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Global Economy Inches Up as Environmental & Social Concerns Mount

Washington, D.C. National progress is often measured almost exclusively by growth in the gross domestic product, or GDP. Yet as the global economy inches upward, actual social and environmental well-being lags. Alternative measures for gauging progress are needed to determine true prosperity, write Worldwatch’s Mark Konold and Climate and Jacqueline Espinal in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs analysis (bit.ly/VSOEcon).

Growing economy. The global economy grew moderately (at 4.49 percent) in 2013, resulting in a total combined GDP of $87 trillion for all countries in the world (Figure 1). Emerging markets accounted for a large part of the growth (representing 50 percent of the total), as an affluent middle class formed and young workers migrated into cities, encouraging business investment in developing countries.

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Growing inequality. Even as the global economy picks up, however, social challenges continue to mount. According to the United Nations Development Programme, average household income inequality in recent decades has risen in both industrial and developing countries. One billion out of 7 billion people live below poverty levels and experience most acutely the dark side of development, such as global climate change, water depletion, food shortages, and biodiversity destruction.

In 2013, nearly 202 million people worldwide were unemployed.

There also continued to be labor shortages, increased globalization, and mismatches between current skill levels and job requirements. Developing countries were faced with a growing pool of willing workers in 2013, but limited access to credit for many small enterprises contributed to a lack of investment and job creation in these markets. In 2013, nearly 202 million people worldwide were unemployed, a 6 percent unemployment rate.

Growing consumption. World population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, with much of that expansion happening in developing countries. As the world’s population continues to grow, there is legitimate concern about depleting Earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished. The Global Footprint Network, an agency that tracks humanity’s ecological footprint and nature’s capacity to replenish its resources, estimates that the world is consuming resources at the rate of 1.5 planets per year.

Some studies have argued that the world must replace its growth economy with a steady-state economy, in which production is only replaced, not increased, while the economy continues to develop by improving and renewing its existing resources.

Measuring true progress. Studies suggest that although people’s level of happiness increases significantly when societies develop, high levels of uncertainty and social and economic inequality may run counter to this development. Measures such as the Genuine Progress Indicator account for the social, educational, economic, and environmental activities that contribute to economic growth but that go unnoticed in current national accounting frameworks.

Regional Highlights:

  • Although employment rates improved in the United States in 2013, much of the improvement is attributed to fewer people participating in the labor force—mainly newly retired Baby Boomers.
  • In the United States, Baby Boomers—individuals born between 1945 and 1965—continued to retire at an approximate rate of 10,000 per day. It is expected that in retirement, Boomers reduce their levels of disposable income, leading to a decrease in economic growth by as much as 0.7 percent.
  • In Japan, GDP growth between 2000 and 2013 shrank by 0.6 percentage points annually due to an aging population retiring from the workforce.
  • Worldwide, employment rates declined in all regions except South and East Asia, which continued to experience higher levels of growth through 2013.

 

Notes to Editors:     

Journalists may obtain a complimentary copy of “Global Economy Inches Upward as Environmental and Social Concerns Mount”  by contacting Gaelle Gourmelon at ggourmelon@worldwatch.org.

About the Worldwatch Institute:

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute’s State of the World report is published annually in more than a dozen languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org.

About Vital Signs Online:

Vital Signs Online provides business leaders, policymakers, and engaged citizens with the latest data and analysis they need to understand critical global trends. It is an interactive, subscription-based tool that provides hard data and research-based insights on the sustainability trends that are shaping our future. All of the trends include clear analysis and are placed in historical perspective, allowing you to see where the trend has come from and where it might be headed. New trends cover emerging hot topics-from global carbon emissions to green jobs-while trend updates provide the latest data and analysis for the fastest changing and most important trends today. Every trend includes full datasets and complete referencing. Visit http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org to subscribe today to Vital Signs Online.

