Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It’s the sustainable economy, silly

First things first – I’ve changed my name. Way back in 2005, when I dreamed up my blog, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that collectively we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 60 Percent by 2050 to avoid runaway global warming. I have a weakness for targets so I coined my weekly missives the 60 Percent Campaign.

Since that time, the Panel adjusted the target to 80 percent by 2050, upping the ante and rendering my blog name meaningless.

The purpose of the blog is to encourage us all to be carbon slim so Carbon Slim it is. If you’ve included a link to my blog in your own blog or website, be sure to change the URL to

It’s the sustainable economy, silly
The US and Canadian feds are having a field day with money. Billions of it. I applaud initiatives to stimulate the development of green technology and industry, but in the interests of sustainability there needs to be a greater emphasis on transit and urban density initiatives and much much less on road development (unless they want to build more bike lanes).

I’m fascinated by the concern expressed by some economists that reducing taxes will only prompt ‘consumers’ to pay down debt and save rather than continue with the frenzied spending spree of a consumer-driven economy.

The questions I have in the midst of all the chatter about how best to stimulate the economy is what got us into this mess in the first place and how can we move towards sustainability?

How did we get here? – For a litany of the foolish decisions and shenanigans that got us in this massive mess, I encourage you to read Joseph E. Stiglitz’s Capitalist Fools from the January edition of Vanity Fair. Mr. Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize winning economist and professor at Columbia University, so he’s no chump. The article is most enlightening.

How can we get on the road to sustainability? - The first place for policy makers to start is to stop assessing economic performance solely through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By viewing everything through the GDP lens economists and governments encourage all transactions that contribute to ‘growth’, even those that are socially and environmentally debilitating. To give a rather perverse example, in our economy illness is good. You can’t have a vibrant pharmaceutical industry without it, can you? This leads to no real incentive to prevent illness in the first place. So what’s the alternative to the GDP? The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). GPI accounts for income distribution and household and volunteer work, in addition to personal consumption. It then subtracts that with the costs associated with crime and pollution. Click here to read more.

What We Can Do
Don’t just leave it up to the government to kick start the economy. If you’re lucky enough to be gainfully employed, develop your own economic stimulus plan. Mine looks something like this:

  • Have a get-out-of-debt strategy matched with a watch-my-savings-grow plan. Learn to live within your means.
  • Buy local so that more of your dollar stays in your community. According to Yes Magazine, 45 cents stays in the community when bought locally as opposed to 15 cents when you support a company like Walmart. Favour the mum & pop shops and eco-friendly stores and look for products made in your country.
  • Support restaurants and local arts. A dollar spent in the arts sector generates $6 because it usually gets people in restaurants and bars and creates vibrant communities that attracts businesses. Not a bad return on investment.
  • Choose quality over quantity. Avoid cheap products that kick the bucket the day after the year warranty ends. Buy items that are built to last and that your local repair person can easily find parts for. This is a challenge, particularly when it comes to gadgets. Eco-Geek seems savvy when it comes to the latest eco-friendly electronics.
  • Focus on services. Pamper yourself! Take care of your things. Get a home energy audit and do the retrofits to increase your home’s comfort, decrease utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint.

In the News

Obama Directs Regulators to Tighten Auto Rules

Europe to Ask Wealthy Nations to Adopt Carbon Trading System

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