It has always been the story that the environmentalists are the crazy ones, the ones who would protect owls rather than create jobs, move back into caves rather than out into space (or the gadgetry of cyberspace, at least). The future, if one listened to “them,” would be green, perhaps, but also pretty archaic. Or so the spin went.
With business as usual, on the other hand, there would be ever more affluence, ever better lives with ever more stuff and ever more fun.
Even when that was still believed, the growth of “the economy” was not really delivering the jobs it promised to create (except if taking the global view: jobs, yes, but somewhere else), and it was filling up lives only with longer working hours and retail therapy for those who kept up.
Now, grappling for any kind of promise in these crisis times, an interesting narrative has emerged: Sacrifice is fast becoming the necessity asked of all of us, not for conservation and sustainability, but for the very growth that promised to deliver everything, and now, without any need to give anything up.
Go with the liberals who’d want to shore up government services to help every citizen be cared for somewhat, and government expenditures would continue to rise even as current debt levels are untenable. The money would have to come from rising taxes… you’d pay.
Go with the conservatives who’d want to cut government services and pump still more money into “the economy” (where it’s been disappearing in yet more financial gambles), and though it may mean lower taxes, it would certainly mean that you’d have to pay more for the services not provided for you anymore.
Keynesian anti-cyclical spending pumping money into the economy now, in crisis, to kickstart growth? It raises debt levels yet further, so: Hello taxes, good-bye services, welcome higher expenses. Not to mention that it borrows from the future in similar ways to those which led to the current problems.
Following Hayek, letting the market stumble and fall – and rise again from the ashes? A recipe for trouble (at least at first, but still untenable even if there were a promise of a better future).
Going for austerity measures to give the markets some confidence in governments’ continuing ability to pay back their debts? Cut government services, missing investments, higher expenses.
And all those problems come even without taking into account that the still-rising worldwide populations and increasing levels of consumption would be making everything more expensive even if we were not running up against resource and ecological limits (which we probably are).
As long as you don’t get caught up in the “growth is good”-mentality trying to cover up that economic growth (even before the crisis) had not been delivering on its promise of happiness (except for those who had been destitute before and were then “developing” economically), the need for sacrifice and belt-tightening for you and yours (but not the über-rich ones, interestingly) is the only promise to be found, no matter where you look.
Or actually, not everywhere.
The trade-off is not between ecological protection or environmental conservation and economic growth anymore, it is the contradiction between economic growth-as-before and business-as-usual, and the quality of life now and in the future.
Better ways are possible, and are being created, though. In the cracks and on the fringes, hiding just outside of the spotlight.
Consider Juliet Schor and the visualizing of the plenitude economy…
… and look towards the things happening when people grow their own food, for security and as new businesses, create social enterprises, local economies, and their personal (global) niches, to the point of putting entire communities on a path to transition…