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China Takes Greater Steps to Reduce Climate-Altering Emissions

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In the first half of 2014, energy intensity in China declined 4.2 percent, and the carbon intensity of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell 5 percent, compared with the same period in 2013. These are among China’s biggest “green” achievements since 2011, the first year of the 12th Five-Year Plan, which guides the nation’s economic development. According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which announced the progress, slower growth of heavy industry and rapid expansion in the country’s service sector were the main forces behind these trends.

According to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), industrial output continued to grow during the first half of 2014. However, the growth of some greenhouse gas emissions-intensive industries was lower during 2013–14 than during 2012–13. Among the major industries experiencing slower growth are paper making; oil processing; cement, glass, iron, and steel production; and automotive production. Some industries, such as crude oil and chemical fertilizer production, even showed negative growth. (See Figure 1.)

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Figure 1. Growth of Selected Greenhouse Gas-intensive industries In China, 2012–2014
Note: The Figure compares production data for the first two quarters of the given years. Oil processing includes the production of gasoline, kerosene, diesel, and coke.
Source: NBS China

Noticeably, the production of air pollution control equipment has grown dramatically in China. NBS data for the first half of the year indicate that production increased 8.0 percent between 2012 and 2013, but then surged more than 35-fold to grow 288.8 percent between 2013 and 2014. According to a report released by Zhiyan Consulting Group, growth in this industry comes mainly from flue gas desulfurization systems and particulate collection devices.

NBS data also show that, in the first half of 2014, the value-added of the service sector exceeded that of the manufacturing sector. (See Figure 2.) (The service sector overtook the manufacturing sector in annual total added value for the first time in 2013.) This also contributed to the reduction in energy intensity and carbon intensity, since the service sector was less energy-consuming in general. Data suggest that the main drivers behind the growth between 2013 and 2014 were the wholesale and retail industry, and the financial services industry.

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Figure 2. Value-added of China’s Manufacturing and Service Sectors
Note: The Figure compares data for the first two quarters of the given years.
Source: NBS China

Reduced growth in energy-intensive industries was accompanied by a greening of China’s overall energy mix. NBS data show that renewable energy sources—particularly wind and solar power—are gradually edging out fossil fuels in electricity generation. (Note that in the first half of 2014, curtailment of wind power was down 33 percent compared with the same period in 2013, saving 3.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and ameliorating China’s wind curtailment problem; see the earlier Worldwatch post on this issue.)

If the trends in industrial growth and energy mix continue, China may be able to achieve its near-term goals for reducing climate-altering emissions. The country’s 12th Five-Year Plan aims for a 16 percent reduction in energy intensity and a 17 percent reduction in carbon intensity during 2011–15, with the goal of fulfilling a 2009 pledge to reduce carbon intensity 40–45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. According to the NDRC, by 2013, China had achieved a 28.6 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2005 levels, hitting 63 percent of its goal in just four years.

However, in one report, an NDRC official observes that further reductions remain challenging, and risks of rebound exist. Some regions that currently face the prospect of economic decline have plans for energy-intensive projects, and the per-unit energy consumption of some industrial products is likely to rise. Yet, from the national level to the enterprise level, China is making efforts to provide long-term momentum to the low-carbon transition.

Policies and legislation  

In August 2014, the NDRC issued the Method to Assess the Accomplishment of Unit GDP Carbon Dioxide Emission Reduction Goal. Consistent with the Work Plan of Controlling GHG emissions during the 12th Five-Year Plan Period, issued by the State Council in 2011, the Method builds a connection between a region’s carbon reduction outcome, its system for assessing integrated socioeconomic development, and the track records of local government officials.

This more-detailed scoring system represents a step away from China’s near-singular focus on GDP as a measurement of progress. Local governments can now earn credits for actions such as reductions in carbon intensity, increasing the share of the service sector in local economic growth, increasing the share of renewable energy in primary energy consumption (and reducing the burning of coal), forest planting, and capacity building. The local government must meet both the annual and cumulative carbon intensity goals in order to pass the assessment.

To provide a solid legal basis for these climate-related efforts, the NDRC has reportedly completed a draft of the Climate Change Response Act, which could be released next month for consultation. The draft is based on an earlier version of the Act released in 2012, following a two-year drafting process led by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The latest draft highlights air pollution control as the major entry point to tackling climate change.

Local markets and standards

China has adopted carbon intensity goals, rather than absolute emission reduction goals. However, the country’s emerging cap-and-trade carbon market can act as a bridge between the two. The development of regional and national emission trading systems is on the agenda, with calls for comprehensive standards, industry leadership, and public engagement.

In April, to support development of the emission trading market, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform released a set of standards called “Advanced Carbon Emission Intensity Values” for 23 major energy-intensive industries, including power generation, heating, paper making, automotive production, electronic devices/component manufacturing, food processing, brewing, and a variety of services. The mandatory emission trading system will allocate carbon credits to newly added facilities based on these advanced standards.

In December 2013, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) China office released the country’s first ranking of enterprises based on their carbon intensities, to encourage non-fossil fuel companies to pursue higher energy performance and lower carbon intensities. When comparing the performance of WWF’s top-ranked enterprises with Beijing’s advanced values, most electronic device manufacturers on the list showed leadership, with carbon intensities 80 to 98 percent lower than the advanced value; however, the carbon intensity of even the best telecommunication services companies was 88 percent higher than the advanced value, showing significant room for reduction.

Carbon intensity, or absolute emission reduction?

Through its carbon market, China is implementing a system to encourage companies to make absolute reductions in their emission levels; however, it seems unlikely that a national commitment of this kind could be made at or before the informal United Nations climate summit on September 23. Although it was initially reported that China could introduce an absolute cap on its greenhouse gas emissions under the 13th Five-Year Plan, Chief Climate Negotiator Su Wei recently reaffirmed that the country would stick with the carbon intensity target, as China still expects significant economic growth in the future. Nevertheless, the country’s effort and accomplishment should not be underestimated.

According to PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC’s) Low Carbon Economy Index 2014, in order to keep the rise in global temperature below two degrees Celsius while maintaining economic growth, the world needs to reduce its carbon intensity by 6.2 percent annually through 2100. The current five-year worldwide average is merely 0.6 percent annually, whereas China’s average was 1.6 percent during 2008–13. During this period, none of the countries with the highest reduction rates had an annual GDP growth above 4.5 percent, whereas China’s growth was 8.9 percent. (See Figure 3.)

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Figure 3. Annual Average Changes in Carbon Intensity and GDP, World and Selected Countries, 2008–13.
Source: PwC

That being said, China still has the second highest carbon intensity among the Group of 20 countries, just below South Africa. As China adopts new policies and market systems in an effort to pursue less-energy-intensive economic growth, the effectiveness of its emission reduction initiatives remains to be seen.

Wanqing Zhou is an intern with the China Program at th Worldwatch Institute and an associate with Brighter Green.

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LEGOs, LEGOs, Everywhere, & a Partnership with Shell

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Fill ‘er up? (Image from Danjam via Brickipedia)

 

That LEGO is partnering with Shell is nothing new. From 1966 to 1992 LEGO regularly produced Shell-themed LEGO sets. You might even remember them from your childhood:

  • There’s the 1981 Shell Gas Pumps set;
  • And the Shell Service Station from 1983;
  • And then there’s the rare, cross-over Pirates/Town set, “The Shell Pirates’ Illegal Offshore Exploration Ship” (see below);
  • And the even rarer Shell Death Star commanded by Shell CEO Darth van Beurden.

