Haydn Washington

A ‘new’ economy, Haydn Washington, environmental scientist

Well – all societies have an ‘economy’, and it used to be that we lived in a society that the economy served. Now we live in an ‘economy’ that has become a God, before which we sacrifice a sustainable world and any claim to equity or morality. My new economy is actually similar to an old one, one that accepts limits and operates within them. Indigenous economies learned to do this.

So, given we live on a finite planet, my new economy means it is a steady state economy based on:

1) an ecologically sustainable population;
2) low resource use; and
3) greater equality of income.

These are the 3 key principles of the steady state economy (developed by Herman Daly), and while other suggested new economies (e.g. green, circular, sharing) operate in regard to point 2 (and sometimes point 3) they almost always ignore point 1. So many in the sustainability field speak of the need for ‘smaller footprints’ but few of the need for less feet! Another aspect is a new economy has to operate from a totally different worldview and ethics. We need to jettison modernism, anthropocentrism, utilitarianism, consumerism and resourcism. Instead we need to widen our ethics so that our community includes all of nature (the Land Ethic of Leopold) and hence is ecocentric, and see the rest of life as our relatives rather than our resources. If we change our worldview and ethics then we would not be able to operate our current neoclassical economy as we currently do. We need ‘ecocentric spectacles’ now to view the world, that accept the intrinsic value of nature. Finally, the new economy needs to be based on reality, not denial. Environmental science shows our current economy has failed and is leading to disaster. If we abandon denial and accept reality we can then move to positive solutions.

So why is a new economy important for Australia? First, contrary to the myth the media and governments promote, Australia is NOT the lucky country. Not for the last 200 years. We are the driest and most nutrient-poor continent in the world. We have cleared half our native vegetation, and brought in many exotic species, causing the worst cascade of mammal extinction world-wide of recent times. We have lost much of our topsoil and created massive salinity. Second, we are not the ‘empty continent’, as we are almost certainly above our ecologically sustainable population. If we don’t move to a steady state economy, then we will lose far more of our unique biodiversity, and close off many options for future Australians. Third, we cannot be Quarry Australia, ravishing our heritage to flog off whatever we can. Resources are finite, any long-term vision means conserving them. Australia is actually a high risk country, climate change will damage us badly, as will further population and further extinction and soil loss.

So the 2 top issues of a new economy for me are population and resource use. As an ecocentric, we have to think of all life. That means stabilizing population and then reducing it to (say) a sustainable 15 million. That also means tackling consumerism, kicking the fossil fuel habit, and ceasing to think of ourselves as a mine. Tied in with both of these is learning to ‘think like a mountain’, of changing our worldview and ethics. Without a new ethics we won’t get a new economy. Let’s think of Australia as our home, where the community of ‘us’ includes all of life.

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