Indicators for continued economic growth world wide are positive BUT
key environmental indicators are negative so change to a Sane Humane
Ecological future is imperative. Is this feasible?
Part 1 of a three part interview with George Ridley
How should a country's economy be organised?
Photo source George Ridley
This is a subject of constant debate all round the world.
James Robertson in his book, "The Sane Alternative", lists five
1. Business as usual
The first possibility he considers is "business as usual". Under this
policy the view is that there are no real problems and there is no
a major change - just polishing in some areas. This will bring no
dramatic change in the methods of handling difficulties and no change
George believes that people in general hold this view because they are
frightened of radical change. They are happier with 'band aid'
which will not work long term. It appeals to the placid, the
good operators, successful trouble shooters, moderate reformers,
are content with their present position and their future prospects
the existing system. It also appeals to defeatists, cynics, and
worldly-wise men who are not prepared to try to change the system.
This view holds that things will break down catastrophically;
there is no alternative to increasing unrest, famine, pollution,
misery, disease, crime, war (possibly nuclear) on a national and
This view is held by calm and thoughtful people who have worked out
possibilities carefully and who see no point in kidding themselves and
others. It also attract pessimists, hell-fire merchants, preachers
doomsters. Often personal experience of failure has left its mark on
thinking about the world.
George believes that there are many who think like that but shut the
thought out of their minds as too horrifying to contemplate, and try
keep busy under the present system.
3. Authoritarian control
Of those who advocate strong government the right wing variety agrees
the risks of disaster are real, but the best way to avert the disaster
to accept an authoritarian system of government taking over in times
crisis. This happened in Rome under Julius Caesar and Augustus, in
under Napoleon, and in Germany under Hitler. Hitler came forward
strong authoritarian policy to solve the social problems in Germany
The British Commonwealth gave Churchill extensive powers during World
and accepted his authoritarian control as what was needed at the time.
After the war he was not the leader whom Britain wanted or needed.
This view appeals to people who think that they have more to lose from
disorder than from dictatorship, and also to those with a domineering
temperament or feeling that they belong to the governing rather than
The left wing view is found among Marxists, Communists as in Russia
Stalin, and among some socialists.
4. The hyper expansionist future
This view holds that we can break out of our present problems by
accelerating the super-industrial drive of Western Society, using
and technology. Those who hold this view believe that such
as space colonisation, nuclear power, computing, and genetic
will enable us to overcome limits.
This view appeals to optimistic, energetic, ambitious, competitive
for whom economic and technical achievement is more significant than
personal and social growth. They are often men.
Depending on space colonisation to improve the situation puts the
far away in the future.
Toxic waste from some nuclear power stations and other sources has
dropped to the bottom of the sea in deep water. There is no proof
this will not cause problems in the thousands of years before it is
The deep oceans have been shown not to be a safe place for depositing
waste. Fish from the deep waters of the Atlantic far from any sites
for depositing waste have been found to contain toxic mercury and
levels well above the level considered satisfactory for human
When toxic chemicals are deposited in land sites they leach into the
and get washed down into the sea and can accumulate in the food
Numerous hazardous sites around New Zealand have to be decontaminated
considerable expense, but the people who have gained from producing
toxins have incurred no cost.
Genetically engineered food
Many people are strongly averse to the use of genetically engineered
for health reasons, but there are other undesirable outcomes which
regards as more serious. The example of Monsanto's development of
genetically engineered soya beans resistant to Roundup points to some
these. A monopoly has been created. The farmers become dependent on
huge multinational for their seed and their spray. Some seed is being
developed which is infertile so farmers cannot use the seed from their
crops, but have to purchase new seed for each sowing.
We know that the evolutionary process depends on variability, on a
population. Now monocultures of plants are being developed. which
destroy diversity, so if changes in the environment occur we will not
another variety which may withstand the changes better than the one on
which we have concentrated.
In New Zealand most of our exotic plantations of are of pine trees.
something comes up in the environment which attacks the pine trees our
whole forestry industry could be gone, whereas if we have a variety of
plantations some will survive.
George sees genetic engineering as an arrogance - like human beings
God and able to manufacture anything. We are able to alter human
by changing genes at the foetal stage and we are almost at the stage
it will be possible to manufacture human beings. This raises
moral questions which need to be sorted out soon.
The hyper-expansionist people believe that genetic engineering is good
because they will develop plants which are resistant to pests and
therefore require no toxic spraying. There is an element of truth in
view which they promote to the environmentalists.
The disadvantages George sees are the loss of biodiversity and the
over of power to those with money and access to the technology, with a
resultant threat to democracy.
We need to investigate the connections of the scientists who make
statements about the health risks, as often they are in the pay of the
companies who will make profits from the developments.
5. The sane, humane, ecological future
This view holds that instead of accelerating we should change
The key to the future is not continuing expansion but balance. It
a shift of emphasis from economic growth to social and psychological
growth. Top priority goes to learning to live supportively and
cooperatively with one another.
This view appeals to optimistic, participative, reflective people who
consider the other four options are unrealistic or unacceptable.
"State of the World 1998" published by Earthscan, London
The World Watch Institute has published a State of the World volume
year since 1994. The Institute looks at what is happening all around
world in major areas such as sustaining the world's forests, species
birds and frogs becoming extinct, loss of biodiversity, loss of
productivity of crop lands, recycling organic wastes, climate change,
arms trade, and private capital going to developing countries.
Politicians in all the major New Zealand political parties - National,
Labour, Act and the Alliance - want to solve our problems by economic
growth. Economies have been growing. Korea was growing at about 8%,
has been growing at 10 - 12%, the US at 3%, and until recently New
The economy continues to expand, but the ecosystem on which it depends
not, which creates an increasingly stressed relationship. Investment,
production and trade are growing, and the four main political parties
New Zealand base their policies on getting more money by increasing
The indicators for continued economic growth world wide are
but the key environmental indicators are negative. Forests are
shrinking, water tables are falling, soils are eroding, wetlands are
disappearing, fisheries are collapsing, pastoral lands are
rivers are running dry, temperatures are rising, coral reefs are
animal and plant species have been disappearing at a much faster rate
the last fifty years. Sometimes the Nile and the Ganges do not reach
In "State of the World 1998" Chapter 1, The Future of Growth, Page 4,
Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute writes:
"The global economy, as now structured, can't expect to expand much
if the ecosystem on which it depends continues to deteriorate at the
Many progressive thinkers believe that "The Market" should serve the
needs of citizens in environmentally sustainable ways.
Government should develop a financial and regulatory framework to
personal and local self-reliance, economic efficiency and enterprise,
social justice and environmental sustainability.
There is a need to reward activities that are socially and
benign, and not the reverse, as at present.
There should be more recognition of the importance of voluntary work
home, in NGOs and community organisations.
Read Part 2 of
the interview with George for his comments on the present
state of New Zealand society.