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Bookmark and ShareRupert Crilly is a researcher in Environmental Economics at nef

Photo by wools via Flickr

We used to get along well with oil, in a lonely sort of way. It has played a major role in the advancement of much of our civilisation, providing energy and materials. But now our progress does not have to depend on it. Emerging from the recession provides the ideal time to redirect our progress.

Black Gold
Over 4000 years ago we used asphalt, present in most crude petroleums, as a fairly benign glue to build the walls of Babylon. And the industrial revolution was a bright spark in the history of human innovation: our technological advances have revolutionised how, where- and even when- we live. It wasn’t long before Thomas Midgley, Jr. developed both leaded gasoline and CFCs, certainly in the top five recent environmental disasters. We learned to use oil to provide energy, fuelling our cars, and help in the creating of plastics, pesticides, fertilisers and solvents. But, despite our addiction, we now need to use the alternatives.

Taxing the Bad
This month the Office of National Statistics posted employment figures (the lowest in over ten years; see below) and an estimate that the UK has, behind the other G7 countries, emerged from the recession with growth of 0.1%.

The graph above, from the Office of National Statistics, shows the employment rate for September to November 2009 was 72.4%, the “lowest since winter 1996-97 and is down 0.1 on the quarter”. Average regular pay (excluding bonuses) was up 1.1% over the same period to £424/week. This was the lowest annual growth rate since records began in 2001.

The 0.1% growth of the economy has been used for two opposite viewpoints on fiscal policy: that the government should cut our budgetary deficit by slimming our net spending, and that our spending levels should be maintained in order to secure the economy’s recovery. Neither addresses our addiction to oil and fossil fuel-based consumerism. Fiscal stimulus should be ploughed into building clean and renewable energy sources, creating ‘green’ jobs and preserving our natural environment. As many have advocated, including the economist Paul Krugman, the tax system would be an effective way to transition our economy to a cleaner future that would actually help the economy and the environment. Tax the ‘bads’ (fossil fuels, aviation, environmental degradation) and nurture the ‘goods’ (employment tax credits, subsidise renewable energy).

In times of darkness and uncertainty we should turn to someone who knows better. So, I close with some help from the Tick: “Everybody was a baby once, Arthur. Oh, sure, maybe not today, or even yesterday. But once. Babies, chum: tiny, dimpled, fleshy mirrors of our us-ness, that we parents hurl into the future, like leathery footballs of hope. And you’ve got to get a good spiral on that baby, or evil will make an interception.”


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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.