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The Transition to a Sustainable Prosperity—A Stock-Flow-Consistent Ecological Macroeconomic Model for Canada

Sunset over Lake Ontario (CC.0) Lucas George Wendt / Unsplash

Summary

This paper presents a stock-flow consistent (SFC) macroeconomic simulation model for Canada. We use the model to generate three very different stories about the future of the Canadian economy, covering the half century from 2017 to 2067: a Base Case Scenario in which current trends and relationships are projected into the future, a Carbon Reduction Scenario in which measures are introduced specifically designed to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions, and a Sustainable Prosperity Scenario which incorporates additional measures to improve environmental, social and financial conditions across society. The performance of the economy is tracked using two composite indicators constructed especially for this study: an environmental burden index (EBI) which describes the environmental performance of the model; and a composite sustainable prosperity index (SPI) which is based on a weighted average of seven economic, social and environmental performance indicators. Contrary to the widely accepted view, the results suggest that ‘green growth’ (in the Carbon Reduction Scenario) may be slower than ‘brown growth’. More importantly, we show (in the Sustainable Prosperity Scenario) that improved environmental and social outcomes are possible even as the growth rate declines to zero.

1. Introduction

The defining feature of ecological economics is its rigorous attention to the question of ecological scale (Daly and Morgan, 2019). For this reason, perhaps, it has often found itself at worst ignored and at best in outright conflict with conventional economic narratives framed around the assumption of ‘eternal’ economic growth (Liebreich, 2018). The former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, once famously declared that ‘there is no alternative’ to growth…

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You don’t have to live like this—review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

You don’t have to live like this—review of Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living

In her new book, Post-Growth Living: For an Alternative Hedonism, Kate Soper calls for a vision of the good life not reliant on endless economic growth and points us to the ways in which our current patterns of living are not only environmentally harmful, but also make us miserable. A provocative and necessary book, Nick Taylor writes, that provides us with the means to rethink consumption, work and sustainable prosperity without losing sight of what makes us feel good. (This blog also appeared on the PERC website.)

CC-BY-NC 2.0 :: Pete/Flickr

What kind of changes will the Covid-19 pandemic bring about over the long-term? While this question is on the minds of many, for those who study and work towards making our societies and economies more sustainable it brings particular concerns. Global emissions have seen a record-breaking drop during the pandemic, but not enough to slow the overall trend in atmospheric CO2 concentration, which reached its highest ever level in May, and not even enough to bring us close to meeting the 1.5C global warming target. How we respond to and attempt to recover from the deepest recession on record in a way that is not simply about restoring GDP growth is a question that should involve us all.

For critics, the pandemic has made an easy but misleading target of the post-growth or degrowth movement. They falsely equate the social and economic devastation wrought by coronavirus with the planned, long-term downscaling of society’s throughput (the materials and energy a society metabolises) that degrowth advocates argue for. Sceptics of ‘growth as prosperity’ do not want a recession, or, as is looking increasingly likely, a depression. Indeed at their most compelling, arguments for moving beyond growth as an overarching economic, social and political goal draw on the promise that a sustainable society can and should be a better, more equal and more prosperous society.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Values and goals: Can we intervene to reduce materialism?

Values and goals: Can we intervene to reduce materialism?

In order to live well within the earth’s limits we need to prioritise ways of living that enable us to have more fun with less stuff. This will inevitably require an end to the pursuit of ever more material possessions as a means of acquiring ‘the good life’. Given the fact that people who prioritise materialistic pursuits are consistently found to have lower wellbeing and higher ecological footprints, our research asked whether it is possible to intervene to reduce materialism?

