FROM THE ECONOMY TO THE ENVIRONMENT
June 13, 2019
Sir Joe takes a brief break from economics to let us see how he feels on environmental sustainability. I don’t think anyone can argue with his views
I have been talking about financial sustainability, how we can ensure that we will continue to pay for the Public Sector Services going into the future.
However, there is a deeper and more urgent issue, which is the sustainability of the planet to support life, which is an even more real a challenge than fiscal sustainability which in the final analysis is about balancing the books so that we can pay our way.
I was not able to be here to take part in the debate on the motion “Declaration of Climate Emergency” so I would like to take this opportunity to put my views on record because there is a dimension which is related to what the budget debate is about, that was not reflected in the debate on that other motion.
Having read the Hansard of the debate I have to say that I disagree with the analysis of what needs to be done to avoid the catastrophe towards which humanity is heading.
It is clear to all of us that nothing that we do in Gibraltar can have a perceptible impact on where the global climate is heading to or the continuing degradation of the environment.
However that is no excuse for not doing our share or even not wanting to do more than most since we are committed to the cause of environmental protection.
The point I want to make is that this should also apply to the analysis I am about to make which is not happening elsewhere and which in my view is the true cause of the problem.
When Dr Cortes introduced the motion he stated that the receding ice sheets, glaciers and other Climate changes had been part of the history of our planet but until the last 200 years all these changes had been due to natural process and not to the activity of just one species: ours.
I do not agree with him and I think that this focus is part of the problem that humanity faces.
Our species did not suddenly materialize 200 years ago, it evolved 200,000 years ago.
So what is it that happened 200 years ago?
The First and Second Industrial Revolutions and Adam Smith the father of the theory of the classical school of economics, leading to factory production, international trade, and even the GDP as a measure of a nation’s health when previously it was based on Gold and Silver reserves. This was not the doing of the species, but of a small section of the species, Western Civilization.
The process that this started has led us to where we are now, with a globalized economy and mass production on a level never imagined before.
The problem is not CO2 but what I call C.C.D.
Compulsive Consumption Disorder, the Western world's lifestyle and values, that define what we call the standard of living and what the rest of mankind aspires to achieve.
Globalisation is turning this Disorder into a world epidemic, it’s killing some of us in the West, and it's killing the rest of the planet in the process.
I agree with the approach suggested by the Honourable Mr Feetham on changing our lifestyles by eating less meat for example and what my colleague Minister Balban suggested, that we should make less use of cars and more use of buses.
Although I do neither, as a general rule I walk, have never owned a car and not knowing how to drive.
But these individual changes in lifestyle are not going to be sufficient in making an impact even if everybody in the West adopted them.
Something much more radical is required and it is not going to happen.
As the Chief Minister pointed out we have to be proportionate.
There is a balance to be done.
This is what all Governments that are committed to doing something are prepared to do.
A balanced approach.
Unfortunately a balanced approach is not universal, there are those who do not want to do even that, and in any event in my view a balanced approach will not save us, it's too late for that already. Whichever way we look we see what is happening.
There are the developing countries as the Chief Minister mentioned and these are wanting to catch up with us, live like us and pollute like us.
And then there are those in the advanced economies who don't care and are not prepared to do anything.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for example told Members of the Arctic Council in May:
"The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore."
So much for stopping global warming so that the poles do not melt.Forget the melting ice caps, just look at the opportunity for making more money.
More money for whom? Those who already have most?
The United Nations has as one of its targets eliminating poverty in respect of 700 million people who live on £1 or less a day.
The least polluting countries are in the developing world. And in those countries the least polluting people are indigenous tribal people retaining their traditional culture who continue to be exterminated so that more virgin land releases its resources to feed the consumerism of the West, makes multinationals richer and the environmental damage greater.
This is the cause of a problem. The CO2 causes global warming and the consumption led model of the West causes the CO2.
The West tries to reduce its’ CO2 emissions so as not to have to give up its consumption led economic model.
It’s understandable if the musical chairs of the global economy stopped we would not know how to handle it.
India Mr Speaker produced 6% of carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion in 2015 and the US 15%. In 2015 India had a population of 1.309 billion and the US 321 million. China who was more industrialized than India with a population of 1.371 million in that year was the source of 28% are the people in India not entitled to live like those of the United States? Does anyone really believe that is possible for the rest of the Planet’s population to enjoy the income, lifestyle and consumption levels of the Western advanced economies? I do not believe that it is possible without making the environmental problems we have now, 100 times worse.
The real challenge in delivering environmental sustainability is that it has to be an integral part of economic sustainability.
The magnitude of the problem lies in that the whole drive for economic growth is in order to increase wealth by increasing human use of natural resources.
There is no acceptance of the fact that the capacity of the planet is finite.
The Hon Mr Feetham was the first one to raise the issue of the culture of entitlement in Gibraltar.
It is not limited to Gibraltar, and it is insatiable, so I honestly think that this is a fundamental philosophical issue which transcends politics.
My job is to make our economy grow and just like going green in Gibraltar will not affect the greenness of the rest of the planet, so growing faster will not dramatically damage the prospects of survival for the planet. We are too small to count.
But we're not too small to set out to be an example to others, even if few will follow.
In my view the only hope for mankind lies in the dramatic breakthrough in technology, in particular in harnessing fusion energy.
But as long as a Western economic model of compulsive consumption continues to spread it is difficult to see a solution happening anytime soon.
I will give an example of a dilemma that the Western society model faces when consumption is reduced.
Two weeks ago the figures for retail sales in UK for the month of May were published.
They showed a drop of 3% from May 2018 and the worst figures for sales since the British Retail Consortium began compiling this data in 1995. Nor was it a question of a shift to online sales which is affecting the retail trade everywhere. Online sales were up 1.5% in May but this compared badly with May 2018 when the increase was 11.5%.
Should we be worried by these results or celebrating?
It depends, given that the Western economic system is driven by ever increasing consumption, a slowdown of sales or even worse a drop-in sales indicates a possible recession, lower consumer spending, more unemployment and less profits.
It also means less production which means less pollution, less plastic, less use of raw materials and natural resources. This is the real dilemma that faces the Western world with its conflict of mutually incompatible values and objectives.
This is where the connection between a sustainable economy and sustainable environment comes in.