Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Natural Economy - Sustainable Capitalism

In this age of economic and environmental meltdown, it's worth considering what "sustainable capitalism" means to you. And whichever way you plan to vote (if at all) in the next UK general election, Zac Goldsmith's book, The Constant Economy, is worth reading as part of the process.

Goldsmith rightly cites as "an extraordinary statement" Neil Armstrong's belief that 'the important achievement of Apollo was that it demonstrated that man was not forever chained to this planet'. There may be few better examples of man's apparent contempt for his environment than incinerating vast quantities of fossil fuel to escape it. Perhaps this is harsh, but the Apollo missions do seem to mark an acceleration in what we now recognise as a wasteful, exploitative energy binge.

The Constant Economy provides a concise summary of what we've learned since the Apollo years about both the scale of our environmental problems and potential ways to address them. Importantly, Goldsmith calls for greater focus on addressing the root causes, rather than merely some of the causes or the symptoms. A key starting point is actually valuing the various elements of our environment and including that value in our growth and accounting metrics.

I hope I don't do Goldsmith or his book any injustice in listing the gist of most of the policies below. It would be interesting to see them voted upon in much the same way as Power2010 is deliberating over a list of wider policies to develop a Top 5.

1. Tax pollution, waste and the use of scarce resources - inappropriate or polluting agriculture should not be subsidised;

2. Promote more direct democracy - ballot initiatives, referenda and recall initiatives;

3. New food technology (like GM) should not be able to be released without proof they do no harm;

4. The public sector should buy sustainable, local produce;

5. Food growing should be part of the school curriculum;

6. Agricultural subsidies should reward farmers for land management that benefits society, but is unrewarded by the market;

7. Planning policy should favour walkable town centres and maintaining the viability of independent shops;

8. There should be a stronger code of practice for supermarkets with more than 8% market share;

9. There should be less prescription and red tape for primary producers who meet quality standards;

10. Nations (particularly EU member states) should be able to insist that imported food meets the same standards as locally produced food;

11. Antibiotics should only be used to treat sick animals, rather than boost meet yields;

12. We should identify and promote GM-free produce/regions;

13. We should create more marine protected areas to aid re-generation of fish stocks;

14. We should ban the use of destructive fishing methods;

15. We should limit industrial fishing catches;

16. There should be higher standards for fish farms;

17. We must establish the truth about oil reserves, and extraction costs vs price;

18. We should require power generation to occur closer to where it is needed, and facilitate community-level generating capacity; appropriate micro-generators should be a permitted development, rather than require planning permission;

19. There should be a "feed-in tariff" to ensure the export price of sustainably-generated electricity stimulates investment in the alternative methods;

20. We should encourage the formation of renewable energy investment funds;

21. Reduce subsidies for fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy;

22. Invest in high speed rail and hold off on airport expansion;

23. Make green cars cheaper;

24. Encourage only biofuels that generate a net carbon saving, are not generated at the expense of valauble habitat or at the expense of food production or security;

25. Transport policy should favour cycling, buses and a school bus system;

26. Promote technology that reduces travel;

27. Protect the greenelt and gardens;

28. Ban building on floodplains;

30. Incentivise building in the right place - improving an existing building should be VAT-exempt;

31. Subsidise energy-efficient homes, including smart-meters and water efficiency;

32. Create building standards to replace prescriptive regulation about how to build;

33. Taxes, subsidies and public procurement should promote a zero-waste economy - take-back rights for appliances, paid recycling, reduce landfill, recycle building material, promote long-life goods/buildings, combined heat and power systems;

34. We should contribute to a forest fund to support conservation by countries with forests;

35. Buy sustainable timber, starting with the government;

36. Implement carbon pricing.

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