CC.0 :: NeONBRAND Digital Marketing / Unsplash

Materialism can be conceived of as a value-orientation and a goal-orientation. Our values are our beliefs about what is important and what makes a good life. They act as guiding principles that influence our choices in all aspects of our lives. Someone with materialistic values might believe that the possessions they own are an important symbol of success and that life is better the more you can afford to buy. Materialism can also be conceived of as a goal-orientation. Whereas values can be relatively unconscious beliefs that guide our choices and behaviours, goals are more intentional. Goals involve setting a chosen direction for specific aspects of our lives and practical plans to achieve them. Having goals to strive for and making progress towards them is very important for our sense of wellbeing. They give us a sense of purpose and a reason for being, adding structure and meaning to our daily lives. But not all goals lead to better wellbeing. The achievement of materialistic goals tends to lead to a temporary, short lived boost in happiness that offers no real nourishment to long term wellbeing. Individuals who consistently prioritise materialistic goals are therefore more likely to display indicators of psychological ill-being such as loneliness, eating disorders, depression and anxiety.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

A recent study of long-term fluctuations in economic growth published in Nature Scientific Reports suggests both danger and opportunity in the emerging debate about post Covid-19 economic recovery. In this blog, Craig D. Rye and Tim Jackson outline their findings.


© matejmo/iStock

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the global economy to contract by 5% this year alone, making it the largest downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Advanced economies are likely to see a 10% decline in output and even the emerging economies of south-east Asia are unlikely to escape a recession.

Unprecedented though this is in the modern era, its real impact lies in the wider tapestry within which this uncomfortable economic portrait is drawn. Rates of economic growth across the OECD have been in decline since the 1970s, a phenomenon known as ‘secular stagnation’. The average growth in GDP per capita across the rich economies fell from over 4% in the mid-1960s to little more than 1% in the pre-pandemic years. The decline is related to an underlying stagnation in labour productivity growth.

In a recent study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, we’ve been exploring an even longer story about the ups and downs of economic growth and recession. Critical Slowing Down (CSD) theory is most commonly used to understand the oscillations (waves) in physical systems. In our study, we used the same techniques to analyse long-term trends in the gross domestic product (GDP) in datasets from as far back as the 1820s.

Imagine a pendulum or swing which is held in its equilibrium position by gravity. A push or a shove in one direction or another will shift the pendulum away from the central position or a random gust of wind might move the swing, but gravity pulls it back again.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

Recovery or Renewal? Time for an economic rethink

A recent study of long-term fluctuations in economic growth published in Nature Scientific Reports suggests both danger and opportunity in the emerging debate about post Covid-19 economic recovery. In this blog, Craig D. Rye and Tim Jackson outline their findings.

© matejmo/iStock

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the global economy to contract by 5% this year alone, making it the largest downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Advanced economies are likely to see a 10% decline in output and even the emerging economies of south-east Asia are unlikely to escape a recession.

Unprecedented though this is in the modern era, its real impact lies in the wider tapestry within which this uncomfortable economic portrait is drawn. Rates of economic growth across the OECD have been in decline since the 1970s, a phenomenon known as ‘secular stagnation’. The average growth in GDP per capita across the rich economies fell from over 4% in the mid-1960s to little more than 1% in the pre-pandemic years. The decline is related to an underlying stagnation in labour productivity growth.

In a recent study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, we’ve been exploring an even longer story about the ups and downs of economic growth and recession. Critical Slowing Down (CSD) theory is most commonly used to understand the oscillations (waves) in physical systems. In our study, we used the same techniques to analyse long-term trends in the gross domestic product (GDP) in datasets from as far back as the 1820s.

Imagine a pendulum or swing which is held in its equilibrium position by gravity. A push or a shove in one direction or another will shift the pendulum away from the central position or a random gust of wind might move the swing, but gravity pulls it back again.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Altruist Within: In pursuit of sustainability and justice in a broken financial system

The Altruist Within: In pursuit of sustainability and justice in a broken financial system

This blog is an edited version of a keynote CUSP director Tim Jackson gave at the 2013 Sea of Faith Annual Conference in Leicester. In outlining the philosophical foundation of a different approach to economics, this essay speaks as much to the financial crisis from 2008, as it does to the current health and economic predicament from COVID-19: “Out of crisis emerges this one completely rational insight, from a human perspective, that shows us that we are not the people the economic system says. When we begin to explore the idea that we’re not mindless, hedonistic, novelty-seeking, selfish consumers, then we can begin to unpack the interesting stuff. This is when we begin to see how altruism actually might have a role to play”.

