Recession and sustainability

8 August 2008 at 9:04 pm Leave a comment

Courtesy of the Transition Island Blog

Courtesy of the Transition Island Blog

Andrew Curry writes:

We’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about the impact of recession on consumer behaviour, and I was asked by Radio 4’s Beyond Westminster to join a panel discussion about this, which is broadcast tomorrow (Saturday 9th – if you missed it, you can hear it on the website for another week).

The other panellists were Chris Leslie, of the New Local Government Network (and a former Labour MP), and Jeremy Leggett, who runs one of Britain’s largest solar energy companies, solarcentury, and also wrote a fine book, Half Gone, about the end of the oil economy.

It’s difficult to summarise the flavour of a fifteen minute discussion in a few lines, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the programme, but some themes seemed to emerge:

  • The upwards shift in oil and energy prices is a step change not a blip (a Dutch energy consultancy recently estimated that the floor price for oil had reached $110/barrel).
  • In the short term this is reducing car use, but hurting the poorest hardest, mostly through the cost of their domestic energy bills (the poorest tend not to own cars).
  • In the longer term, however, the government has to make a choice between orchestrating a full-scale shift to renewable energy sources, or trying to muddle through with conventional energy (Leggett is a member of the group which wrote the recently published The Green New Deal, which linked energy innovation, climate change response, and financial reform).
  • Shifting to renewables will take investment, which probably isn’t going to come from taxation but could – without going into the economic theory here – come from market incentives and from encouraging people to save more, which would be good for the long-term stability of the economy.

Some of the evidence suggests that people are ahead of the politicians here. But it will still take some political courage to act on this – a quality which seems sadly lacking from British politics at the moment.

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Entry filed under: consumers, economics, politics, sustainability.

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