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Open Translation
CORVALLIS, OR: US journalist and author Robert S. Devine has been writing about the intersection of economics and the environment for several decades.

In his latest book ‘The Sustainable Economy’ he suggests the growing climate crisis is the result of a market failure – “when people experience a net welfare loss because the marketplace is not optimally allocating goods and services.”

This continued support for a market-based economic system has so distorted the process and value of creating wealth that it has led to societal extremes which, like the production of carbon emissions, is unsustainable.

Or as Devine explains: “For the most part we don’t have environmental problems; we have economic problems.”

His answer is the adoption of ‘Sustainability Economics’ that acknowledges human civilization depends entirely on the environment – a fact consistently ignored by neoclassical economists that argue all markets require is a simple understanding of, and belief in, supply and demand to produce an optimal allocation of resources.

The flaw in this reasoning is now plain to see: 40-50 years of political neoliberalism has manifested in the destructive effects of Trumpism and the British creation of Brexit.

Devine argues that sustainability economics promotes the pursuit of the “Three Es” – social equity, the economy and the environment, all of which are inextricable linked.

Over 30 years ago the UN-sponsored Brundtland Report introduced the concept of sustainable development. Chaired by former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, it explored the causes of environmental degradation, attempted to understand the interconnections between social equity, economic growth and environmental problems, and developed policy solutions that integrated all three areas.

Sustainability became defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

An imperative still more talked about than acted upon.

Instead politicians and corporate leaders have maintained a market-driven economic approach that focuses on individual wealth creation at the expense of environmental sustainability – the bedrock, as Devine sees it, of economic and social equity.

Despite increasingly frequent warnings by scientists against what the World Economic Forum described in 2019 as “sleepwalking into catastrophe”, the adoption of a holistic approach to balancing the Three Es appears still largely silo-driven by a combination of civil society, left-leaning politicians and exceptional CEOs.

So with his American audience in mind, Devine makes a clear case for a change in their behaviour based on the revival of ethics, or actions for the benefit of all. This, inevitably, includes the existence of, and cooperation with, adequate government to regulate against the individual extremes of laissez-faire market behaviour.

Or as he points out in the final chapter of his book: don’t rail against your government when it is made up of your fellow citizens. “If we want to end up with an economy that serves us and our values, we’re going to have to put our shoulder into political engagement and make sure we the people apply the most pressure,” he says.

“After all, they wouldn’t be our elected officials if we hadn’t elected them.”

He thinks the results of neoclassical economics and neoliberal politics suggest his country is well overdue to deal with climate change, environmental degradation in general and growing social inequities: “We just have to summon the political will – and that will happen if enough of us assert our public will.”

Perhaps the 81 million Americans who elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is a first step.


‘The Sustainable Economy – The Hidden Costs of Climate Change and the Path to a Prosperous Future’ by Robert S. Devine is published by Anchor Books and available via your local independent bookseller.
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