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Green Economy and Ecological Economics


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Presentation delivered by Professor Joan Martinez-Alier
(ICTA, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) at the Rio+20 side event on the role of civil society and knowledge institutions in sustainable development:

Published in: Technology, Economy & Finance
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Green Economy and Ecological Economics

  1. 1. Rio de Janeiro, 19/6/12 Joan Martinez-AlierICTA, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
  2. 2. Ecological Economics and Valuation• Ecological economics has always emphasized incommensurability of values.• Who has the power to simplify complexity and impose monetary valuation, thereby depriving people of their own valuation languages (livelihood, sacredness, environmental values)?• TEEB and its silences (the Niyamgiri Hill and the Dongria Kondh / the Yasuni ITT initiative)
  3. 3. WE MOVING AWAY FROM A GREEN ECONOMYTwenty years after Rio 1992, the victories ofSustainable Development and, now, the GreenEconomy, are more noticeable in the field ofrhetoric than in reality.The indicators as regards climate change andthe loss of biodiversity have steadily worsenedat world level since 1992.
  4. 4. NEW AWARENESSThe dependence of the economy not only oncurrent products and services from "funds" butalso on exhaustible stocks of fossil fuels is morewidely recognised.E.g. FAO will soon realize that the EROI ofmodern agriculture and food system hasdeclined compared to traditional agriculture,and that Via Campesina is right when claimingthat "peasant agriculture cools down theEarth".
  5. 5. EXHAUSTIBLE STOCKSOil extraction and gas flaring near Lago Agrio, Ecuador (photo Mariana Walter, ICTA UAB, 2007)
  6. 6. MATERIAL FLOWS AND RESOURCE EXTRACTION CONFLICTSThe methodology for doing accounts ofMaterial Flows in the economy has beenestablished. Such research is done to giveempirical proof to claims of relative or evenabsolute dematerialization of the economy.This research is useful to see the links betweenincreased social metabolism and the growingnumber of conflicts. (
  7. 7. GrowingMetabolismoMetabolismcrecienteandappropriation ofFlujo debiomassmateriales-photo BRL, 2009
  8. 8. INCREASED HANPP : PRESSURE ON BIODIVERSITYThere is an international failure to agree onobjectives for reduction of carbon dioxideemissions.There is also a failure to agree on objectives fordecreasing the HANPP. On the contrary there isa wave of land grabbing, and environmentallyand socially damaging uses of the land for treeplantations , animal feedstuffs and agrofuels.
  9. 9. PROSPERITY WITHOUT GROWTH ?In the European Union it is rhetorically agreedthat political objectives should move "beyondGDP" forty years after Sicco Mansholt, aspresident of the Commission, agreed to "belowzero growth"in 1972.The idea of "prosperity without growth" appealsto public opinion. Physical objectives such as theEU 20-20-20 energy policy are accepted bypolicy makers.
  10. 10. THE THREE LEVELS OF THE ECONOMYThe financial level that can grow exponentially fora while as it did before 2008, and is still growing insome countries as public debts accumulate;The so-called real, productive economy of carproduction, building houses, medical services,which is stalled in OECD countries although somesectors (informatics, renewable energies) aregrowing; andThe "real-real" economy, namely the entry ofenergy and materials and exit of waste includingcarbon dioxide in excessive amounts.
  11. 11. Environmental Liabilities• Growth of the so-called productive, real economy produces large environmental liabilities or ecological debts.• by private or public firms (Chevron-Texaco, Shell, Rio Tinto, Repsol, Petrobras etc)• and by countries (climate debt, biodiversity loss)• Accounts of environmental liabilities are done at the “real-real” level.
  12. 12. KEYNESIANISM AND GREEN KEYNESIANISMEconomists only worry about the first two levels.There are two main schools at present.•Keynesians argue that the real, productiveeconomy should grow in order to absorbunemployment and to be able to pay for theimmense mountain of financial debt.•Inside this school, there are Green Keynesians whopreach that investments should be environmentalinvestments preferably, including payments forenvironmental services. Emphasizing “funds” morethan “stocks”. (Achim Steiner, Pavan Sukhdev).
  13. 13. DEBTOCRACYThe second school (let us call it the“Debtocracy") argues for fiscal austerity.First you pay the financial debt, then you can grow(perhaps financed again by debts, as before 2008). Itmay be that the real economy is asfixiated in themeantime, as in Greece, but debtors should makesacrifices to safeguard the principles of the creditsystem for the future.
  14. 14. THE REAL-REAL ECONOMYThe "real-real" question is the following one.If the economy of OECD countries would growagain (now it is in a de facto steady-state orslowly declining since 2008),what will happen to the supplies and price of oil,to world biodiversity, to carbon dioxideemissions?
  15. 15. SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL TRANSITIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICEEven an economy without growth, if based on stocksof fossil fuels, needs to go to the frontiers ofextraction because energy is not recycled.We take today 86 million barrels of oil, we burnthem, tomorrow another 86 mb.Materials are recycled in practice only in part.A non-growing industrialeconomy does not guaranteesustainability.
  16. 16. Kalinganagar, Odisha, 2 Jan. 2007 (first anniversary ofdisplacement and killings on behalf of TATA industries) (photo Leah Temper, ICTA UAB)
  17. 17. INDIA’S SOCIAL METABOLISMTo achieve a less unsustainable economy we cannot rely(only) on technological improvements and the economicincentives and environmental investments of the so-called Green Economy.It is enjoyable to see the economy of India grow. Indiasmaterial flows by person/year are now only at 5 tons,a lot of strife is caused already by the extraction ofsuch materials. Many people lose their livelihoodsbecause of displacement or pollution. We know that theEuropean average is 15 tons. Moreover the EU importsfour times the tonnage that it exports. And we wonderabout the future.
