The ongoing Icelandic Volcano saga poses many questions that are fundamental to the survival of mankind. Like what happens when your local supermarket can no longer fly in box upon box of pre-sliced pineapple chunks?
It also calls into question the very basis of our economic system. Many thousands of airplane journeys have been cancelled over the past five days. Countless numbers of people are stranded in foreign lands far away from home. And many, many less cartons of pineapple chunks have been consumed. In short, the daily routine of modern capitalism has been disrupted. Household passenger-plane companies are being hit with potentially knock-out blows to their profit margins, key workers such as teachers and nurses cannot get to work and the supermarket chains are having to deliver tinned pineapple rings in place of the real thing. But the wheels haven’t fallen off yet. Profits have surely slumped and many holiday-makers have been inconvenienced. But items such as this and this remind us of some of the advantages of economic “regression”.
In late March a diverse group of academics, NGOs and representatives from different US states met to discuss some of these very issues. An article in the World Resources Institute reviewed the meeting and its efforts to replace GDP as a barometer for progress and prosperity.
This article by Christopher Doll in Our world also examines the relationship between economic growth and sustainability. Amongst other things it looks at “Decoupling”, Amartya Sen’s “capability approach” and “Survivalism”. Well worth a read.
There are two issues that always need to be considered when thinking about the growth versus sustainability conundrum: (1) if climate change is, as Gordon Brown asserted prior to the Copenhagen conference, “the greatest challenge that we face as a world” then we must act decisively, but also that (2) those in the industrial/post-industrialised world are accustomed to seeing low-priced/out-of-season perishables in almost every supermarket in the northern hemisphere. Heaven forbid any national government impose restrictions on chunky pineapple pieces or other luxury goods.
It cannot be a question of either or. There must be compromise.