The Good Samaritan, by Vincent Van Gogh

I’m not going to give you a standard Prosperity without Growth talk. You can do that much more easily and much more fluently just by looking on the internet—there are hundreds of them out there somewhere on the internet. What I wanted to do here today was to talk about what I think is the philosophical foundation of a different approach to economics. I’ll talk a little bit about how economies are supposed to work, about why the model is wrong, and then I’ll try to build a different model, based on this very simple idea that locked within us is some kind of altruist, some kind of other-regarding behaviour.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Cleantech Investment Should be a High Priority Now and after COVID-19

Why Cleantech Investment Should be a High Priority Now and after COVID-19

Prior to the COVID crisis, progression to Net Zero carbon neutral emissions was rising to the top of the policy agenda in many countries. Understandably, the global health and economic crisis has thrown a spanner into the works. It is crucial though, Robyn Owen and Theresia Harrer write, that in our attempts to recover, we tie in the fundamental need for a better funded systematic government-led Green Deal approach to early stage Cleantech funding. 

CC.0 :: Casey Horner / Unsplash.com

The COVID-19 crisis threatens all of our lives. Understandably, it is currently the central focus of government policy globally. Yet history tells us that post-crisis economic reconstruction is most successful where investment is greatest in new emerging sectors. It is crucial, therefore, that investment in the UK is directed towards globally leading innovations for environmentally sustainable development, rather than simply to become more efficient at producing and selling more of the same.

Prior to the COVID crisis, progression to Net Zero carbon neutral emissions was rising to the top of the policy agenda in many countries. There was a widespread declaration of the climate crisis and climate war and a proliferation of Green New Deals—overarching policies for integrated government-led approaches to delivering reduction in carbon use and emissions.

We have argued that an essential element of climate change policies is a recognition that investing in early stage SME Cleantech innovators is crucial. These are companies developing technologies that lower carbon use and which are key to reaching the ambitious goals of an at least 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions set by the UNFCCC Paris Agreement of 2015. However, the costs and risks of investments in the cleantech sectors such as renewable energy, transport, building and communications infrastructure are high.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What does COVID-19 mean for sustainable consumption?

What does COVID-19 mean for sustainable consumption?

Our priorities shift when the wolf is at the door, Iona Murphy writes about the impact of the current crisis. It’s quite understandable that people may not have the headspace for sustainability right now. Nonetheless, we’re currently on a hiatus from consumerism—will it last?


CC.0 :: John Cameron/Unsplash.com

Back in the beginning of March, which feels like a lifetime ago, there were signs that the British public might be living more sustainably. 1 in 5 people who fly abroad, commute by car or eat meat were planning to cut back, and expected reductions for clothing and plastic packaging were even higher.

To state the obvious, a lot has changed since then—many of us won’t be driving to work anytime soon, and holidays abroad are off the cards. Our priorities shift when the wolf is at the door, and it is quite understandable that people may not have the headspace for sustainability right now. Even the zero-waste influencers buy plastic in a pandemic.

