It’s not often an online article prompts me to write an immediate response. Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Envionment, Food and Rural Affairs, has given a pre-Rio summit interview to the Guardian. It’s available to read here.
As the leader of our Rio delegation, you’d expect Ms Spelman to have an excellent grasp of the core sustainability matters at hand. But, quite frankly, she doesn’t. Have a read yourself in order to see the usual short termism with an environmental veneer scattered throughout.
Yet, there’s one particular Q&A that set me riling:
Q: Clearly there are jobs that can be created in the green economy. But when I posted a blog inviting readers to suggest questions for you, someone [Newtownian1] said I should put it to you that green growth is an oxymoron. Isn’t there an inevitable tension between the two ideas?
A: That is just so wrong. I don’t accept that. You can, and you need to be, both green and growing. And you are crazy not to be green and growing, because you get much more efficient use of resources, and you get the growth and innovation through green goods and services. Globally, the market for that is worth £3.3tn. It’s big.
Q: You can do both, but at some point there is clearly a tension between growth and sustainability, isn’t there?
A: But the whole point of sustainable development is that you grow greenly.
Ms Spelman is torn between two camps in her statements. She wants to pander to environmentalists, the lower case ‘greens’, but wants to remain mainstream and short termist. Her hotchpotch solution is to argue that if we trundle along with 2-3% avg GDP per capita growth in the long run, everything will be fine and dandy, as long as we build a few more wind farms and insulate our homes.
I’m not anti-growth and anti-wealth, but there needs to be some awareness of what growth should mean. Personally, I get the impression that avg GDP per capita growth is the marker by which politicians ultimately measure their economic policies. I suppose it works for as their party can get re-elected. Steady positive growth gives us all a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, while negative or stagnant growth brings out the soothsayers of the apocalypse. One of the ascribed aims of the Rio+20 Earth summit is to develop a better system of positive sustainable development.
Ms Spelman is muddying the waters between this crude measure of development and environmentalism. It’s not reassuring that the person leading our delegation to Rio struggles to untangle the long term problems the entire world faces.