The cartoon graphic below is pretty accurate in terms of its overall message but I think it is missing a wave, air pollution. Air pollution kills 64,000 each year in the UK, a number which is surprisingly close to the number that covid may take.
The two problems are related, of course. Air pollution makes covid worse, i.e. people in polluted areas are more likely to die. The causes and solutions to air pollution are similar to climate change, much of the cause of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels (and carbon rich fuels such as wood burning).
The other waves are connected too. The recession was triggered by covid, climate change and air pollution have similar drivers and biodiversity collapse, the biggest of the waves, will be exacerbate by climate change but reduced a little by recession.
It’s the economy stupid. No, it’s the stupid economy. The drive for perpetual economic growth is as stupid as the search for a perpetual motion machine. You can’t have perpetual growth on a finite planet. There are limits to growth as the Club of Rome explained in 1971, learning that still hasn’t landed in humanities mind despite 50 years of opportunity.
One of the most frightening thing about the graphs to the right is that they were the business as usual predictions from Limits to Growth and show the wheels coming off just after 2020. Like now. Just a thought. It is almost as if the impacts growth of pollution and depletion have been quite accurate. What it is difficult to predict is exactly how those wheels fall off.
Not only do we have an economic paradigm of a need for perpetual growth that is not fit for purpose, our economies are exploitative too. We rely on cheap labour. We ignore externalities such as pollution. We value luxury over necessity. And so on.
A recession should benefit the environment except that there will be a drive to mitigate de-growth by cheapening labour future and increasing externalities.
We need a new approach to the economy, one that values necessity, one that accounts for the full cost of goods and services, one that ensures that everyone’s needs are met. One that is sustainable, doesn’t require perpetual growth and one that right-sized for our planet.