A Green Alternative to Austerity?

OXFORD – While austerity in Europe faces increasing social resistance, in principle it has the merit of simplicity. As the debate on fiscal consolidation versus growth intensifies, it is clear that there is little agreement on how to kick-start the economy, beyond fielding broad stimulus packages.

One idea is that environmental technology might feed a virtuous cycle of innovation and employment. To some, green growth evokes a countryside covered with windmills and urban roofs lined with solar panels. But it is broader than that. For example, when Airbus moved from injection molding to 3D printing to produce the metal hinges for its airplanes’ doors, it reduced their weight by half, yielding phenomenal savings in material and associated fuel consumption over a lifetime of flying those hinges around the world.

Still, it is easier to find exciting anecdotes than it is to show how they scale up to revitalizing an entire economy. Moreover, there is a great diversity of narratives on the green economy – and their proliferation is likely to grow.

This June, thousands of activists, policymakers, and business people will converge on Rio de Janeiro for the third giant United Nations Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20), whose theme is the green economy. The conference will unleash new arguments about green jobs, growth, cost increases, cost reductions, changes in values, consumer choice – green this and green that.