Well, as you might have heard, LEGO has recently renewed its partnership with Shell, producing a new line of Shell branded LEGO sets. Fortunately Greenpeace has rocked the oil platform a bit with its excellent cartoon about Shell’s destruction of the Arctic (made with LEGOs of course), claiming that “Shell is polluting our kids’ imaginations”: Greenpeace’s cartoon and campaign raises the important question of whether LEGO should partner with an oil company or not. But without too much reflection it seems clear that this type of partnership is not appropriate—for the very simple reason that LEGO blocks imprinted with the Shell icon help create a positive association in children’s minds between Shell and the enjoyable hours spent playing with LEGOs. The more positively oil companies are viewed (at a primal, deep brain level) the harder it’ll be to convince people that fossil fuels (and the companies that profit from their extraction) are not compatible with a survivable future. So in other words, yes, Shell—and LEGO through its partnership—is polluting our kids’ imaginations.

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“Ahoy maties! Let’s go find some new offshore oil deposits to exploit!” cries out Captain van Beurden from the crow’s nest.

 

So should parents stop buying LEGOs? Notice that not even Greenpeace suggests that—LEGO is a powerful brand, one that kids love. So parents would be reluctant to abandon this reliable brand, let alone try to explain to their kids why they can’t play with their LEGOs anymore. Probably why Greenpeace simply encourages parents to sign this petition to LEGO. Perhaps enough parental anger will make LEGO reconsider whether this brand taint is worth the $116 million its deal with Shell is estimated to be valued at. But then again, considering what LEGOs are made out of, I don’t imagine LEGO is really averse to oil drilling and might as well find a partner to make its company even more lucrative (at least until the end of the fossil fuel era takes it down). But yes, parents should probably think twice about supporting LEGO and honestly, all toy brands.

My son, Ayhan, is only 2 and already we have two big boxes of toys (and that’s with aggressive efforts to discourage people from buying us any new stuff). The key for me will be to redirect Ayhan beyond the exaggerated period of extended childhood that Americans prefer and get him playing with/building real stuff sooner. Why assemble LEGO sets when you can assemble a meal to serve to your family? Why arm a hundred LEGO knights when you can build your own bow and arrows? Why wage LEGO battles when you can hunt down a squirrel and make stew from its meat and a pouch from its hide?

Yes, Ayhan is a few years from that, but by six he should be a competent squirrel hunter or at least a squirrel trapper and at that point hopefully any LEGOs we’ve accumulated will be collecting dust in the closet. I admit all that sounds primitive, but then again, primitive skills will probably be an integral part of the post-oil, post-plastic, post-LEGO future that’s speeding toward us like a derailed LEGO train (probably loaded with unreinforced Shell oil tank cars). “All aboard! Next stop: New Miami” (since old Miami will be long submerged by then). —

Reposted from Raising an Ecowarrior

Photo Credit: Sean Peoples and Michael Miller/Wilson Center.

Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment Aims to Shed Light on Pop-Environment Link

This blog post is reposted on our blog with permission from the New Security Beat

Photo Credit: Sean Peoples and Michael Miller/Wilson Center.

As global environmental change accelerates, understanding how population dynamics affect the environment is more important than ever. It seems obvious that human-caused climate change has at least something to do with the quadrupling of world population over the last 100 years.

But the evidence that slower population growth is good for the environment – logical as that statement may seem – has never been extensive, with conceptual models, empirical research, and data often lacking on key issues.

An ambitious new Worldwatch project, the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment, hopes to help redress this, shedding light on how increased access to voluntary family planning services can support environmental sustainability.

Assessing the Field

Arguments that family planning is environmentally beneficial mostly rely on its role in slowing population growth. For 40 years the IPAT equation (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology) has been a useful teaching tool, but beyond this simplistic formula, the development of models and conceptual frameworks for population-environment connections has been limited.

In the mid-1970s, some of the Worldwatch Institute‘s first reports explored the connection between the environment and population dynamics, including women’s status, girls’ education, and family planning. By the early 1990s, Population Action International and some of the largest U.S. environmental organizations had small programs devoted to population and the environment. Around the same time, the population-environment link was firmly embedded in the Wilson Center’s work through ECSP.

