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Green Capital

Green Capital, October 2015
by Christian De Perthuis, Pierre-André Jouvet

Columbia University Press
288 pages
ISBN: 0231171404
EAN: 9780231171403
Kindle: B015M9TZW2
Hardcover / e-Book
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"Economics and environment go hand in hand"

Fresh Fiction Review

Green Capital
Christian De Perthuis, Pierre-André Jouvet

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted February 2, 2016

Non-Fiction Political | Non-Fiction Philosphy | Non-Fiction

The concept that the natural world provides free services for economic growth is coming to the fore now in many studies. Bees pollinating crops is an obvious example. Another is the fresh water which irrigates crops and waters meadow grasses and livestock. Healthy soil is another concept neglected by many farmers in the headlong rush to grow more crops year after year. GREEN CAPITAL: A New Perspective on Growth looks at the value nature provides to us and whether economic depression worldwide has made businesses forget this value.

Christian De Perthuis has previously tackled the topic with books about economic choices in a warming world, and the European carbon emissions trading scheme. Michael Westlake has translated his books, himself an author and having studied at the London School of Economics. Along with Pierre-Andre Jouvet they have here produced a detailed and thoughtful examination of the economic and environmental situation in different areas around the world. The period following WW2 saw a spectacular rise in economic growth, but they concentrate mainly on the time since 1973's oil shocks, which saw a geographical redistribution of growth and emerging economies like Brazil, India and China. They also tell us that since 2001 sub-Saharan Africa has started to rise in economic terms - however I will add the shores of Europe are now crowded with millions of African and Asian migrants.

Economists, philosophers and analysts are among those quoted as the authors query the limits to the size of the human population on 'Spaceship Earth' and set quantity against quality of life. For all we see starvation on our televisions, it must be remembered that at no other point in history has the world's population been so large and so well fed; not only that, but we have televisions. The demographics show that in the most advanced and educated countries the family size shrinks, and as women gradually achieve free choices about family size and healthcare in less developed countries the pattern spreads. Thus increased life expectancy is balanced by falling birth rates. We are still on course for ten billion people drawing on Earth's resources; how to see that the resources are shared equally?

Proponents of 'degrowth' point out that gains in environmental efficiency are eaten up by growth; as in a city sprawling once inhabitants get cars and public transport, only to spend hours commuting and burning fuel each day. World hunger is not a problem of lack of food production but of poverty, transportation and storage. Many people eat food that has been imported from poorer countries. The authors propose clear, unbiased food labelling to show the distance food has travelled and what has been input, with all environmental and health hazards caused by production or transport (rainforest felling, river damming, air miles, pesticide and chlorine use) described. Why are foods high in fat cheaper in supermarkets than healthier choices?

In terms of environmental issues, we see air and water quality has generally improved in developed countries and disimproved in developing ones. Water stress has increased sharply in developing lands and even where poor people have access to drinking water, the treatment and disposal of waste water lags far behind. Northern countries are replanting forests while tropical countries are felling theirs - this contributes to fouled water and landslides. Biodiversity worldwide is dropping sharply as the spread of human activity impacts on other species. Warming climates encourage the spread of diseases and insects and dry out wetlands that protect shorelines, while ocean stocks are being rapidly depleted.

I am pleased a broad spectrum of views and accepted economic theories are quoted, including the OECD, the United Nations Human Development Programme, WWF, the World Bank, newspaper commentators and Nobel Prize winners. To me, GREEN CAPITAL seems aimed at those working with or studying economics and international business, environmental workers and policymakers; equally, journalists and nature enthusiasts or those looking for investment tips would be interested. The authors have gathered the best of past and current thinking to make their points and suggest options we could pursue. If nature is worth nothing and owned by nobody, like the ocean, everyone will exploit it to death. Parcelling out fishing rights means the new owners want to protect 'their patch' from over fishing and pollution. I thought some graphs and photos would improve the digestibility of the book and make some of the points clearer. According to the WWF, the rate of consumption or destruction of natural resources, compared to the rate at which the planet can replenish them, is such that we are currently consuming about 1.6 planets. What will be left for the next generation?

Learn more about Green Capital

SUMMARY

Challenging the certainty that ecological preservation is incompatible with economic growth, Green Capital shifts the focus from the scarcity of raw materials to the deterioration of the great natural regulatory functions (such as the climate system, the water cycle, and biodiversity). While we can find substitutes for scarce natural resources, we cannot replace a natural regulatory system, which is incredibly complex. It is then essential to introduce a new price into the economy that measures the costs of damage to these regulatory functions. This shift in perspective justifies such innovations as the carbon tax, which addresses not the scarcity of carbon but the inability of the atmosphere to absorb large amounts of carbon without upsetting the climate system. Brokering a sustainable peace between ecology and the economy, Green Capital describes a range of valuation schemes and their contribution to the goals of green capitalism, proposing a new, practical approach to natural resources that benefits both businesses and the environment.


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