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Beacon Senior News

Financing a spaceship economy

Mar 25, 2020 03:50PM ● By Karen Telleen-Lawton

The earth’s resources are not infinite

William Nordhaus first predicted the economic toll of climate change more than 50 years ago. Is it too late to start following his advice?

Foreseeing a transition

Starting in the 1970s, Nordhaus argued for the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” A cowboy economy uses the environment as a sinkhole because the earth’s resources are viewed as seemingly infinite.

In contrast, a spaceship economy carefully manages inflows and outflows like natural resources and trash. While most economists were (and still are) satisfied with using unconstrained economic growth, Nordhaus understood the downside of planning for endless growth on a finite planet.

Nordhaus’ dire predictions weren’t without solutions. In the 1990s, he posited that rising C02 concentrations would start to melt polar ice caps. As an answer, he developed an economic and scientific model that demonstrated a small but increasing tax on carbon could spare us climate change at little to no cost. His 2018 Nobel prize in economics is a small consolation for ignoring his advice for decades.

Recently, financial communities are waking up to the dire threats of climate change, pollution and the depletion of resources. Jeremy Grantham, financial asset manager of Boston-based GMO, published a paper postulating that humans are losing the race for survival.

“Now we watch these predictions coming true and ignore the data, or pretend to. So, as the world starts to burn up, we twiddle our thumbs and talk about ‘just another heatwave!’”

Grantham sees the crux of the problem to be the difficulty of focusing on long-term problems when we’re constantly faced with more immediate ones.

Taking action

Short-sightedness may be a reasonable explanation for society’s inept responses so far. But many individuals have taken action on their own, which when multiplied, can make a significant impact. This includes eating local food, avoiding food waste, eco-friendly travel, making our homes more energy-efficient and reducing our over-consumption of unnecessary things.

However, personal responsibility won’t be enough. Our economy’s health is strictly tied to our ecology’s health, meaning we now need public responses on a large scale. Governmental policy imperatives include carbon fees, investments in renewable energy and efficiency incentives and protections.

What can you do to help move your community to action? How can we move voters to choose representatives who will prioritize a spaceship economy? Your individual public response will depend on your particular time and talents, such as through word, art or advocacy.

Maybe you can be the senior inspiration to walk alongside 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg. She took a solar-powered boat from her home in Sweden to the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City last September, stating, “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school, on the other side of the ocean.”

We are past due for a transition from a cowboy to a spaceship economy. As seniors, we cannot afford to do less than what will make us proud to tell our grandchildren.

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