In the 1990s, a handful of important reports and papers made a reasonable case based on data that slower population growth could slow certain kinds of environmental degradation – for example, Nancy Birdsall, then of the World Bank, on population and greenhouse-gas emissions, and Malin Falkenmark, a Swedish hydrologist, on population and water availability.

Since the turn of the millennium, however, empirical research outputs have been few and far between. Even harder to find is data and other evidence for assertions that family planning helps improve the environment, whether through demographic pathways, non-demographic pathways (e.g., empowering women and girls to become better stewards of the environment or opening up educational opportunities that build appreciation of sustainability), or both.

Building a Network of Collaborators

Few if any researchers specialize in family planning and environmental sustainability combined. The linkage cuts across multiple disciplines in the social, biological, and physical sciences. Academia rarely rewards such holistic work. And although there has been an uptick in recent years in funding for community-building fieldwork related to population, health, and environment (PHE) programs, there remains no significant body of peer-reviewed literature assessing the effectiveness of PHE as a concept.

The Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment project aims to change this by identifying the strongest and most recent research on how increased use of family planning might strengthen or accelerate a transition to environmental sustainability, with a focus on work that is peer reviewed and published in academic journals. The project also seeks to build an international network of collaborators to assess the existing literature and advance new research on the linkage, with special emphasis on engaging researchers who are women and/or in developing countries.

To date, we have assembled a network of 20 collaborating researchers from 11 countries and a literature inventory of well over 200 reports and papers, most from peer-reviewed journals, that mention family planning or population along with environmental topics. Many of these papers involve mere mentions of the terms, but some examine the connections between them.

For example, one paper by Nigerian researchers and another by an Ethiopian author find correlations between household and family size and food insecurity. A case study of a small rural community by Ghanaian researchers suggests that gender matters significantly in how such communities can adapt to climate change. And a paper out of Canada pursues a rather novel aspect of the link, exploring how the use of hormonal contraception affects water quality and the health of aquatic species, and concluding that the net effect is positive due to demographic impacts.

Making the Link

We are also building a conceptual framework illustrating the many ways in which improved access to family planning services and increased use might contribute to the attainment of environmental sustainability. Despite the complexity of the draft framework, we’re still missing many aspects. For example, where is consumption? As women give birth to fewer children, might their families increase their consumption and thus counterbalance any gains to the environment from adding fewer people to the population? These are just two among the many questions we’ll explore.

There has been a recent proliferation of output that at least mentions family planning or population in environmental contexts, much of it coming out of developing countries. But few of the papers we’ve seen so far try to puzzle out how family planning or population-environment connections actually work. Fewer still test hypotheses with data, randomized trials, control groups, cross-country comparisons, or other methodologies that can be replicated to falsify or lend further support to hypotheses. Moreover, little of the research we’ve seen explores micro-scale or non-demographic pathways from family planning to environmental sustainability.

While this may be a long journey, we’re taking first steps to better understand the population-environment link and help build a research base supporting that understanding. We’re speaking with researchers and think tanks in developing countries about the possibility of joining us in active partnerships to expand this work. The project is drawing growing interest from funders and accomplished researchers with diverse backgrounds.

Perhaps the most encouraging comment we’ve received, despite the hurdles, is “what you’re doing is really important.”

That much we do know.

 

If you are interested in working with the project, contact Yeneneh Terefe at yterefe@worldwatch.org

This article was written by Robert Engelman — who is directing the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (FPESA) initiative at Worldwatch Institute, and published at the New Security Beat. It is reposted on our blog with permission from the New Security Beat.

Photo and Video Credit: Sean Peoples and Michael Miller/Wilson Center.

Spain: From Boom to Bust to Sustainable Prosperity?

This year’s Spanish edition of State of the World 2013, published by our partners FUHEM-Ecosocial and Icaria Editorial, included a special appendix exploring the sustainability of the Spanish economy. Here, Óscar Carpintero and José Bellver outline the essential dimensions of unsustainability in the Spanish economic model as it has developed over the last two decades, before suggesting some guidelines for a more environmentally sustainable and socially just alternative. Below is a shortened English version.

