterstock.com

By: Julia K. Steinberger, Professor of Social Ecology and Ecological Economics, University of Leeds. Translation: Avi Blizovsky

Editor's note - yesterday we published the transcript Speech by the Swedish girl Greta Thunberg At the UN climate conference in New York. One of the important sentences she said was: people are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing and we are at the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales about eternal economic growth? How dare you?". Prof. Steinberger deals in her article about the need for a new economy, more sustainable than the current one.

the article 

I initiated a letter of support for the students protesting against the inaction of the governments to prevent the climate crisis. This is an English version of the German letter coordinated by the ecologist Gregor Gerdoren, which was signed by more than a thousand academics - for many reasons.

My role as a university lecturer means I am committed to fostering better lives and opportunities for every generation. I am also a mother, and therefore when I hear the request of teenagers, including my students and child to stand with them, I naturally tend to support their judgment.
But I am also a scientific researcher. The main, main demand of the striking students, led by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, is to "unite behind science". How could I not recognize the significance of this demand in a media landscape that is too often dominated by short-term sensationalism, and does not address the core challenges facing society and the planet?

But there is a deeper and more fundamental reason to support the global strike for the climate, which is based in my area of ​​specialization - political and ecological economy. My research focuses on how, if at all, we can create an economy focused on achieving human well-being and avoiding harm to the environment. The current prospect is not good. No country yet meets most of the needs of its citizens at a sustainable level of resource use.

But my research also shows that this can be done and more. We have the ability to meet basic needs and achieve high levels of human well-being at low levels of energy use. And beyond this moderate amount, there is no reliable relationship between energy use and well-being. In many cases, additional energy can even harm human health and well-being through air pollution, climate change, traffic accidents and lack of physical activity.

A rapid and radical reduction in energy demand could possibly accomplish both goals of dealing with climate collapse and allowing our students and children to live good lives. So why is this possibility not debated and brought forward through an ambitious political agenda?

A different future

The answer is both simple and profound. My field of research remained marginal, and its findings were neglected, because to accept it would require a fundamental change of the dominant economic philosophy. We must pay less attention to growth and profit as indicators of prosperity, and replace them with sufficiency and capital - a fair distribution of resources to provide what is needed for well-being and no more. After hundreds of years of growing up, this is no easy feat.

But neoclassical economics itself is not the main culprit in the plight of the planet. When we look more deeply, and seek to understand the factors that underlie the increase in the consumption culture that drives our energy use, we encounter the problem of relating production to politics.

Production, pricing and consumption of goods and services are not driven simply by a natural balance between supply and demand. The economy can be understood as a social and political arena. In this arena, manufacturing industries invest heavily in advertising to induce artificial growth in consumption. As my research shows, they congregate in sectors such as the automotive, road construction, and real estate industries, all of which have great political influence, and have a vested interest in capturing consumers in high-car roads, intensive, and suburban housing.

The paradox of high use of resources that results in little or no human benefit originates in the very structure of our political economy, and in the industries that form part of its most important pillars. Changing this structure means challenging these sectors, and finding ways to deal with their excessive influence in our democracies.

This is why we must support the student strike that will take place every Friday for the foreseeable future. Significant change will not occur without protests and solidarity movements that rigorously question wrong ways of life and politics. It is time to wake up the politicians, businesses and institutions to the enormous task of making our societies sustainable.

to the article on The Conversation website

More of the topic in Hayadan:

11 תגובות

  1. The treatment of the climate crisis will only begin when it will be too late for the majority of the planet's population.

  2. First - to Ophir. If the threat was external, for example a meteor on a collision course with the Earth and for the purpose of saving humanity, the same measures that you protest so much against would be required, everyone would mobilize.
    Regarding the economy - the basic measurement in the economy - GDP is distorted. For example, if there are a lot of traffic accidents and there are expenses for treating the injured and repairing/buying cars, the GDP goes up, which is apparently good. In today's economy, the cost of handling waste within the product (the packaging law is the tip of the iceberg), of depleting resources, of harming the environment is not priced. It is necessary to think in a completely different way in order to encourage Cradle to Cradle product design and production. It is necessary to stop the production of garbage that is intended to spoil after a short time and be thrown away in order to buy another - something that today's economy encourages. Regarding the damage to the environment - in the end, damage to the environment damages the possibility of man to live in it - biological balance, air, water and soil quality.

  3. "From each - according to his ability, to each - according to his translation!"... I thought that if communism we are already finished!...

  4. It is very unfortunate that you support this sleepwalker. You gain a good name for a scientific website and articles like this destroy it.

    It's pretty clear to anyone with an understanding that this forced veganism, the cessation of flights, beyond one hundred percent renewable energies, while maintaining the standard of living in the world is not possible and will only lead to the death of hundreds of millions.

    Precisely where electricity is used the most, the life expectancy increases and the environment is cleaner.

  5. The solution is simple but problematic...restricting the birthrate...reducing the world's human population through a drastic reduction in birthrates will result in less pollution and less burden and exploitation of natural resources

  6. It's not hysteria without a reason, we adults are too slow in our reactions and eventually the earth will snatch us (for those who haven't snatched it yet). You can argue about laws in the Knesset, but you cannot argue or negotiate with the laws of physics. Foot dragging and denial is not something to be proud of. And it is impossible to define every decrease in consumption as communism. Today there are huge surpluses of food that are thrown away. Products that used to last twenty years today barely last two years so we buy more, clothes and shoes are not repaired. Plastic fills the oceans, in a mass that is greater than the mass of fish, large animals are disappearing from whales to elephants and rhinos, and also many animals and plants that are not seen but are an important part of the food chain - the bees are just an example that should cause alarm.
    In the end, the children are the ones who will have to live in a world that will collapse under itself. Three generations have rejected the treatment of warming until now it has to be called the "climate crisis". It's a shame that such children did not wake up 20 and 30 years ago.

  7. "We must pay less attention to growth and profit as the indicators of prosperity, and replace them with sufficiency and capital - a fair distribution of resources to provide what is needed for well-being and no more." It's called communism and it clearly tends to lead to tens of millions dead, hundreds of millions imprisoned in labor camps and cannibalism. We have tried it enough times to be confident enough of the outcome of the next experiment in communism. This approach is anti-science, and it's a shame that you give a hand to the epidemic of hysteria that afflicts the youth, instead of presenting a realistic and considered picture.

  8. Precisely if they give the money to the poor in India, they will buy products and there will be more pollution!

  9. Spoiled, who thanks to the "old" economy reached financial prosperity and now want to stick the rest of the world in poverty.
    The most important movement in the last 10 years is the exit from poverty of hundreds of millions. All this is not possible in the "new economy" proposed by the anarchists.
    I suggest they take 90% of these people's money and give it to the poor in India (and there are many) and then there will be less pollution

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