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Dr. John Barry School of Politics and Institute for a Sustainable World Queen’s University Belfast

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1 Dr. John Barry School of Politics and Institute for a Sustainable World Queen’s University Belfast

2 Economic/financial crisis, climate change and energy insecurity, Opportunity to rethink both the dominance of one way of thinking about the economy – namely neo- classical economics and the economic growth imperative In particular we need to end the fiction that economics is a ‘value free zone’ and return to conceptualising our public discourse about the economy in terms of ‘political economy’. Need for new economic thinking on an all island basis, especially within the policy-making communities of both jurisdictions



5 Name one thing in this room that has not been made in whole or part, or transported in whole of part without the use of oil? The island of Ireland’s dependency on imported fossil fuels as a major risk/vulnerability issue Instability of price of oil - $148 a barrel in 2008, dropped back to $40 now back up to $110 – this is likely to be the pattern in the years ahead ‘We need to leave oil before oil leaves us’, Fatih Biriol, Chief Economist, International Energy Association ‘A planned retreat from fossil fuels’, Eamon Ryan, former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources


7 “Businesses which prepare for and take advantage of the new energy reality will prosper - failure to do so could be catastrophic; We are heading towards a global oil supply crunch and price spike ; Lack of global regulation on climate change is creating an environment of uncertainty for business, damaging investment; To manage increasing energy costs and carbon exposure businesses must reduce fossil fuel consumption”

8 “A smart economy is a low-carbon economy, with sustainable development as its ultimate aim. … We must address the situation where there is a flow from oil consuming to oil producing nations and plan for the eventuality where oil supplies contract rather than expand. Those countries that reduce their dependence on oil will have a distinct competitive advantage.” Building Ireland’s Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal, Dec 2008 (Dept of An Taoiseach), p.34 Forfas 2006 report on Ireland’s oil vulnerability. Northern Ireland similarly highly dependent on imported fossil fuels But....little evidence (as yet) of this being a major concern of the governments in both jurisdictions

9 The challenge for the island of Ireland in the first decades of the 21 st century is to manage a transition away from current unsustainable development economic models Beyond conventional economic growth/GDP - towards socio-economic well-being, a focus on employment and work, and a greater focus on reducing inequalities Beyond dependence upon imported fossil fuels Beyond the state and the market towards a new mixed economy of well-being in which the social economy plays a much greater role

10 “The Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and... the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl... Yet [it] does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play... the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages... it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. Robert Kennedy, 1968

11 “From growth of total GNP to GNP per head to sustainable growth ; From income growth to a more equal distribution of income ; From absolute job creation to overall employment rate to participation rate ; From an exclusive focus on income to a balance between income and better provision of accessible, affordable quality services ; From developer-led developments to planned and sustainable communities; From ‘survival of the fittest’ to a more egalitarian society” Executive summary, p.xix

12 “There is now an important all-island dimension to all aspects of Government policy. To the extent that it is appropriate, and by agreement with the Northern Ireland Executive, all of the policies, programmes and initiatives in this Action Plan will take full account of the mutual benefits available through North/South co-operation. Building Ireland’s Smart Economy (2008: 27: emphasis added) But...little sign of urgency in progressing the greening of the island economy


14 “Economic growth, for so long the great engine of progress, has, in the rich countries, largely finished its work. Not only have measures of wellbeing and happiness ceased to rise with economic growth but, as affluent societies have grown richer, there have been long-term rises in rates of anxiety, depression and numerous other social problems. The populations of rich countries have got to the end of a long historical journey. (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009: 5-6; emphasis added)

15 Dominant political economic strategy in both jurisdictions is how to ‘get back’ to the pre-crash economic model but no fundamental rethinking of economic goals or strategies Republic – Smart Economy – where is it? Northern Ireland – ‘open for business’ and the FDI attracting, global competitiveness model Both jurisdictions (like all industrial societies) prioritise undifferentiated, orthodox economic growth as the dominant policy imperative Some very modest indicators of a ‘green new deal’?

16 Calls for the return to an economic model based around ‘buildings, banks and boutiques’ (Colin Hines) (i.e. Property speculation, financial services and debt-based consumerism) It is worth remembering that (orthodox) economists are asked to answer questions, not because what they say is ‘true’ or even ‘scientific’ but simply because they are asked. We need to have a variety of ways of thinking about the economy and see what answers they provide as part of a discussion about different forms of political economy. We don’t accept one way for the organisation of the polity so why should it be any different with the economy?

17 Beyond ‘business as usual’. More collectivisation of consumption (if not production)? If we’re socialising risk (NAMA, bank bailouts etc) why not socialise other aspects of the economy? Transition to a sustainable, green economy will be based on more shared forms of consumption

18 The structural imperative for continuing economic growth just to keep the economy stable under capitalism is itself the cause of not just boom and bust cycles, but the reason why this economic model is fundamentally unsustainable, and manages and reproduces rather than tackles inequality and growing disparities in life chances and well-being Greening ‘business as usual’ is both biophysically impossible as well as undesirable What would an economy look like designed by a scientist not a conventional neo-classical economist?

19 ‘Global warming cannot be combated merely by making a few technical adjustments to our modes of production and consumption, for example by designing lower-carbon cars. We need to profoundly rethink our model of growth, e.g. means of transport, and hence the whole range of policies currently being implemented in pursuit of development. What must therefore be envisaged as of now is societal change ’. (European Trade Union Institute, 2009, p.7; emphasis added)

20 Pressing need to tackle the underlying economic model which is the root cause of ecological degradation, the intensification of inequality and erosion of quality of life The island of Ireland, with its small scale, abundant renewable energy resources, high levels of education and training, social capital and a strong social economy, could....with clear political leadership in both jurisdictions, become an exemplar of a green, sustainable economy and society, one in which the focus is not ‘greening business as usual’ and improving the resource and energy efficiency of production and consumption, but seeking the eco- efficiency of human well-being. Create a new macro-economics of sustainability to simultaneously achieve high well-being with low carbon and resource use What does public policy look like orientated towards increasing human well-being, work and lowering resource use, rather than undifferentiated economic growth?


22 The choice is ours…..


24 To deal with the causes of ecological destruction, rather than simply dealing with its effects, we can expect to see a greater degree of analysis and action around critiquing, challenging and proposing alternatives to the underlying political economy Coming battle between those proposing ‘sustainable development’ as part of the objectives from any Green New Deal against a coalition of state and business interests determined to find technological fixes for our energy hungry island economy and to continue with ‘business as usual’ Are we using the economic and energy crises as an opportunity to plan a transition to a more sustainable and different type of society, and different political relations between citizens and state, as opposed to a more resource efficient economy with no changes in structures of governance, inequalities, well-being etc.


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