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Global Ecological Economic Growth: Oxymoron or Path to End Climate Change and Poverty?

Is global ecological economic growth possible? Ecological economic growth is an oxymoron  for  many 21st century ecologists, economists, and activists, an inherent impossibility.

I take a contrarian position. Ecological economic growth (EEG) is not only possible, but is essential for the future of humanity and the health of  our civilization ecologically, economically, and socially. We are facing an epochal inflection point in human history with implications that will  shape the future of the ecosphere. In one direction is the path to ecological and social collapse if we continue our polluting ways. In the other direction is building an ecological civilization through the  global practice of  ecological economic growth.

Ecological economic growth represents the active pursuit of  sustainability and social and ecological justice by employing ecological market means and democratic social choices..  Ecological economic growth is the rejection ofneoliberalism and an embrace of  freedom and community, of fair trade and social, economic,and ecological justice.

The decision we face is not between embracing planning or  embracing markets. Rather, it is the nature and consequences  of both planning and markets. New  market and planning rules, laws and regulations,  and the democratic choices that inform and shape them,  is the basis for an ecological economic growth system. These will not be handed down to us by Act of Congress or Paris Climate agreement, but by the insistent demands by tens of millions in the streets and in the voting booths, insisting on the pursuit of the  path toward ecological and social justice.

An agenda for ecological ecological economic growth and social justice is a concrete policy that can be manifest through new market rules and regulations, comprehensive ecological taxation on all goods and services, monetary and fiscal policy and a new definition of fiduciary responsibility . The price system must become a key means through ecological taxation and assessments to send signals for sustainability. Ecological consumption taxation on all goods and services can make sustainable goods and services cost less, gain market share, and become more profitable whilebecome polluting goods more expensive, lose market share, and become less profitable. At the same time, ecological taxation can fund a negative income tax or a Basic Income as well as international transfers from the rich to the poor to assist them in investment in the pursuit of sustainability. Fiduciary responsibility must be redefined by law in the 21st century to mean that the pursuit of profit and capital growth must mean ecological improvement and the regeneration of natural capital and the pursuit of social and ecological justice.

The wild ferocious power of market forces  can and must be domesticated and used for sustainable ends. We can and must assure that economic growth means not just increase of wealth, but results in  the regeneration of the ecosphere and the improvement of social and ecological justice. The neoliberal embrace of  market prices,  separated from ecological and social consequences as the ultimate arbiter of all things, is the path toward poverty and self-destruction.

It is well within the power  of  democracy, of law, of new market rules, investment, fiscal and tax policy, and  the power of our imagining and intellectual creativity to craft  a new ecological world order for economy and markets. This must be built by a  combination of  bottom up and top down efforts, house by house, block by block, city by city, state by state, nation by nation, continent by continent.  The ecological transformation  must be  a road that we build as we travel.

The  exploration of ecological economic growth  and the political economy of ecological markets is a response to the crisis of imagination both on the Right and the Left. It is a response to the TINA (There is No Alternative) doctrine of the neo-liberals popularized by Margaret Thatcher, as well as  a response to the doctrine of  the Left that markets and private ownership are inevitably  and inherently self-destructive and unjust, and degrowth the only path to survival.

The current gathering global ecological catastrophe, mass poverty, and ever increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich refutes the notion that markets are a self-equilibrating domain of freedom and ecological well being. In the same fashion, the  Soviet Union refuted the notion that planning would naturally lead to liberation and an end to ecological pillage. Reality and historical experience suggests that who thrives and who fails is based  less on abstract labels, than on ongoing and  conscious  decisions to achieve productive and ecological ends in the face of ecological realities shaped by historical  circumstances. Ecological economic growth addresses the differential response to ecological realities  and historical circumstances on a shared planet.

Left to Themselves Markets Will Not Save Us

Ecological economic growth is based on  the creation and production of public goods that include ecological sustainability and social and ecological justice. Ultimately we cannot have one without the other. The existing global market system  must share responsibility for  our common reality of  ecological peril and mass poverty. Hundreds of millions live lives of relative wealth, comfort, ease, high consumption, and high pollution globally while  billions suffer. The poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of total global carbon dioxide  emissions. The average footprint of the richest 1% globally is  175 times that of the poor.  Just 90 private or government owned corporations account for two thirds of global carbon dioxide emissions since the dawn of the industrial age total . The existing system is characterized by high pollution, high poverty, and worsening inequality.

A stark and compelling view of existing global dynamics in service to the rich at the expense of the poor, and ultimately all, is presented by Herman Greene in his “Transition to An Ecological Civilization” (Sept. 25, 2016). This is our world where the share of world’s private consumption in 2005 is 76.6% for the richest 20%, 21.9% for the world’s middle 60%, and a minuscule 1.5% for the world’s poorest 20% according to the World Bank (2008). Latest dollar thresholds (2010) used to establish the four consumption segments: Lowest—below $2.97 per capita a day; Low—between $2.97 and $8.44 per capita a day; Middle—between $8.44 and $23.03 per capita a day; Higher—above $23.03 per capita a day.

