In this new book, Anders Hayden explores the rise and fall of economic rhetoric and action on climate change in Canada and the UK. He delineates three approaches, which he traces through the last couple decades: Business-as-Usual (BAU), Ecological Modernization (EM), and Sufficiency. The BAU approach is defined by downplaying climate concerns and engineering miracles. Ecological Modernization, also known as “green-growth,” strongly acknowledges climate concerns, but is reform minded and downplays the transition, focusing on decoupling environmental harm from, and without impinging on, economic growth. In contradiction, Sufficiency questions underlying economic logic and goals and gives a lower profile to techno-policy solutions.
Wheras EM holds out the promise of win-win economic gains, sufficiency seeks to shift the emphasis to quality-of-life improvements, and to development and deploy not only new technologies, but also new visions of the good life.
In reality, there is overlap between these categories of economic thought related to climate change, which Anders acknowledges, but his framework provides a handy shortcut for understanding the underlying motivations and language of climate mitigation. Particularly in North America, which has been dominated by a dialect of Business-As-Usual vs. Ecological Modernization, Anders identifies a third strain (or perhaps a third rail) of thought in Sufficiency.
Hayden comprehensively explores a lengthy battle between BAU and EM in Canada, with Sufficiency largely sidelined, and no clear victor. Meanwhile in the UK, Ecological Modernization became the norm and conversations of Sufficiency entered the political mainstream in specific micro policy action and macro policy consideration. Economic structures, such as Canada’s oil boom, and political opportunity, such as the British conservative’s desire for political favor with greens, were key determining factors according to Hayden. Where Sufficiency did find traction in the UK it was driven by consensus on aggressive (or scientific-based) GHG reduction targets, experience and recognition of the limits of ecological modernization in meeting those targets, and an acknowledgement of the bounds of economic growth in supporting quality of life at home and in ending misery abroad.
Anders is clearly a Sufficiency sympathizer, but concludes that it may be a pill best swallowed only after an Ecological Modernization placebo can wet the appetite for treatment. He recommends policy approaches agnostic to GDP rather than directly challenging the economic paradigm. Anders deep exploration merits strong consideration, but without directly acknowledging the limits of economic growth to overcome the benefits efficiency and technology, it will be difficult to develop policy coherence capable of reversing devastating environmental trends.
Ander’s calls at the conclusion, legitimates the core purpose behind Rethinking Prosperity.
Not only is further intellectual work, back by much greater societal resources commensurate with the stakes urgency needed in this area. Equally if not more important is a far-reaching societal debate on the path for the future…