26. 06. 2007

The Ashden Awards

For me, last week’s absolute highlight was the Ashden Awards event for Sustainable Energy – now in its sixth year. I may be biased (well, I am biased, as I’m a Trustee of the Awards!), but it’s hard to beat an evening where all one has to cope with is a succession of inspiring stories from “energy entrepreneurs” of every description from China, Peru, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Ghana, Tanzania, Laos, the Philippines and, of course, the UK.

To take one of these stories - Sunlabob Royal Energies Ltd in Laos. Most of the rural poor are not connected to the grid, and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future either. Firewood and kerosene are the fuels of choice – or of necessity at least. Sunlabob have come up with this amazing scheme to rent out home-voltaic systems to Village Energy Committees (as well as portable solar lamps for individuals) - at less than the equivalent price for kerosene. The scheme involves just 73 villages at the moment. But every village could and should be benefiting from this, and it’s hoped that Sunlabob may well be able to provide answers to much of that need.

Imagine eighteen stories similar to that one, and you get a feel for the evening. Al Gore graciously did the honours – including a miraculously short speech – and for the sixth year in a row every single person went off home asking themselves why all these wondrous renewable technologies aren’t serving the needs of billions of people rather than just tiny minorities.

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09. 07. 2007
Calvin Jones

Hi Jonathon,

I have bee reading 'Capitalism as if the world matters'. I agree with most of the arguments made in the book, only one point has me a bit confused.

You mention that a no-growth economy is widely considered to be problematic in a capitalist society. I`m prepared to believe this, i dont think we could persuade politicians otherwise anyway, but i dont understand WHY this is the case?

I just see no reason why a society in which a a given population of people exist, and have all the technology and the skill to provide for themselves need to keep providing more for themselves?

I`d appreciate a response, and possibly a suggestion of a book to read on this topic. Thanks.

18. 07. 2007
Jonathon Porritt

(Response to Calvin Jones re Economic Growth and Capitalism)

Thanks very much for your posting. The issue about the role of growth in a capitalist economy is a really interesting but extremely vexatious one. There are basically two sets of reasons why “no growth” and capitalism are deemed to be mutually exclusive.

The first is political, as in political success is invariably seen to depend utterly on promising and then delivering increases in GDP, as a proxy for anything else that society might want to achieve.

The second is economic, and is based on concerns that zero growth (or even very low growth) would automatically reduce levels of consumption, which in turn would have a big impact both on unemployment and on public expenditure.
Lower growth = less consumption = lower tax receipts = reduced public expenditure on public services (such as health and education) and on infrastructure.

This is a tough one to deal with, and the Sustainable Development Commission is about to start out on a new enquiry to look into some of the potential macro-economic effects of pressing for lower growth. You could check out our earlier report on our website – under the title of “Redefining Prosperity”.

As to other books, you might find it interesting to get hold of “Affluenza” by Oliver James – not so much about the macro-economics as about the hold that unsustainable consumption has over us. Indeed, he likens current consumerism to a virus that is completely out of control!

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