Ecological economic growth is replacing the 90 public and private corporations responsible for two-thirds of global carbon dioxide pollution with literally billions of points of renewable energy generation and storage owned and controlled by energy consumers, by small business, by communities, and community cooperatives.  Utility plant happens to represents the world’s largest agglomeration of capital that can in the 21st century become a substantially locally and community owned and controlled resource and source of non-polluting and sustainable local equity, both in terms of fairness and wealth.

Ecological economic growth means enriching the billions engaged in sustainable activities. EGG builds a world that strengthens both local and global commons, that creates diverse and complex local, national, and international swirls of trade and relationships mediated by the world wide web and cell phone communication in contrast to the hierarchies ruled by a small cadre of giant corporations and bus load of billionaires dominating the global economy. A efficient renewable resource powered social knowledge economy is well suited for the practice of ecological and economic democracy by the billions, and not the enrichment and control by the very few.Open the gates.

Our wealth  and our pollution is unleashing a 6th global extinction of the Anthropocene,the geological era shaped by industrial humanity. This is the definition of the unsustainable. Ecological economic growth and building an ecological civilization is the available and realistic healing response to excess.  Sustainability must mean the embrace of economic growth leading to ecological improvement and the increase in social and ecological justice. Economic, ecological, and social means and ends must become consonant and interconnected.

For business , ecological economic growth is the path to both economic growth and ecological improvement within the context of ecological market rules and the pursuit of social justice. The alternative to shared global prosperity and sustainability is ecological and  economic collapse. The pursuit of sustainability and social justice must be understood as the essential profit maximization path  for the 21st century and beyond. This is not just a matter of enlightened self-interest. It is a consequences of  the  legal-political-economic-social structure of an ecological global economic growth system and the work of millions.

Thought Experiment: Challenge to Bussiness as Usual, Not Physical Law

A global convergence on sustainable norms ending both poverty and ecological self-destruction is a challenge to business and pollution as usual, but not to physical law. Economic growth can certainly mean ecological improvement, and be conditioned by imperatives for social and ecological justice. As a thought experiment, envision a world where we have:

1. Invested the trillions to replace all fossil fuels and nuclear power with efficient sustainable resources to power all aspects of our civilization from factories, to homes, to transport, to trade in information of all sorts in a renewably powered cyberspace slashing pollution, depletion and ecological damage.

2. Rebuilt the productive infrastructure of factories, utilities, transportation, forestry, and agriculture governed by an industrial ecology pursuing zero-pollution – zero waste throughout entire production life cycle, where all outputs become inputs to other processes. What was pollution has been captured and now become useful input resource.Workers and their unions become integral to sustainable business conduct and governance through co-determination.

3. Transformed agriculture, forestry, aquaculture in accord with sustainable norms and rights of small farmers,fishers, foresters and, crucially as a means for helping remove enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be sequestered biomass and soil, and also by dramatically reducing methane emissions.

4. Used ecological market rules and ecological government policies for ecological assessments, taxes, investment, monetary and fiscal policy, law and regulation that supports and guides the ecological transformation. Ecological planning sets mandatory annual targets. Fiduciary responsibility is redefined as the improvement of natural capital along with the growth of finance capital and the  advance of social and ecological justice.

This is a world  where the common experience is a global convergence on sustainable norms for all. The global economy is both much larger in monetary terms,  and much smaller in  ecological damage.

This is a world where economic growth will mean regeneration of  the ecosphere, natural capital and the pursuit of social and ecological justice that is reflected in quarterly economic reports.

This is the world that can be built through the pursuit of  ecological economic growth. It a prescription for a global transformation and sustainable prosperity for the 21st century. That EGG will not be welcomed by polluters and their minions is understood. EGG is the countervailing and healing global force for the excesses: ecological, economic, and social, of  global industrial business as usual.  EGG must be much more than another pure investment play by the rich.

Ecological economic growth (EGG) addresses building a global ecological civilization aspiring to zero pollution, zero ecological damage, and zero poverty. EGG is predicated on using available technological, political and market tools consciously applied to the seemingly intractable problems of  pollution, ecological damage and poverty. Profit and surpluses must become separated from both pollution and poverty, and that we can, and must, do so in ways that satisfy three basic 21st century imperatives:

+ Profit, the growth of finance capital, means the regeneration and health of the ecosphere, of natural capital;

+ Global pollution decreases as global economic wealth increases;

+ Global convergence on sustainable norms for all expressed by social and ecological justice.

Global ecological economic growth represents a sustainable political economy for the 21st century and beyond. A global convergence on sustainable norms  must mean a great increase in sustainable global net income and a great decrease in global pollution, depletion and ecological damage. We are talking about a future shaped by investment in rebuilding the productive infrastructure of  energy, industry, agriculture, forestry, aquaculture shaped globally by the goal of zero pollution and zero waste,  the global pursuit of  social and ecological justice, and a global convergence on sustainable norms and entitlements for all.

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