What would have to happen for this generation to live within its environmental means and to bequeath to the next generation a set of assets at least as good as it inherited?
What would the sustainable economy look like? How do we stop climate change and biodiversity loss?
Consumption would have to be on a sustainable growth path, having first ensured the proper capital maintenance of the infrastructures and the natural capitals. Polluters would have to pay, with prices reflecting the full costs of the pollution causes to make the stuff for us the ultimate polluters. Economic growth, driven by technological progress and ideas would continue, once the economy was put back to the sustainable level of consumption.
This would be very different from what happens now. The focus would not be on Keynesian boosts to aggregate demand, borrowing for current consumption, and quantitative easing. Living within our - and hence the environment's means - would mean radical shifts in our life styles, changes to national accounting and to the frameworks of economic policy.
Getting to the sustainable economy would be politically very difficult, but not doing so risks lots for climate change and further considerable destruction of biodiversity. Continuing on our current path is unsustainable: hence it will not be sustained.
Professor Sir Dieter Helm
Professor of Economic Policy
Sir Dieter Helm is Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Economics at New College, Oxford. From 2012 to 2020, he was Independent Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, providing advice to the government on the sustainable use of natural capital. In the New Year 2021 Honours List, Dieter was awarded a knighthood for services to the environment, energy and utilities policy.
He has written many books, most recently Net Zero (paperback edition, September 2021, William Collins), in which he addresses the action we all need to take to tackle the climate emergency. He is currently writing a new book on The Sustainable Economy.
His other books include: Green & Prosperous Land (2019, William Collins), Burn Out: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels (2017), The Carbon Crunch: Revised and Updated (2015) and Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet (2016), all published by Yale University Press.