Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Think of the Economy as a Subsidiary of the Environment


by: Gaëlle Dupont, Le Monde

European Environmental Agency Director Jacqueline McGlade argues, "We must use this time to restructure the economy, to rethink the fundamentals. We don't have to reconstitute the preceding economic model." (Photo: Esben Hardt / Ace & Ace)

Jacqueline McGlade, a British scientist, directs the European Environment Agency (EEA), based in Denmark. The EEA independently studies the state of the environment within the European Union and evaluates the public policies conducted there for the European Commission and Parliament and the Member States. Some 170 experts work for the Agency.

Le Monde: You are publishing a report in the beginning of January 2009 about what's at stake in 2009 with respect to the environment that is intended to be much more accessible to the larger public than your usual output. What is the objective there?

Citizens' influence in 2009 will be crucial. They must be informed of what will happen December in Copenhagen, where the agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gases will be negotiated by all countries. Citizens hear talk about global climate change, but don't have a clear idea of what's at stake. Our objective is to make the stakes more accessible, to restore power to citizens. The stakes are considerable. We are in the process of moving dangerously far from a trajectory of security. Our greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than the most pessimistic scenarios.

Also see below:
Michel Henochsberg | The Economy and Society No Longer Share the Same Values

Do the consequences of climate change still remain abstract in the eyes of the larger public?

Yes. You must be aware that, up until now, we have evolved in a very stable climatic environment. A drop of a half-degree on average was sufficient to send us into the Little Ice Age. Every degree counts. Our objective is to stabilize the rise in temperatures to an additional two degrees [Celsius]. That's an extremely ambitious target, and even with two additional degrees, we will no longer live the same way, including in Europe. Water will no longer be as available. Agriculture will not be able to stay the same. The tourist industry will have to evolve. But the fight against climate change also contains some significant opportunities. For example, the emission reduction measures in Europe will allow us to save some 8.5 billion euros a year in the fight against atmospheric pollutants. The economies for European health services could reach 45 billion euros a year.

Doesn't the fight against climate change risk moving to the back burner at a time when most people's living conditions are threatened by the economic crisis?

We must use this time to restructure the economy, to rethink the fundamentals. We don't have to reconstitute the preceding economic model. The "New Green Deal" Barack Obama talks about, that will lead to the creation of many "green" jobs, will not work if, for example, we settle for replacing cars that run on gas for cars that run on renewable carburants. The economy must be thought of as a 100 percent subsidiary of the environment and the price we attribute to things re-evaluated. If we take into account the true cost of the water and carburants necessary to the manufacture and transport of goods, we will note that moving them around the world - and even within Europe - as we do, is very expensive.

The accord recently concluded by the EU to reduce its CO2 emissions by 20 percent between now and 2020 was greeted as an historic premier, but also criticized by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). What do you think of it?

The politicians effected an extremely audacious step forward. The NGOs may be right to say that the accord is so complicated no one will be able to verify its application. However, it sets such aggressive, such ambitious objectives, that it is already forcing us to think differently. "Business as usual" will not suffice to achieve them. Through the auctioning of quotas, a price will be set on polluting emissions. That's a beginning, but that will not be enough. If they want to reach their targets, countries will have to implement very proactive policies, very fast.

Do you think the international community can come to a satisfactory agreement in Copenhagen?

That will depend on the pressure from global public opinion. Some signs are encouraging, such as, of course, the arrival of the Obama team in the White House and the emergence of new countries or groups of countries that want to take part in the fight against global climate change. One of the big issues in the negotiations will be the question of the financing and operation of the adaptation fund [subscribed to by rich countries, its objective is to finance the actions of countries confronted with the consequences of warming].

We must take care that these funds actually serve to slow down climate change and to help adapt to it. We will be accused of neocolonialism should we wish to control the use this money is put to, but direct access to the funds by developing countries is not a blank check. We must, perhaps, apply the scenario that obtains in the nuclear industry, where the possibility of inspection by all parties exists.


The Economy and Society No Longer Share the Same Values


by: Michel Henochsberg, Les Echos

For a very long time, the economy and its logic were built into the heart of a total "society" with which they maintained difficult and contradictory relations. There was a simple reason for these bad relations: The same "values" were not operating within both realms; that is to say that the embedding in question involved two heterogeneous worlds, the one convertible into cash and its calculations, the other of the spirit, morality and of handed-down codes; the first imposing quantities, the other knowing only qualities.

Today, the economic logic of the value of material wealth, its acquisition and its seizure, pursues its immutable objectives within the heart of a social whole that is teetering - and it's this chaotic context that transforms the scene.

First of all, the second part of the 20th century saw the market model, and the calculations it implies, infusing the social whole to the point that the articulation described above could perfectly well be read in the opposite way: one might wonder whether society had not come under the domination of the economic matrix, where the attitudes and conceptions of life were conceived.

Moreover, one notes the rise in power over the last 30 years of ecological or "natural" ideas. Thus, the beginning of the 21st century is characterized in the West by the ideological priority of rescuing the planet in all its dimensions. That reality is so strong that the whole system of values of Western societies finds itself disrupted, economic and material progress rendered responsible for the environmental errancies that provoke climate change.

Consequently, pure economic logic, often assimilated to the market model (in fact, the market is the institution that encodes and measures the economic field), seems forced to return to its useful and localized position embedded within a plural and complex social whole. In this sense, the 2008 crisis, which reveals the reality of an ineffective market, critiques and shakes up the economic logic's domination of global society, to the extent that this critique is of the excesses to which we have succumbed. As though the 20th century, synonymous with the reign of the economy, seemed to truly conclude with this crisis that is becoming a determining threshold. It opens the way to a taking into account of the environmental imperative, as much on the political as the economic level, as the 27 European Union Member States' adoption of the Climate Plan on December 13 - right in the middle of complete economic confusion - demonstrated.

Consequently, it is precisely the economy's position, its function as well as its social role, that is en route to destruction as an effect of this crisis. The stakes are not minor. The 2008 crisis puts in play the destruction of a rejected organization. And the pure economic logic that people are rediscovering today to be greedy and ever insatiable now finds itself over-determined by the environmental preoccupation with the rescue of the natural environment from the human. The mercantile, uncontrollable and discredited by the fact of financial excesses, falls back under the yoke of society's "superior" values, today environmental, an adjective that has become synonymous with collective morality. A configuration is dying, the one that accorded a preponderant position to the economy, and especially to a certain way of envisaging and practicing it, with its financial deviancies. And, suddenly, a future looms beyond Queen Economy and its insane growth.

Through sustainable development, through the transformation of companies and their calculations, through Western leaders' new political and economic policies, a new articulation between the economic and a society which has changed its guiding values is taking shape. A more responsible, more moral society that will distance itself from the fatal excesses of fund managers and other speculators. A Western society that directly examines the economic calculations responsible for its outrages and for the crisis we are experiencing. This profound mutation necessitates a phase of radical destruction of the patterns that dominated performance. Reinstalling politics and governments at the command posts' economic ideology seemed to refuse to them, rehabilitating a certain ethic, re-establishing the requirement of a "posture," the 2008 crisis signals and seals this profound upheaval.


Michel Henochsberg is an economics professor at Paris-X.

Translations: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.


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