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About the Author

Benno Hansen
Patent Assistant (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Focusing on our bright green future, environmental sustainability, global partnership and climate change.

MSc degree in horticulture from Copenhagen University, thesis on Hidden Markov Modelling of protein sequences - which is the same algorithm that lies at the core of Google. Winner of TH!NK2, Y!HAA

Have written for magazines at an advertising bureau, supported university students in their IT-tasks, helped maintain the university hardware, software and websites, vacuum cleaned bodies of escaped laboratory test frogs, been a mail man with the Danish Postal Service and counted the number of passengers for the Danish Railways.

My goal is to publish a best selling science fiction novel and/or get elected for parliament with an intellectual party. But I spend a lot more time betting on football matches (and winning), attending FC Copenhagen home games which I hold a season ticket for, reading lots of science fiction and popularized science, skating and eating organic meals with my beautiful, eco-friendly biomedicine ethicist girlfriend.

Oh yeah... every now and then I also blog ;-)


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Post

Wolfgang Sachs: Sustainable development vs economic growth

Published 15th May 2010 - 4 comments - 7063 views -

German scholar Wolfgang Sachs talked about sustainable development versus economic growth in Copenhagen on invitation by The Ecological Council, The European Environment Agency and the Danish newspaper Information.

Wolfgang Sachs: Sustainable development vs economic growth from Benno Hansen on Vimeo.

 

Sachs introduces with “the four directions” which are his logical answers to scarcity. Then his talk is divided in nine points; some skipped, others expanded. Focussing on growth, the efficiency paradox, green investments, sufficiency and commons here are a selection of quotes and notes.

Introduction: The four directions

“Let us speak about the success of Copenhagen [laughter from the crowd] everybody who is right in his mind, in the world, knows that we are entering a new historic age. Everybody who is clear in his mind knows that, let's call it universal encompassing environmental scarcity is to be with us for the 21st century.”

“There are four possible reactions. [...] the first logical answer is, well, keep out people who might add to the aspirations; so it is a logical answer to go for exclusion. [...] Second logical answer when scarcity is looming [...] expansion is a logical response [nuclear power, genetic technology, capture and storage of CO2, geoengineering]. Third, [...] get better in the way we use things; so efficiency is another logical answer. [...] Fourth, [...] revise the aspirations.”

Growth

(11-17 minutes)

“Growth [...] it is a very young phenomenon. Of course for many thousand, two thousand years certainly, humanity has lived without steady economic growth. More so, classical economists - Adam Smith, Malthus, [?] - still do not really have the idea about steady accelerating growth. Yes, there was the idea around that you might increase prospect [...] at some point it will kind of level out, it's not going to be, if you want, a human condition.”

“The idea of permanent economic growth is an offspring of the fossil age.”

Before second world war governments did not see economic growth as their main objective. Growth philosophy a product of the post-war effort to curb unemployment, thus only 40-50 years old.

Efficiency paradox

(22-28 minutes)

Efficiency paradox: Efficiency leads to consumption.

“The direct rebound effect is that once you can do something more efficiently you do more of the same thing. […] The indirect rebound effect is even more important: […] Where does the money go? […] Whereever you look it is very likely that there will be new energy and material demand associated with it.”

For example, I bought a bike about a week ago. I use it to transport myself to and from work so it already did about 100 kilometers. That's a couple of kilos of CO2 saved right there. However, it is the stated policy of the Danish government to sell unused carbon quotas. The money they use on tax cuts for the rich and for companies. Thus, my green investment and biking effort is funding luxury yachts, stock market speculation and I don't know what else.

“The precautionary principle [...] requires we begin research, debate, social experiments about how to live well with less or no economic growth.”

Green investments

(33-37 minutes)

“Investments today shape the economy of tomorrow.”

“There is a common ground [...] between green economy and degrowth. We need green investments because we need a different infrastructure. [Even if it comes with short term growth.] In the mid to long term a real green new deal has to incorporate a perspective of degrowth.”

Sufficiency and the commons

(37-51 minutes)

“Cars are built for intermediate performance levels.”

Effort is wasted in designing for top speed etc.

“The more unequal a society is the less happy people are.”

Unhappiness has environmental consequences as well as growth incentives, therefore promoting equitability creates sustainability.

“If we'd had to pay for Wikipedia, we wouldn't have it.”


Wolfgang Sachs [Wikipedia] is a former professor, former chairman of Greenpeace Germany, author of several books and contributor to the IPCC.

Before commenting please take a brief look at the following images.

Graphs from New Scientist: Special report: How our economy is killing the Earth

Graphs from New Scientist: Special report: How our economy is killing the Earth

JULY 18TH-24TH 2009 "Were it went wrong-and how the crisis is changing it" Copyright The Economist, July 2009.



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