Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deakins focus on prosperity without growth

Last night I went to see Tim Jackson's outstanding Deakin lecture on his recent book, Prosperity without Growth. Just what Jackson is up against was bleakly but amusingly illustrated when I sought out his book a while back and had to ask a shop assistant. "Prosperity without growth?" she asked. Enough said.

For a man jet-lagged and awake since at least 5.00am, Jackson moved swiftly to the substance of his argument in a succinct 30 minutes followed by questions. The dilemma we face is that we either continue growing our economy, and thereby exhaust our finite planet, or we negotiate the perils of "de-growth", including the loss of jobs. With the relentless drive to ever greater efficiency, Jackson explained, more can be done by fewer people, and so the only way to keep people in jobs is to grow the economy. The trouble is, this process is resource and emissions intensive, and attempts to "de-couple" growth from its impact on the planet are unlikely to succeed.

It was worth going for this clarifying insight alone, and the idea that we can limit growth in some areas so that it can occur in others where it is truly needed. Jackson thinks we need to return our focus to human flourishing, and away from the psychology of envy that characterises our current consumption, which he says is not an inherent feature of human nature.

I will write further on the detail of Jackson's presentation, but there's no need to rely on brief blog posts, as the Wheeler Centre has already made the video available on its website, where you can leave comments. I've started the ball rolling by asking how Jackson might view the current debate over the resources tax, a key defence of which has been that it will in fact be good for the industry. With all its hidden costs, however, we should ask whether the growth of the mining industry is really good for us:
Great presentation, and fantastic work to have the video up so quickly. What I wanted to ask Tim was what he makes of the current resources tax debate. One of the key government defences is that it will ultimately be good for the industry and lead to expansion. Yet nowhere in the debate is there any accounting for the climate, environmental or human health cost of the mining industry, which will only worsen with any expansion - especially in the absence of an effective ETS or strong carbon tax. I support the resources tax, and would do so even more so if it served to put a brake on damaging and excessive mineral extraction. What says Tim?

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.