Maintaining a Quaker voice in a “growth and jobs” narrative

The European Commission is currently running a consultation on the Europe 2020 strategy for economic growth and job creation, and QCEA published its answers last Wednesday (15th October). QCEA focussed on the environmental and climate targets within the strategy. They are:

  • to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990 levels (or 30 percent if possible) by 2020
  • to increase renewable energy to 20 percent of energy consumption by 2020
  • to increase energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020
windmill- steppinstars pixabay

Increasing renewable energy like wind turbines should be prioritised over economic growth. Image credit: Steppinstars Pixabay

These targets have been praised for displaying the European Union as a leader on climate action, and they are certainly a step in the right direction. However, they could, and should, be more ambitious. In addition, despite these targets, the environment could well be subordinated to economic concerns, particularly under the new European Commission. Thus the consultation is a good opportunity forQCEA to voice our concerns, and to urge more ambitious targets, both for 2020 and beyond. In voicing these concerns it is important to maintain our distinctive Quaker voice and to resist the pervasive focus on economic growth and statistical job creation. In their place, QCEA advocates human and planetary well-being as the EU’s central goals.

There are many potential benefits of more ambitious and binding climate targets in the next fifteen years. Increasing the 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target to 30 percent would not only make the proposed 2030 targets more achievable, but it could also create opportunities for decent employment, reduce energy costs, and lessen the health risks of climate change. A more ambitious target to increase energy efficiency could have considerable economic benefits through reducing energy costs and consumption, thus increasing security of supply and possibly reducing energy poverty. Investing in energy efficiency could also create jobs while reducing the need for fossil fuels. Investing in new renewable energy infrastructure and technology could lessen the need for steeper investment later. Fundamentally, the argument goes, countering climate change and maintaining economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

Despite all these strong arguments for action on global warming and against our increasing resource use, it is difficult to escape the end goal of encouraging economic growth. While these are important to a certain extent, they should not be the only goal. Jobs, for example, are only beneficial, in and of themselves, if they provide a decent wage, and protect their workers, in the context of the global changes such as climate change. End goals such as ensuring responsible use of our natural resources, the reduction of human impact on the climate and an increase in human well-being and equality seem far preferable to QCEA.

In many ways, it is difficult to escape being forced into using the language and sharing the end goals of the current economic paradigm. While this might increase the likelihood of being listened to, it also seems to risk playing into the hands of those who want to make environmental concerns inferior to the all-consuming need for jobs and economic growth. Clearly, it is difficult to combat such a dominant paradigm, but the extent of its dominance is the very reason why it is important to champion the alternative. Another example of the subordination of environmental issues, can be seen with energy efficiency being linked to energy security concerns. Environmental organisations were already arguing for increased energy efficiency before the crisis in Ukraine, but have adopted that crisis as another argument for energy efficiency measures. Again, while this may be a pragmatic move, it has the effect of making environmental motivations for energy efficiency secondary to other concerns, in this case political – and sometimes militaristic and nationalistic – concerns about energy security. Increasing energy security should surely be a welcome side-effect of increasing our energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewable energy sources, rather than the main goal.

money man-geralt pixabay

Countering climate change offers the chance to make the economy work for people. Image credit: geralt, Pixabay

QCEA advocates for an economic system based on the well-being of human beings, and on the well-being of the planet. Therefore, arguments for action on climate change which are based on the end goal of saving money and creating jobs sit uneasily with QCEA’s vision. This is, of course, a matter of emphasis: saving money should not be a goal in itself, but spending less on fossil fuels and less on energy in general is a good aim if it helps people to have a better quality of life, as well as countering climate change. Creating jobs should not be a goal in itself, rather it should be the aim to create jobs that are able to increase the well-being of the person in that job, as well as reducing global warming.

Pavan Sukhdev (rather a favourite here at QCEA) has argued for the need for a new sort of corporation, which is judged based on its social capital – its impact on society, workers, nature and the environment – rather than solely on financial profit. It is an important point that the current economic and energy systems are hardly much better for people and workers, than they are for the climate. The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has pointed out that economic growth (in terms of increasing the quantity of things produced) conflicts with reducing our impact on the Earth. The new corporation thus requires a new economic system, and governments and institutions like the EU can help us make that change. Firstly, the objectives need to be shifted: from producing more things and increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country, to increasing the quality of things produced and the quality of human well-being, thereby controlling our impact on the planet.

There we have it then. Countering the effects of man-made climate change requires nothing less than reforming our entire society and economic system – simple! Perhaps though, the above reports are not wrong. Perhaps it is possible to marry our economic system, based on ever-increasing production and consumption, with effective climate change mitigation. It might therefore be better to say that the challenge of climate change represents a fantastic opportunity to reform society and economy to work for people and planet, rather than for endless production and profit.

QCEA has tried to respond to the European Commission Consultation in this spirit. The consultation, which closes on the 1st November, as the new Commission (theoretically) takes office can be found here. We would encourage you to respond, as consultations are for citizens, as well. Consider taking the time to send in your own response, drawing from QCEA’s answers, if you wish.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: