If the leaders of the most influential countries and the CEOs of the biggest corporations, plus other key players working for large NGOs came to me and said, ”So Tegan, what do you propose?”, this is what I’d say.
STEP 1. TAKE STOCK
The foundation of a green economy is truly efficient use of resources. For this to be possible, we need to know how much of everything we have. Ideally gather as much data as possible on the state of all four types of capital: natural capital, produced capital, human capital and financial capital. If this isn’t possible, then it should be the priority to gather data on just natural capital, which is already admittedly a mammoth task. For this information to be fully maximised it needs to be freely available for everyone. This means all data should be available in an online database open to all but only updated by qualified scientists. The database should disclose up-to-date statistics on all known reserves of minerals, ores and fossil fuels. Also the areas of temperate, coniferous and tropical forests should be provided, as well as professional estimates of freshwater mass, the biodiversity of all regions, habitat biodiversity, results on the composition of the atmosphere, estimates of the populations of species and their rate of growth or decline. Levels of pollutants should also be measured and recorded on this database, as should average temperature levels. The more detailed it is, the better because precision is key when planning efficient environmental management.
STEP 2. ASIGN VALUE.
Values are crucial because they lead the way for choices and actions. Here I am going to assume that we value human life and wellbeing. But that is not entirely sufficient. The key to survival on planet Earth may be competition, but the key to thrival is cooperation. If we are going to evolve and live in mutual cooperation or synergy with our fellow Earthlings then we must begin to assign all living things an inherent value. This means we acknowledge that other species have the right to life – as in, even if they aren’t obviously useful to us this doesn’t mean they can be exterminated. Systems ecology shows that all living things in fact are useful to us, but this ethical process must assign them value in their own right – even if this were not the case. For this process to be completed, large scale education in ecology and ecosystem services must be undertaken so that valuing the natural non-human world becomes second nature. Or first nature, if you think about it.
STEP 3. GIVE RIGHTS.
Now that we have assigned other species the right to life, it becomes obvious that all humans also deserve this right. Further, they also deserve a good level of well-being and life satisfaction. The declaration of human rights is a start, but actually implementing it is the next step. Developing and Undeveloped countries should be assisted by richer nations along the path of sustainable development. All people should be able to access food, clean water, and sanitation. They should also have a home and an appropriate education. They should have land and community rights that companies cannot override, however large they are. It has long been said that we have enough food for everybody, if only it was shared sensibly and not wasted. People should also have the right to forms of contraception. Rich and powerful companies, governments and other groups do actually have the power to solve world hunger and desperate poverty if they so choose. This step makes it imperative that they do so. We cannot have a green economy or hope to be a civilised race if we let this tragedy continue.
STEP 4. PRIORITISE.
What with providing basic human rights to everyone and protecting endangered species and sensitive ecosystems, you might think this will all be very costly and perhaps not very good for the economy. This step ensures that this doesn’t matter because the economy is about to be rebooted. It is ridiculous to prioritise anything above the entwined duo of humanity and our home planet. Combined, what could be more important than those two things? Yet currently ‘the economy’ holds that lofty position. I’m sorry if you’re emotionally attached to the status quo, but this cannot continue. In the sustainable future, the green economy is just one third of this trio:
GNP measures unhelpful but nonetheless economic things like pollution and prison convictions. Similarly, it doesn’t measure many important things like subjective well-being. In a sustainable future the most common way of measuring progress will be the Happy Planet Index. This Index assumes that the role of the economy is to turn natural resources into human well-being. It follows that whichever system produces the most well-being with the fewest resources is the most efficient.
So, the priority of money as the ultimate end will be phased out and the new priority of creating as much human well-being as possible while having the smallest ecological footprint possible will be the new thing. In the green economy, money will still exist but only as a means of exchange – a means to an end. It absolutely will not be more important than people and planet.
STEP 5. TAX POLLUTION.
We can’t expect this to just happen magically. The above note about using money as a means to an end is crucial here because money can be used by governments as a powerful tool to guide the economy into a green future. The first thing to do is to introduce heavy taxes on all forms of pollution. Oil slicks, landfilling, carbon emissions, water pollution and all other forms of pollution will incur high taxes. They will be high enough to cover the cost of clean-up plus an extra percentage on top. (This will go towards green subsidies, detailed below). The aim of this is obviously to make pollution financially expensive and unviable, so industrious businesses find creative ways to avoid polluting. If they don’t, they will lose considerable amounts of money and be forced to put their prices up – but this will disadvantage them in the market place. Failing to pay pollution taxes should be strongly punished, with a criminal conviction being placed on the CEO of the company. This will of course harbour the growth of clean-up enterprises which will cash in on this new policy, while filling a vital function.
STEP 6. SUBSIDISE.
Taxes alone won’t be enough to green the economy. It is also necessary to instantly withdraw subsidies from harmful enterprises like fossil fuel based energy companies and pesticide monopolies. In their place, this money plus the money incurred from pollution taxes (after clean-up is paid for) should go to subsidise the cornerstones of the green economy:
- Renewable Energy
- Organic Agriculture
In addition to these, large subsidies should also go into electric (renewable powered) public transportation and education. A large proportion of government funding should also be extracted from military funding and used to fund large scale research into systems ecology, renewable energy and clean-technology.
Sound like a plan?
Funnily enough, I’ve just finished writing this and it now makes more sense to me that these steps be followed in the opposite order – from 6 to 1. What do you think?