A Whole Earth Approach to Economic Growth

Happy Earth Day!

Actually, I suspect this isn’t such a happy day in some quarters. It is taken as a given by some businessmen, politicians and pundits that environmental concerns exist in a zero-sum relationship with economic growth. Their thinking appears to be that anything that will be good for the environment will be bad for business.

But that is not necessarily so. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently had a column about the novel approach Costa Rica has taken in balancing economic and environmental concerns. He notes:

More than any nation I’ve ever visited, Costa Rica is insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together. It has created a holistic strategy to think about growth, one that demands that everything gets counted. So if a chemical factory sells tons of fertilizer but pollutes a river — or a farm sells bananas but destroys a carbon-absorbing and species-preserving forest — this is not honest growth. You have to pay for using nature. It is called “payment for environmental services” — nobody gets to treat climate, water, coral, fish and forests as free anymore.

Friedman observes that much of Costa Rica’s economy is based on tourism and agriculture, so preserving its environment is integral to its economic health. So in the 90s they addressed this issue organizationally:

“In Costa Rica, the minister of environment sets the policy for energy, mines, water and natural resources,” explained Carlos M. Rodríguez, who served in that post from 2002 to 2006. In most countries, he noted, “ministers of environment are marginalized.” They are viewed as people who try to lock things away, not as people who create value. Their job is to fight energy ministers who just want to drill for cheap oil.

But when Costa Rica put one minister in charge of energy and environment, “it created a very different way of thinking about how to solve problems,” said Rodríguez, now a regional vice president for Conservation International. “The environment sector was able to influence the energy choices by saying: ‘Look, if you want cheap energy, the cheapest energy in the long-run is renewable energy. So let’s not think just about the next six months; let’s think out 25 years.’ ”

Beyond that, Friedman reports that the Costa Ricans factor in the value of a healthy environment for the long-term health of local businesses, and so have a carbon tax that helps support communities that protect the forests around them.

As we celebrate another Earth Day, we might consider the benefits of taking an holistic approach to dealing with economic growth and the environment.

About Dave Higgins

I've been interested in current events since at least the mid 1960's, and in ideas from modern science since the early 1990's. My website Quantum Age, which has been online since 1996, presents a basic framework for applying ideas from modern science to today's world. In this blog I discuss current events in the context of that framework.
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