For the avoidance of any doubt, I voted remain, and I am strongly opposed to a no deal Brexit. However, as an environmentalist, I am beginning to think that there may yet be something positive to come from all this. I realise I may be clutching at straws, but bear with me…..
In 2006, the economist Nicholas Stern argued that tackling the climate crisis would require an annual investment equivalent to 1% of global GDP, with the overall costs increasing for every further year of delay. In doing so, he deliberately framed the climate debate firmly in the language of business and economists, in the hope that the prospects of improved returns on investment would galvanise decision-makers into action.
As we all now know, the scale of the problem has increased markedly since then, rather than reducing. Medium term gains never seem to win out over short-term ones, and the investment proposal made to the world by Nick Stern was not adopted to any meaningful extent. At the same time, the chorus of voices highlighting the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of success has grown louder, from Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth” and David Pilling’s “The Growth Delusion” to David Cameron’s attempts to introduce a new measure of national wellbeing.
In the long-run of course, there is no choice to be made between economy and ecology. Every aspect of industry, society and human endeavour is in effect a wholly-owned subsidiary of the biosphere; without the benefit of life-giving ecosystems around us, we would not even have oxygen in our lungs, let alone another point or two of GDP. Yet despite the tireless efforts of certain groups and individuals, the hegemony of short-term economic gain as measured by GDP has remained dominant. Whatever the issue or debate in public life, short-term economic growth has always won out in the end over every other consideration. Elections around the western world have tended to be won by those who best understood the eternal truth that “it’s the economy, stupid.”
Could this be about to change?
While I’m not going to add to the predictions of how a no-deal Brexit would pan out (if indeed it happens at all), there seems little serious room for doubt now that it would come at a cost to short-term economic growth and prosperity. And yet the current Government clearly believes that a self-inflicted dip in GDP is a price worth paying, and an outcome that a sufficient proportion of the population will support.
So here’s my silver lining; if we have to leave with no deal, at least we will have demonstrated to ourselves, whether willingly or not, that sometimes the economy’s immediate prospects have to come second to longer-term considerations. Fortress GDP will have been breached by a bigger argument. If we are going to do that in the name of Brexit, might we then be better able to do the same thing again for the much more fundamental goal of transitioning to a low-carbon, one-planet future?
Blog by Stephen Farrant