VOICES: Economic interest depend on a healthy planet

Economic interests cannot come at the expense of a livable planet. Indeed, our economic interests depend on a healthy planet. Take a look at the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused an immediate loss of an estimated 10,000 jobs and over $1 billion in revenue lost to the commercial fishing industry. Now, a decade later, the area has still not environmentally or economically recovered.

The corporate rhetoric says, “It will cost jobs if we stop manufacturing (guns, plastics, cigarettes, pesticides)”; and “It will hurt businesses if we (regulate, protect, effect change);” and “We can’t afford to (tackle climate change, clean up the air and water, transition to green jobs).”

The corporate narrative has pronounced that climate action will always negatively affect our economic prosperity. It is, in truth, exactly the opposite.

We cannot have a healthy economy, or a healthy, thriving population, without a healthy planet. We need to reverse this thinking. Rather than perceiving the economy as separate from the health of our planet, all our economic planning needs to include analysis of how that planning will affect our planetary environment.

First, we need to reexamine how we talk about the economy and how we measure economic prosperity.

Economics is not a hard science such as physics or chemistry. It is changing models and theories. We currently measure the wellbeing of our economy by the gross domestic product, which calculates all that is produced, manufactured or generated in a country.

For example, following this formula, the more people who are sick and pay for treatment are measured as part of the GDP. More is better utilizing this model, regardless of what it is, as long as it drives up the GDP. We have inherited and accepted an economic model that pursues untethered growth and calls it prosperity and success. As individuals, we work to accumulate more and more ‘stuff,’ and define that as personal prosperity and success.

Self-proclaimed ‘renegade’ economists, such as Kate Raworth, are entertaining different economic models that are based on regenerative and distributive systems that respect the natural finite limits of the environment and the rights of humans to have their basic needs met; models that are circular rather than linear.

These concepts are not new and were the practice in Hawai‘i and elsewhere prior to colonization and the imperialistic practices of extraction, export and import. They do continue to exist despite the dominant culture narrative in many places, and are receiving attention as we struggle to define a sustainable economic model.

We have an opportunity to fix an economic model that is failing the majority of people on multiple fronts — because the factors that are destroying our planet are also destroying people’s quality of life.

We have an opportunity to invest in a better future for all. We can create new jobs with livable wages, rebuild our infrastructure that will be more resilient to the extreme weather that is becoming more prevalent and is now our future. We can reforest lands that have been stripped. We can regenerate soil that has been degraded to grow more-nutritious food. We can look at new economic indicators that take into account the health and wellbeing of the entire planet and all beings.

Systemic change, paradoxically, requires individual change, since economic structures are a product of our way of thinking, writes Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change.

We act as though we can extract resources boundlessly, use them inefficiently and then discard carelessly, taking more from the planet than it can regenerate and polluting more than we can clean up.

Natural scientists have provided abundant evidence that we have reached several planetary boundaries, beyond which Earth’s bio systems cannot sustain life. The climate crisis requires a total shift in our thinking. We need to understand ourselves to be deeply connected to all of nature if we are to survive and thrive. And in that lies our wealth.


Laurel Brier is part of the Kaua‘i Climate Action Coalition that meets via Zoom the third Monday of the month. Email kauaiclimate@gmail.com to join or for more information. Educational forums related to the climate crisis are held the second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. Jan. 12 will be on the military’s impact on the climate crisis. For more information or to watch live, go to zerowastekauai Facebook page or register for live discussion at https://bit.ly/militaryclimate.

  1. manawai January 9, 2022 2:33 pm Reply

    “We can create new jobs with livable wages”

    I’d be interested to know what jobs “we can create” that pay “livable wages”? Is there a list somewhere?

    The real problem is that too few people take their education seriously so it can prepare them for fill jobs that pay a “living wage”. As it is now, too few of our students, if they graduate at all, choose to study and work at a productive level that makes them worth a living wage especially in a State with one of the highest costs of living in the nation. If you pay people more than they are worth, giving then more value (kala) than they are able to produce (i.e. their productivity) it will only serve to further increase inflation and bring those livable wages back to an unlivable wage level in relation to the costs of living. If you choose not to do the things that make you valuable to an employer, then you’re choosing poverty. Your future is in your ands and not the responsibility of others.

  2. hieronymus January 10, 2022 10:12 am Reply

    I am wondering what the author’s area of expertise is. Is it economics or climate science?
    The thing with intellectuals is that they can offer up ideas outside of their area of expertise but have no consequences when they fail.

    Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell is an excellent read. There are also many videos of him on the subject on youtube but the book is great.

    1. aken January 10, 2022 6:29 pm Reply

      Is your area of expertise “intellectuals”?

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