CASSE Issues Enough is Enough: Ideas for a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources - A Report from the First Steady State Economy Conference
The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) held its first conference, in Leeds, UK, on June 19, 2010, with a focus on finding alternatives to current models of economic growth. Featuring members of the Capital Lab-sponsored 3rd Millennium Economy steering committee Tim Jackson and Peter Victor, the conference brought economists, scientists, business leaders, government officials and the NGO community together to help mold the vision of a steady state economy.
While most global leaders and economists extol the virtues of unfettered economic growth, conference speakers made the point that the economy is a subsystem of the earth’s ecosystem and is a human construct. Despite these known facts and the recent global financial meltdown, exponential economic growth continues to be almost universally perceived as a desirable outcome.
Over the course of his fifteen-year tenure as a senior executive with the Louis Dreyfus Group, Simon Rich had an opportunity to observe a troubling trend firsthand--the increasingly unsustainable dependence of the global agricultural sector on fossil fuels coupled with the inevitable depletion of global petroleum reserves. Louis Dreyfus holds a major position in global oil seeds, cereals, cotton and orange juice processing and merchandising, and is active in the global petroleum, natural gas, and electricity sectors as both a producer and merchant. As a matter of course, the company monitors global supply and demand for energy and foodstuffs on virtually a real-time basis. Global food prices and the price of natural gas and oil have been ever more closely correlated in an era when petroleum products have become a critical component of food production and transport. But in the late 1990s, that correlation became a heightened cause for concern as energy analysts throughout the world and within Louis Dreyfus began to warn of the phenomenon of peak oil.
Many members of the Capital Institute community believe that the emerging markets for ecosystem services hold considerable promise as tools for redirecting the flow of capital toward economic activities that honor ecosystem constraints. However, a paper that recently circulated among us entitled "The Environmentality of 'Earth Incorporated'" raised some questions that challenge that belief. The author, Sian Sullivan, argues that the “intrinsic fallacy at the heart” of ecosystem services market initiatives is that they attempt to incentivize environmentally ethical behavior. She maintains that the market does not produce “virtuous behavior” and that it is essentially naïve to take the view that if only we design them correctly we can halt or reverse ecosystem degradation. She further states that the danger of these market initiatives is that they promote the “valuing of nature as money,” and do not acknowledge “nature's immanence or sentience,” or the reality that humans are merely one of many “companions” in nature’s community. Sullivan’s argument might lead one to conclude that efforts to save our fragile ecosystems should be focused more on shifting humanity’s view of its place in the natural order rather than harnessing the financial markets to restore that natural order.