  18. 18. SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL TRANSITIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICEThe so-called Green Economy risks being discreditedbecause of rhetorical triumphalism.The Green Economy is certainly not the "real-real"ecological economics of Kenneth Boulding, NicholasGeorgescu-Roegen (who sponsored Décroissance in1979) or Herman Daly.We should not be pessimistic but not rely too much if atall on the reasons and policies provided by the GreenEconomy (technological optimism, economic incentivesand PES, environmental investments).
  19. 19. ONE GOOD SIGN: PEAK POPULATIONThere are three good signs.One good sign is that "peak population" is approachingtowards 2045 or 2050, probably at less than 9 billion.The UN medium projection is too favourable topopulation growth by assuming that fertility willincrease soon in countries where it is below 2.Local issues of depopulation will become a large field ofstudy and policy making.There is top-down Neo-Malthusianism but alsobottom-up, feminist Neo-Malthusianism.
  20. 20. DEGROWTH MOVEMENT IN THE NORTHA second good sign is that movements for Degrowth(décroissance), or the steady-state, or Prosperitywithout Growth, are becoming better known and morerespectable and influential in rich countries.They focus both on the physical, “real-real” economy(accounts of energy and material flows, accounts ofvirtual water, risks of rebound effects due to increasedeco-efficiencies) and on the social aspects of theeconomy (dematerialized relational goods and services).They would be glad to recommend now and then a debtmoratorium and even a default, against the Debtocracy .
  21. 21. GROWTH OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENTA third and very important good sign, that shouldappear much more in the UN deliberations, is thegrowth of an international movement for EnvironmentalJustice, composed of the myriad local movements andmany international networks that have grown out ofresource extraction conflicts at the "commodityfrontiers" and also of waste disposal conflicts(including the Climate Justice networks).UNEP should set up a unit to do the statistics of thethousands of environmental conflicts worldwide (asILO counts labour strikes). (
  22. 22. Resource Extraction conflicts: complaining at theChinese embassy in Quito, 5/3/2012, against the Mirador copper mining project
  23. 23. Waste disposal conflicts: shipbreaking at Alang, Gujarat (photo Federico Demaria, ICTA UAB, 2009)
  24. 24. SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL TRANSITIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICEWe should be realistic, and not despair. We should learnfrom catastrophes such as Fukushima, or those that willperhaps come soon from climate change.But I prefer to place my hopes not (only) on theteachings of catastrophes and not on the recipes ofGreen Keynesianism but rather on the collectivedecisions to stop population growth, to move in richcountries to "prosperity without growth",and to strengthen the environmental justicemovements, the environmentalism of the poor and theindigenous.
  25. 25. UN rhetoric• In Rio 1992, “sustainable development”• In Rio + 20, in 2012, “green economy” improved human well-being and social equity, while reducing environmental risks and scarcities• In Rio + 40 in 2032, “sustainable economy”?• In Rio + 60 in 2052, “green development”?• Meanwhile …
  26. 26. Many environmentalists are killed or “criminalized”• In many countries, people who represent the “environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous” are killed. Or they are jailed.• Recent case in Peru. Instead of bringing Xstrata to justice for damage to human health in the Tintaya mine, demonstrators were killed , and Oscar Mollohuanca (the elected major of Espinar) jailed in June 2012.• Nevertheless. the Environmental Justice movement is growing in the South.
  27. 27. FROM THE SOUTH we hear that local economic growth is needed but there are also new trends, new ideasProposals such as “Leave the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole, leave the tar sands in the land, leave the shale gas under the grass…” (Yasuni ITT) + Resource CapsSumak Kawsay + Rights of Nature (Bolivia/Ecuador)Claims for an Ecological Debt, climate justiceClaims for environmental liabilities from extractive industries (Shell, Chevron/Texaco) + International Tribunal for Environmental CrimesCritique of ecologically unequal trade, Latin American debates on post-extractivism (Alberto Acosta, Eduardo Gudynas)Via Campesina: food sovereignty
  28. 28. Many environmentalists are killed or “criminalized”• In many countries, people who represent the “environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous” are killed. Or they are jailed.• One recent conspicuous case in Peru. Instead of bringing Xstrata to justice because damage to human health in the Tintaya mine, demonstrators killed and Oscar Mollohuanca (the elected major of Espinar) jailed.• Nevertheless. the Environmental Justice movement is growing.
  29. 29. From the North• The debates from the 1970s on Limits for Growth.• Herman Daly’s Steady State Economy, 1973.• Décroissance (A. Gorz in 1972, Georgescu- Roegen in 1979, Latouche etc. 2002…)• Ecological Macroeconomics without Growth : Peter Victor, Managing without Growth, 2008, Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth, 2009.
  30. 30. 1st International Conference on Degrowth, Paris, April 2008 (
  31. 31. The potential alliance of southern EJOswith the Décroissance (or Steady State) currents in the NorthCommon perspective against the hegemony of economic accounting in favour of pluralism of values, emphasis on physical and social indicators,recognition of environmental liabilities and the climate debt, the awareness of ecologically unequal exchange causing environmental damage,defence of human rights, indigenous territorial rights, and the Rights of Nature, feminist Neo- Malthusianism.