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The good and the bad transition

Why the ecology crisis poses a threat to business as usual

There is little sign that those gathering in Davos appreciate that current unsustainablity means that things have to change

The conventional view of the world is that there is a choice to be made between the risk of systemic change and the relative safety of sticking with what we have now. However if we take the idea of sustainability seriously, we can see it is not like that. Current unsustainability means that the situation we are in cannot be continued, and will change. The choice is therefore not between what we have and making a risky transition to something different. The choice is between two different forms of transition.

However there is also a basic economic shift taking place at the moment which is as pervasive as the worldwide changes in climate and ecosystems. This phenomenon is structural inflation caused by unsustainable economics. Prices are, above all, a response to supply and demand. If demand is rising – and demand is rising fast across the world now for fuel, food, metals, and many other commodities – and supply is relatively fixed, prices will go up.

This is exactly what is happening, returning to the circumstances which preceded the financial crisis in 2008: "Global food prices have reached a nominal all-time high, surpassing the peak seen in 2007-08 – when bread riots rocked poor countries." (Financial Times, 11 January 2011) "The price of steel has risen more than a third in two months" (FT, 17 January 2011). "Copper prices rose 33% in 2010". (Wall Street Journal Europe, 4 January 2011). "Morgan Stanley analysts predicted recently that crude oil would go 'above $100 per barrel' in 2011." (WSJE 4 January 2011)

As the world economy moves closer and closer to the limits of its resources, we get nearer to the points where various commodities are fixed in supply, or are increasingly risky to supply (as with oil extraction in places like the Gulf of Mexico), or where their output can only be expanded by limiting the production of other commodities. Climate change and ecosystem deterioration then restrict supply still further.
A no-growth economy does not depend on radical green campaigners persuading people that growth is undesirable, nor on the overturning of current values and priorities which that would require. It can be the simple outcome of unintended stagflation. A no-growth economy may be closer than we think.

Victor Anderson is 'One Planet Economy' leader at WWF

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