Recession-proofing the climate


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.


Tom CromptonRecession-proofing the climate

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  • Ciaran Mundy - January 23, 2008 reply

    Understanding the past is the best way to predict the future. Without a shift in governance to balance the pre-eminence of capital, markets will do what they do best, without any concern for things we value that might fall outside the current legal framework. Even if those things sustain human life!

    If we are going to stick with capitalism and some version of free market economics then we must better represent the cultural and natural resources we depend on.

    Developing a system of local, regional and global common ownership of such resources as water, fertile soil and the atmosphere could achieve this. It is important to know how our values should be represented as a society. Currently they are not in terms of the most precious of our cultural and natural resources. This lack of representation in itself undermines the personal development and expression of these common values. They are easily understood through concepts of fairness, opportunity, justice, equity, responsibility to others now and in the future.

    We must be more explicit, always demanding our political and business leaders design our future system of governance around these values.

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