economics environment

Economy or Environment?

The government may be promising a billion pounds for wind power, ‘green collar jobs’, and a new low carbon economy, but is the message getting through? According to IPSOS Mori’s ‘issue index‘, the general public has not put the environment and the economy together yet.

In 2006, the environment briefly overtook the economy as our primary concern. Predictably, as the blue line above shows,  from the Northern Rock collapse onwards the economy has soared away.

Perhaps that’s unsurprising, but asking people if the economy is more important than the environment is a bad question – it forces us to choose between the two. The tendency to bisect the world in this way is part of the problem.

A tree in the woods, for example, is part of the environment. Cut it down for timber, and it’s now part of the economy. According to our current economics, the tree has no value until it is cut down. A fish is worth nothing until it is caught. A person is not contributing anything to the economy until they start consuming goods. Our definition of wealth is far too narrow.

If you think the economy is more important than the environment, the environment will be destroyed. When the environment no longer sustains us, guess what?  There’s no economy. We need our economics to value natural capital as highly as financial capital, and that’s why we need to make our current definition of wealth history.

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