The green economy tool kit

Milani Economy 2

Consider this:

  • The Scottish owner of the tanker MT Endurance has been charged with polluting Canadian waters by discharging about 1500 litres of oil off Cape Breton. All responses, from the aircraft that tracked the ship to the judge who will render decision, will be counted in calculating Canada’s growth rate. The more disasters like this, the higher will be our Gross Domestic Product.
  • Laptops, such as the one I used to write this column, are responsible for 4,000 times their weight in waste that is generated in manufacturing, resource use, and transportation, before they are offered for sale.


  • Our economy is excessively dependent on gambling, not just in casinos, but in financial speculation which is so pervasive that in New York markets, the total amount of money changing hands in three days equals the entire annual production of the world.


Gambling, waste, screwy accounting — these are only three examples of an economic system so flawed that only a madman or an ideologue would say it’s sustainable.


It’s a house of cards. If it doesn’t collapse like a frenzied juggler with too many balls in the air, it will have a nervous breakdown when the bill for environmental devastation finally arrives.


Yet there are different paths we could take, and one that I find highly attractive is outlined by Brian Milani in his new book, Designing the Green Economy: The Postindustrial Alternative to Corporate Globalization (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Boston, $29.95 in paperback).


In reading the book, I was reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith. Through everything he wrote ran the theme that economics should be the servant, not the master. That we should decide what kind of society we want, and design an economic system to deliver it. For his part, Galbraith said in his introduction to a collection of his essays in Economics, Peace & Laughter (1971): « …the test of economic achievement is not how much we produce but what we do to make life tolerable or pleasant.’’


Milani is on the same wave length. He wants quality of life and ecological renewal to replace accumulation of money as the goal of our economic system, a change that would totally transform the system.


Economics should become a sub-discipline of ecology, he says. And instead of focusing on commodities — how many refrigerators, shoes and cars we can produce — a green economy would set environmental and social objectives. « This end-use approach (would) allow us to work backward,’’ he says, to construct programs and policies that would deliver the objectives.


The choice, he says, is between destruction and restoration. The main economic outputs would be services, such as nutrition, transportation, housing, and entertainment.


In the green economy tool kit would be full cost accounting that included in prices the costs of pollution, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. Revamped tax incentives and disincentives would be in the kit too, as would be an end to environmentally destructive subsidies, and development of sustainable community indicators to measure progress toward objectives.


Focus would shift more to the local level, Milani says, with a much greater emphasis on local production, which would reduce transportation and increase employment.


What he’s talking about is a revolutionary change in sensibilities, in the way we look at the world. And he sees groundwork for a shift being laid.


The speed of change, the growth in complexity, and our expanding scientific understanding of the biosphere are creating conditions for change, he says. Complexity is making governing from the top difficult and will promote a shift in control to lower levels. Scientific understanding is reuniting us with nature. Technological advances are bringing decentralization and participatory democracy within reach.


And what is most fascinating, he returns to the work of Marshall McLuhan to point out that the speed of electronic change is forcing us to stop trying to find reality by deconstructing it into small segments and, instead, to look for patterns and context. That, Milani says, can lead us to ecological awareness.


I hope he’s right.

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