Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is the way out of recession through a new economic perspective?

In a recent article on Yale Environment 360 author Richard Conniff suggests that Congress adopt a set of criteria that would assess how "green" proposed projects actually are. Arguably the reason we are in this recession is partially because our government has not been accountable for how its spending taxpayer money to begin with. Conniff specifically points out that our current transportation formula is based on the 1980's package established under Reagan. A formulation that calls for 80/20 highway/transit allocation of spending. The way out of oil-addiction should not be be based on a spending plan that's almost three decades old.

The only issue that I have with this idea, is that it assumes that our proper economic system is capable of determining the proper valuation of what is "green" and what is not. The idea that we need a way to adapt our economic system to properly account for the environmental functions is not a new one. While I was in college I took a course on Ecological Economics. The concept challenges the way we value resources by taking into perspective the environmental costs that go in to their production. The contrast with the classical economic system we use today is that resources are valued based on the premise that we have enough for sustained growth; where ecological economics values resources based on sustainable growth via the three pillars of sustainable growth.

My argument is this, while creating some kind of "green" score would be a good approach to making sure that we spend our money in a more environmentally friendly way, why not take it to the next level. Why not abandon the classical model of economics and adopt one that looks at the real natural costs of what it takes to run our society? If we are truly trying to end our addiction on oil we need to also end our addiction to an economic system that skews the way we value environmental functions. If we are going to attempt to curb the reach of global warming we need to big changes. Scores are good but only if they can reflect the true value of what impact those programs will have on our natural capital.

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