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A New Kind of Economy

Green economy

Image source: www.greenafricadirectory.org

The essence of a Green economy – genuine well-being – subscribes to dimensions in Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776 that reach beyond the rampaging misuse of his economic treatise through modern industrialisation.

You see, Adam Smith was a keen observer of human nature.

In 1759, while Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In this work, he identified the individual conscience and “fellow feeling” (ie. sympathy with others) as the requisite balance to self-love.

He believed that in the pursuit of a healthy and prosperous society, conscience and sympathy needed to be embodied in a system of justice in order to restrain the excesses of self-interest (cited in Paul Ekins, 1992, Wealth Beyond Measure).

I wonder if Adam Smith turns in his grave upon reflection on the modern world.

Within Australia, for example, and elsewhere in the developed world, any such systems of justice leave much to be desired. Internationally, one could be forgiven for assuming no such systems of justice exist at all, their absence evidenced in the countless environmental and social exploitations that occur daily around the globe.

Of course, today’s world is very different to the 18th century context in which Adam Smith marveled at the powers of justice and self-interest. His was a world in which the global population barely exceeded 1 billion. Smith’s world was alive with countless species of birds and beasts and fish that lived in abundance. His was a world rich in diverse plant life, an abundant productive land swathed in vast tracts of forest and field with flowing rivers that reached their course to the open seas.

As Paul Ekins highlights in Wealth Beyond Measure (1992), the past two hundred years, powered by self-interest, have seen us shake the world to its core. We have ventured deep into the forests and oceans and ripped the plants and animals from their environments with little more than a passing thought. We have irreversibly altered the natural systems that support life on Earth. Old growth forests are hewn from the land, deserts spread a scathing hand across once fertile terrain, countless species of animals and plants are obliterated, poisons leach into our soil and contaminate our rivers, erosion and salinity scrape away the surface of the Earth.

Human beings have been on this planet for tens of thousands of years. And yet in little more than two hundred of those years, we have radically altered every environment and every people within our reach. All in the name of economic growth. All in the name of a global industrial complex that ultimately serves to undermine us all.

If change is inevitable, and a new economics holds the key to a sustainable future, what might that new model of development look like?

As writer James Robertson asserts in Wealth Beyond Measure:

“The new economics must enable people to develop their own sustainable ways of living, in the context of their own cultures. It must value and cherish the resources and blessings bestowed by nature. It must recognise that the wealth-of-nations era is passing, and that today’s one-world human community now has a one-world economy to manage and understand. It must bring back ethical and spiritual values into economic life and thought, from which they have been excluded by conventional pseudo-scientific economics” (cited in Paul Ekins, Wealth Beyond Measure, 1992, p.5).

In the face of our current environmental and social malaise, I believe this is one of the most urgent – and exciting – opportunities of our time.

A Green economy poses ethical, political, intellectual and creative challenges and rewards that may ultimately help us save ourselves and our beloved world.

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