This blog was originally posted on the website Valuing Nature.

Can we look to a recession to reduce emissions? Or will it simply serve to expose the capricious nature of those approaches to tackling climate change which are focussed narrowly on the 'business case'?

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who was speculating that a recession may contribute to the emergence of a greater sense of collective thrift, and that this in turn may catalyse a retreat from profligate consumption.

 

It's a nice thought - the idea that a global down-turn might have the silver lining of a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, whilst simultaneously leading to a more lasting shift in consumer attitudes. But I am not persuaded. Although we may tighten our belts during the recession, where is the evidence that we won't be bursting to loosen them again with the next up-turn?

 

I do think there may be one lasting impact of a recession, though. I hope desperately it's not the case, but perhaps the first things that we'll give up will be those things that - whilst being fashionably green - cost a bit more. Those who prefer to take the train rather than a cheaper domestic flight might think a bit harder about whether they can really afford this commitment to reducing their personal carbon footprint; local organic produce will suddenly seem like an unnecessary extravagance; sales of hybrid cars will fall; even capital expenditure on those things that will save us money in the long-run, like loft insulation, may be deferred until times are rosier.

 

But the effect of this would at least help us to scrutinise the durability of the "business-case for sustainable development". Perhaps we will come to find that much popular concern about the environment is just another recession-sensitive fad. Let's pray that this is not the case. But if it is, then better to blow the whistle sooner, rather than later.

A recession may provide the litmus test for the durability of popular environmental concern. And if we collectively fail that litmus test, then will have to re-evaluate the values upon which the dominant case for environmental action is built. We will have found that business interest, coupled with "green consumerism", is simply too fickle to be solely entrusted with something as important as stabilising our climate.