Economic Growth, Climate Change and Environmental Limits

From the collection Trade


Debate about the relationship between environmental limits and economic growth has been taking place for several decades. These arguments have re-emerged with greater intensity following advances in the understanding of the economics of climate change, increases in resource and oil prices and the re-emergence of the discussion about peak oil. These issues are addressed here by Cameron Hepburn, He is Professor of environmental economics at the University of Oxford, based at the Smith School and the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School, and is also Professorial Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics and a Fellow of New College, Oxford.

According to Professor Hepburn, the economic pessimism created by the great recession of 2008-2012 has put the spotlight back on the prospects for economic growth and invariably, the impact on the impact and climate change. But does the pursuit of growth necessitate a trade-off with the environment. In the interview ,Hepburn offers a conceptual and synthetic analysis of the relationship between economic growth and environmental limits, including those imposed by climate change. It explores two related questions. Will environmental limits, including limits on the climate system, slow or even halt economic growth? If not, how will the nature of economic growth have to alter?

To be clear, Cameron Hepburn does not envisage a ‘zero growth’ world as being necessary for us to live within environmental limits, nor does he see economic growth as a problem. Rather, he maintains that stopping economic growth (which is measured in terms of value) is neither necessary nor desirable. Indeed, as far as meeting environmental challenges is concerned, it would be counterproductive; recessions have slowed and in some cases derailed efforts to adopt cleaner modes of production. Rather, large leaps in clean technology, triggering a structural shift in the way we produce and consume energy, are required. This is a ‘green growth’ rather than a ‘no growth’ world. The continuation of growth in value to humans is consistent with us living within the material constraints imposed by a finite (if very large) planet, provided that we continue to expand the “intellectual economy” through innovation, technology development, an increased focus on services and, more fundamentally, the art of living, all of which he discusses in the interview below.

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