Wolfgang Sachs on sustainable development vs economic growth

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 is a former professor, former chairman of Greenpeace Germany, author of several books and contributor to the IPCC.

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.â€

“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.â€

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.â€

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

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.â€

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.â€

Green investments

(33-37 minutes)

“Investments today shape the economy of tomorrow.â€

“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.â€

Sufficiency and the commons

(37-51 minutes)

“Cars are built for intermediate performance levels.â€

Effort is wasted in designing for top speed etc.

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

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.â€


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Benno Hansen
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Guest choppingdownthecherrytree

Posted · Report

Most of the issue here revolves around Human Growth ... too many people require too much land and resources. If the Greens really want to save the planet we need to reduce the number of people on it, then we can still maintain our current lifestyle.

Nobody wants to talk about this nor address it.

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Guest choppingdownthecherrytree

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This guy obviously has no clue how the economy nor technology works. He mistakenly assums technology is fixed and that devolving is the only way to fix the environment, if the environment even has any problems.

“The more unequal a society is the less happy people are.†... this quote really applies to Communism and Dictatorships which I'll assume Sachs admires ... not market based systems where individual liberty rule the day.

This guy is a waste, very narrow minded and unable to see beyond his own self imposed blinders.

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Guest Simon Leufstedt

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Ive been reading a lot about sustainable development and green economic growth recently and I must say this lecture is really, really interesting. Thanks for posting it Benno!

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Guest choppingdownthecherrytree

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Depends upon how one defines 'Rich' .. I'm guessing ignorant people like you would claim all non-3rd world people are 'Rich'. To claim overpopulation is not the problem, or could not solve the problem denies a mathematical simplicity. If a problem exists.

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Guest choppingdownthecherrytree

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Call me names, call me a Troll or whatever I don't really care. Sachs cannot see beyond his narrowly defined doctrine, in my humble view. I'm sure he's very smart, very sharp, but his thinking is bigoted ... another academic chopping down the cherry tree ..

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Guest Simon Leufstedt

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I am not saying we should "devolve". All I am saying is that we need to radically consume much less resources in the North.

Around 19% of the worlds total population lives in developed countries. These developed countries has 85% of the worlds total wealth and consume 88% of natures resources. The developed world also generates 75% the worlds environmental pollutions and waste. The developing nations on the other hand account for 81% of the worlds population. They have 15% of the worlds total wealth, they consume 12% of the worlds resources and they generate 25% of the worlds waste.

So I am sorry but I don't understand how you can claim that rising population levels is a major problem? Especially when it has been proven that the population levels are not rising and will actually level off during the coming decades.

Like I've mentioned before: Overpopulation is not the problem - overconsumption by the rich few is. In simpler terms: Consumption is the problem!

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Guest Killer_Scene

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You're saying that advocating more equality in a society indicates a wish for Communism or a dictatorship. That is very, very narrow.

You also state that in a market based system "anyone can win". In a simplified version of capitalist ethos, yes indeed they can. Although here I think you also ignore the quite strong forces of social structure, nature and culture, which exist semi-independantly of each other - and are there when the individual is born. These provide conditions in which the individual exists, makes decisions and acts, whether in a liberal capitalist democracy or elsewhere.

Saying that the market somehow balances these forces and provides a level playing field in which anyone can 'win the day', and even large scale problems in nature can be dealt with by the individual, is really not enough.

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Guest choppingdownthecherrytree

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Not enough? Your view of 'equality' is oversimplified and denies the various people who MUST be discriminated against to achieve equal outcomes. The Market generally sorts things out, whereas in Socialism some 'dictator' or unaccountable person would be your decider. Seriously naive.

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You have not made any new points, and I think you hold some idea that equality means everyone having the same level material wealth, which is simply impossible and indeed undesirable. But you still imagine societies have a choice between a dictatorship or a free market, and nothing else. Many functioning economies and countries bled socialism and capitalism successfully. It is your view of The Market which is seriously naive.

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