The need to move to a qualitatively-improving steady-state economy to resolve the climate change dilemma

Philip Lawn

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    The climate change issue is a policy concern that falls within the broader issue of sustainable development. Sustainable development means different things to different people. Green economists argue that sustainable development involves the adequate provisioning for people everywhere, of other species, and of the planet and its constituent systems. Essentially concurring with this view, ecological economists believe that achieving sustainable development requires the resolution of three major policy goals: (a) sustainable scale (ensuring the scale of the human economy relative to the supporting ecosphere is ecologically sustainable); (b) distributional equity (ensuring the distribution of income and wealth is equitable both within and across nations); and (c) allocative efficiency (ensuring the resources entering an economic system are allocated to their best possible use). Human-induced climate change is primarily the result of a failure to resolve policy goal (a). That is, in a world where economic activity is largely driven by the use of hydrocarbon (fossil) fuels, climate change is a consequence of the rate of resource throughput exceeding the waste assimilative capacity of the global ecosphere. Should the global economy continue to grow at its current rate, it is unlikely that renewable energy will be available in the quantities needed to reduce climate change-inducing emissions. For this and other reasons, the world's high-income countries must immediately make the transition to a steady-state economy - in effect, a non-growing but qualitatively-improving economy maintained by a declining rate of resource throughput. The movement by high-income countries to a steady-state economy would not only reverse the recent decline in their own well-being, it would provide low-income countries with the room required to enjoy a spurt of welfare-increasing growth before they, too, must make the transition to a qualitatively-improving steady-state economy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)393-428
    Number of pages36
    JournalInternational Journal of Green Economics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


    • Climate change
    • Steady-state economy
    • Sustainable development
    • Sustainable versus growth-as-usual scenarios


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