The ongoing crisis in Spain, while undoubtedly economic and financial in nature (as with the world economy as a whole), is also environmental and social. This current crisis certainly shares common features with its predecessors (excessive debt, speculation, fraud, falling production, unemployment, and so on). Along with this, we have seen a sharp increase in social inequality, gender discrimination, and the environmental deterioration brought about by a model of production and consumption (“the treadmill of production and destruction”) that seriously jeopardizes the very survival of not just Spain but our species.

Long before the onset of the crisis, many critical economists in Spain had been warning about the unsustainability of the Spanish economic model, above all when environmental costs are considered along with the high social and financial costs of this “development” strategy. The unsustainability of the Spanish model is evident both in terms of the consumption of resources and their waste/disposal (a type of analysis synthesized through the concept of the social or economic metabolism, in this case of Spain).

Of all the natural resources consumed and valued in the last two decades, 50 percent correspond to the products of quarrying and mining and are destined to feed the successive housing and infrastructure booms. This is absurd in both ecological and economic terms, and even more remarkable given that two-thirds of the buildings were built not in response to demand for homes, but rather as speculative construction of empty homes in expectation of their revaluation and subsequent sale to materialize the investment, or as secondary homes used on average just 22 days a year.

An even more striking illustration of this absurd situation is the fact that, at the height of the housing boom, more new homes were under construction in Spain than in France and Germany combined (about 900,000). It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the bubble wreaked enormous harm on the physical landscape, at the same time as the Spanish model of development based on real-estate and tourism has seriously undermined Spain’s hydrological ecosystems, especially on the coast.

Zaragoza Train Station, Spain (image courtesy of Efraimstochter via Pixabay)

Zaragoza Train Station, Spain (image courtesy of tpsdave via Pixabay)

Another feature of the Spanish model has been a pattern of territorial development based on the dispersion of urban centers and spaces, requiring the construction of major transport infrastructures to connect them. In this process, individual motorized transport and, on the collective side, high-speed transportation have been favored above all else. By way of example, while the Spain ranks 13th among the world´s economy (9th before the crisis), it now has the largest high-speed rail network in Europe, and the third largest in the world! Apart from the environmental destruction involved, both solutions have proved to be as costly, in both financial and quality of life terms, as they are ineffective in resolving the problem of traffic congestion. They also contribute to the territorial polarization of economic activity.

It should be stressed that this domestic unsustainability is matched by the international unsustainability of the model as a result of Spain´s increasing dependence on the rest of the world for both resources and disposal. Take for example, the fact that for every ton that leaves Spain in the form of exports, nearly three tons more enter as imports. Or consider that in order to offset its ecological footprint, Spain would require forests covering three times the entire country. These are some of the reasons why the ecological-economic model of a country like Spain cannot be reproduced worldwide, since, obviously, not all countries can at the same time run a deficit in material, territorial and financial terms.

The crisis that began in 2007 is exacting a huge social cost, in terms of unemployment as well as the decline in basic public services directly associated with social welfare. However, the drop in economic activity has also brought a change in the composition of the natural resources consumed by the Spanish economy: the use of non-renewable primary (extracted) materials and the emissions of greenhouse gases have shrunk dramatically, while the relative importance of renewable energy and materials has increased. These are “paradoxical” tendencies that might nonetheless point us in new directions, providing opportunities for quiet reflection on the necessary change of economic model.

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Spanish Flag courtesy of Efraimstochter via Pixabay

Ideas on moving to a more sustainable and equitable scenario

If, beyond a certain level, the increased consumption of goods and services does not necessarily increase the welfare of the population, it would not appear very reasonable to increase indiscriminately the production of these goods and services. Thus, the economy should not be focused on first and foremost on growth, but instead on four principles of sustainability that would serve as guidelines for change: renewable energy; closed material cycles; sufficiency, redistribution and self-restraint exercised through democratic regulation; and the precautionary principle.

