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The economics of the anthropocene

Posted by Ben on August 1, 2011 · Leave a Comment

For the last few days, I have been at the Green Economics Institute's 6th Annual Conference at Mansfield College in Oxford. Having missed last year's conference, I'm a little out of touch with what's been going on. However, progress is being made by governments worldwide, albeit still too slowly, in understanding the implications of the economics of the anthropocene. Past assumptions that resources are limitless and technology will solve all are now all too clearly wrong. Yet many Western governments are still obsessed with growth, and by this they mean increases in GDP. Again, it is becoming recognised that GDP is a poor measure of true development, as it fails to take into account anything that does not yield income.

As green economists, one of the problems we wish to address is the labour of parents and carers, most of whom are women, whose work is unpaid. This work does not contribute towards the conventional measure of GDP. However, it clearly contributes towards society. Partly related to this, is concern over traditional gender roles, meaning that women are often presumed to undertake this labour whilst men ‘go out to work'. As part of this, maternity leave needs to be matched with a greatly increased allowance for paternity leave, allowing fathers to bond with their children and undertake part of what is often seen solely as the job of women.

Mass consumption of goods is another problem as this is ostensibly good in the eyes of government as it leads to increases in GDP. However Western consumption patterns are entirely unsustainable, and the rapidly industrialising BRIC countries are setting a similar path. Replacing goods with services, in the hope of improving the human condition, rather than accumulating physical objects, is one way in which our earnings are reinvested, but with a lower impact on the planet. However, nature provides us with many ‘services' for free, such as walking through the countryside and taking in mountain vistas. These services are not counted in the traditional measure of GDP, yet they clearly contribute towards society. Moreover, not only do they not count, but their destruction is also ignored, as we extract natural resources from the planet in order to produce goods.

These are just two problems amongst many that the current generation of politicians and policy makers are failing to address. Furthermore, our youngest generation, largely unemployed, is increasingly disillusioned as to the ability of government to create a future for them. This is why what struck me most, is how the Green Economics Institute incorporates these very people into its activities. The youngest attendee at the conference was 15, and I was impressed with how he engaged with the discussions, in part highlighting the discrepancies between how we perceive youth and how it percieves the world. The second youngest attendee was 16 and presented at the opening session of the conference. She was far more confident and eloquent than the majority of adults are when they're on stage. Yet she belongs to a generation which is largely being ignored whilst governments deal with the problems as they see them.

We are not all economists at the Green Economics Institute, far from it. I for example am a scholar of Management (maybe not so far off I suppose). Everybody can contribute towards the solution, regardless of background. In fact it is the very diversity of green economics which gives it strength. I encourage you to look at and even get involved in their activities and find out more by clicking the link below.

http://www.greeneconomics.org.uk/

Posted by Ben Armstrong Haworth August 1 2011

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