Throughout history communities have developed economies as a means to organise, develop and barter. Today the global economy is comprised of interconnected systems which complement and challenge each other. But what about the relationship between economics and the environment? I sought out some answers.
Traditionally the study of economics is associated with stuffy cigar smoked libraries and elderly, bearded, suit wearing men.
The young man I interviewed was the polar opposite to this preconceived notion!
I found myself talking with a clean shaven, twenty-two-year-old, economics post grad, working in The Hague and studying for his Masters in economic coding at Leiden University. I began by asking him to explain why some people consider economic growth and environmental progress to be at odds. He responded saying:
“the current economic model is like a wind up clock where customers say they want something and the market goes and gets it”.
I was unable to hide my disappointment, taking his response to mean he didn’t consider a marriage been the economy and the environment possible.
“If customers say they want environmental improvements that’s what they get. If they don’t care, then they get something worse”.
He finished his response, smiling and said:
“the difficulty which I ultimately faced when studying for my undergrad is that while we all want change it’s not obvious that a different situation would be better”.
Interestingly he clearly understands there cannot be a solution to all economic ill’s and tearing up the current system and starting again isn’t a viable solution.
I followed up my initial question, staring into his starry, gleeful blue eyes…ahem, by asking if he agreed with the statement that climate policy issues cannot be considered using traditional economics and if the concepts which define traditional economics as restraining forces against environmental change.
He nodded and said “Ja” and then clarified “Yes”. He added:
“traditional economics usually doesn’t incorporate clean air or water because these aren’t goods that are bought and sold”,
Then he laughed and continued:
“they could be bought and sold but that would be terrible”.
Perhaps considering environmental issues from an economic perspective is foolhardy. Do we really want to put an economic value on natural commodities? These are only questions which can be asked by those who already consider water, warmth, food and shelter human rights.
As citizens of the ‘north’ we rarely have to consider natural provisions as economic pawns. This young man’s opinions were eye opening, he had a clear understanding of our precarious and dangerous environmental situation and wasn’t afraid to voice his doubt over an amicable global solution arising any time soon.
I asked these questions based on the readings Grubb, M. (2014) and Nobbs, C. (2012), but also in the hopes to receive ‘alternative’ answers. I wasn’t disappointed, however I felt that despite having just graduated from a world class university he hadn’t focused much of his studies on environmental economics, in fact he closed the interview by saying sorrowfully that he…
“Did a course in environmental economics once. It was sad”.
Grubb, M. (2014). 03:: Trapped?. In Environment and Ecological Economics (pp. 39-53). United Kingdom: Routledge. (Reprinted from Planetary Economics, by Michael Grubb, 2014, UK: Taylor and Francis Group).
Nobbs, C. (2012). 02:: Economics and Climate Change. In Environment and Ecological Economics (pp. 30-38). United Kingdom: Routledge. (Reprinted from Economics, Sustainability, and Democracy: Economics in the Era of Climate Change, by Christopher Nobbs, 2012, UK: Taylor and Francis Group)