Introducing these principles into the Spanish economy would require implementing a battery of strategies and measures in different fields, ranging from the overall institutional framework (involving economic planning and its objectives with respect to the ecological footprint and material requirements, policy incentives and penalties favoring sustainable production, a more rational work-time policy, the development of information systems and data corresponding to new priorities) to sector-specific measures necessary for the  economic and ecological conversion of the Spanish economy, such as:

  • Spatial planning based on the characteristics of the soil, climate and available resources.
  • Introduction of disincentives to the construction of new housing and infrastructures while providing incentives to efficiently manage the existing housing stock.
  • Integrated policies for energy and water management: driven by demand-management and consumption reduction, and, in the case of energy, faster replacement of fossil fuels and nuclear power by renewable energy (solar and wind).
  • Coherent waste management policies: prioritizing prevention, reduction and reuse rather than recycling and incineration, and ensuring organic nutrients are composted and returned to land to grow our soil reserve.
  • Transition to organic farming and animal husbandry: radically changing the bias of current public subsidies and policies for the sector.
  • Internalizing the basic principles of clean industry, for example, by generalizing pollution prevention and savings strategies and designing products that takes account of the entire life cycle of the product.
  • Job creation in the sustainable economy and the social economy: stimulating those sectors that help create generate employment, improve social cohesion, and do so with either minimal or even a positive environmental effect.

How should this be funded?

Of course, the kind of economic and ecological conversion we are talking about necessarily requires funding. This can largely be obtained by implementing many of the major reforms required in the Spanish financial and tax systems.

Recent events have clearly demonstrated the need to restore some of the old regulations and guarantees governing many types of financial transaction. Moreover, the reestablishment of a public bank would help not just to limit the huge economic power of private banks, but also to reorient economic activity and investment with sufficient financial independence. Recent nationalization processes resulting from bank bailouts have provided (and may still provide) opportunities for this.

Reform of the tax system, in order to make this both more solid and truly progressive, in terms of both the collection and the use of resources, is essential if we are to achieve effective economic transition and social welfare and equality. This system must be able to finance a series of public services (education and health) and quality social benefits. Several measures are necessary in order to meet these goals: a) adoption of a strategy based on more and better taxes, correcting the regressive character of the current system that benefits the rich; b) decisive action against tax fraud (estimated to amount to over 6 billion Euros, or around 6% of Spain’s GDP); c) equal treatment of gross labor and capital incomes, eliminating the deductions that lead to outrageously low effective rates on business income; d) launch a genuine ecological tax reform, focusing on the environmental impacts of production and consumption and thereby generating additional resources for the transition to the new model and a dissuasive effect on unsustainable behavior; e) elimination of the fiscal advantages for contributions to private pension systems to strengthen the public system, thus reducing the pressure for profitability in the financial markets, and hence the speculative movements associated with the operation of these funds.

All of these proposals show that it is technically possible to introduce substantial changes into the Spanish model of production and consumption. Unfortunately, that is not enough: change also requires political will, and above all, sufficient social support. Neither are easy to achieve in a context like that of Spain today, where many of these proposals imply breaking with the modus operandi of the economic powers, that is, with precisely that which explains Spain´s disastrous environmental-economic development in recent decades.

In current circumstances, not trying would not appear to be a valid option. Nor can we place our hopes in a return to the “good old days” or the false promises of technology, when what we really need is progress towards a radically new model that prioritizes the ecological and social dimensions over just the economic.

—–

Óscar Carpintero is an Associate Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Valladolid. José Bellver is a research fellow at Fuhem Ecosocial, where he coordinates the Spanish edition of State of the World. Both of them are members of Transdisciplinary Research Group on Socioecological Transitions (GinTRANS2) at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Vision for a Sustainable World