Anil Markandya to

Limits to growth and cognitive limits, traveling into the paradoxes of the human mind

[29 Luglio 2013]

We have been speaking about limits to growth for at least 40 years. What impact the environmental economics had in terms of policy recommendations? 

«The ‘limits to growth’ work of the 1970s was not a good model for the real limits to our capacity to grow and develop.  These limits lie in the amount of greenhouse gases we can emit and the use we can make of our ecosystems.  Environmental economics has shown us how these factors place a limit not so much on the level of growth but on the type of growth we can have. With innovation and a change in our consumption habits we can improve living standards for generations to come».

Do you feel that environmental economics has really made good progress in these decades, is trusted and reliable today? Which are the major challenges now facing environmental economics?

«I really believe that environmental economics has made a lot of progress.  We have a good idea of the value of our natural resources and of the role they play in the economic system.  We have made progress on developing better indicators of sustainable growth and wellbeing and of how to provide incentives so that private households and companies behave more sustainably.  The challenges are to improve the tools even further and to get politicians to adopt the environmental policies.  It takes time but we are moving slowly in the right direction».

Jonathan J Rolison, Vittorio Girotto, Paolo Legrenzi and Yaniv Hanoch, the authors of the research The time horizon of risky choice: Effects of delayed outcomes, write that «Time horizon is central to policy making and may be a key to the climate change debate. Some policy makers advocate a “wait-and-see” strategy for dealing with climate change, and despite strong recommendations by the scientific community for immediate action, long term negative consequences of climate change are low on the list of concerns for the US general public». Why is that the case, in your opinion? 

«I strongly believe we cannot delay action.  There is a real danger that if we do we will be on a path to 4ºC global warming and that would be a disaster.  The US public opinion is really misguided on this and some vested interests are promoting the view that climate change is not happening or if it is then we cannot do anything about it».

«Our current findings – write the researchers – indicate that a wait-and-see policy for climate change may be appealing because of the delayed time horizon of uncertain future costs. Immediate action for climate change could be made more appealing if costs of immediate action were re-framed in terms of long term savings». Do you agree? 

«Yes I do and we have many papers that show this is the case».