But there’s reason to think we might act differently when once the dust has settled. We are most likely to change our behaviours during a major life event, like moving house or having a child; COVID-19 imposes such an event on everyone. Change is not always unwelcome; polling for the UK Food, Farming and Countryside Commission found that 6 in 10 adults want to make changes in their life once this is over, whereas only 33% want their life to go back to how it was before. That means almost twice as many adults want change, than don’t.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Disobedience, Protest, and the Pandemic: Climate Change and Citizen Action under Conditions of Social Distancing

Disobedience, Protest, and the Pandemic: Climate Change and Citizen Action under Conditions of Social Distancing

Civil disobedience is not just a checklist of components, but a tradition of morally purposeful action and an expression of citizenship, CUSP Fellow Graeme Hayes writes. As the pandemic ushers in new social norms, and political and economic interests may seek to capitalise on the crisis to further deepen social inequality, how social movements rethink their tactics may have profound consequences for the effectiveness of future protests.by

Sheffield’s Women of Steel (Martin Jennings), modified; Photo by Tim Dennell/Flickr (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people; if we measure excess deaths against the five year average, the figure is even higher, at over 300,000. To stem the tide, liberal and authoritarian states worldwide have introduced social restriction regimes with varying intensities, speeds, and success. By the end of March, 2.6 billion people, or a third of the global population, were living under some form of ‘lockdown’. The social and economic consequences are profound, with the IMF predicting the global economy to shrink by 3% in 2020, the ILO emphasising the devastating effects of workplace closures on 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy. Poorer and more marginalised populations are not only more likely to be exposed to the virus; they are less likely to be able to adapt to and cope socially and economically with conditions of lockdown. This is, as Richard Horton writes in The Lancet, a global health crisis whose meanings are not biological but biographical, located in the vast social inequalities and organisational assumptions that underpin late capitalist societies.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We need a new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change.

We need a new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change.

Cultural resistance to the need for a fundamental, urgent, unprecedented rethink of the way we conduct life in order to limit temperature rise is continuously fed by the apparently affirmative but actually misleading words of charismatic thinkers such as Rutger Bregman and Steven Pinker, Teresa Belton finds. What we need instead are fresh holistic narratives of contented material sufficiency and personal and social enrichment —to create the critical mass for a new common consciousness, and to protect the world from catastrophic ecosystem destruction. (This article is an edited version of a piece first published in The Ecologist on 5 November 2018.)


We need a new common consciousness of what’s necessary and possible to curb climate change. | Guest blog by Teresa Belton
Mural by Super A and Collin van der Sluijs. Image: (CC.0) Pavel Nekoranec / Unsplash.com

Political and social consciousness of the looming threat and the measures necessary to limit rising temperatures is still largely unengaged. In the UK one need look no further than the government decision to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, the continued subsidies given to fossil fuel companies, the reduction in incentives to install solar panels, and the slackening of planning regulations to allow fracking applications free passage. And at the household level, sales of consumer goods and use of energy continue unabated, as though they’re no threat to tomorrow. Popular discourse is lacking in sound or alternative messages. Two recent books by ‘believers’ in anthropogenic climate change offer clues as to why public attitudes are generally so apathetic.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Energy Sufficiency—Managing the rebound effect

Energy Sufficiency—Managing the rebound effect

New ECEEE concept paper co-authored by CUSP researchers Birgitta Gaterleben and Angela Druckman

Concept Paper Cover Image / www.energysufficiency.org

The potential for energy sufficiency to reduce energy use and emissions is gaining increasing attention. One reason is that improvements in energy efficiency have not reduced energy consumption by as much as anticipated. This is partly due to various rebound effects—namely behavioural responses to improved energy efficiency that offset some of the potential energy and emission savings.

A new report by former SLRG colleagues Steve Sorrell, and CUSP researchers Brigitta Gatersleben and Angela Druckman examines the nature of these effects, and asks the question: can greater use of sufficiency policies and actions help to tackle negative rebounds, or will it create rebounds itself?

The report explores the relationship between rebound effects and energy sufficiency, using both economics and social psychology and arguing that both these perspectives are needed to fully understand the effects. It looks at the evidence for the nature and size of rebound effects from improved energy efficiency and suggests ways in which energy sufficiency actions could reduce them. It also investigates how energy sufficiency actions can lead to rebound effects of their own and examines how careful policy design can be used to minimise or avoid increased energy use where this is not improving wellbeing.>

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