Beyond the green economy

Summary of:

Niels I. Meyer: The problematic economic concept of "green growth"

The international society agrees that global heating should stay below two degrees, but the present path points to four degrees or higher. At least 50 % of all fossil reserves should stay under ground, but several industrial countries on the contrary promote oil from tar sand and shale gas.

There are limits to growth. This was demonstrated in 1972 in the famous report Limits to Growth. I happened to be involved in that from the beginning, and I have tried to convince people for forty years that it should be taken seriously, but it is not. All industrial countries are crying for more growth to cure financial crisis. The dominating neoliberal system requires economic growth. A transition to renewable energy sources is urgently needed, but fossil fuels get six times more state subsidies than renewable energy sources.

Economic and material growth may be counteracted by more equity, but inequity is increasing. The dominating neoliberal economy system cannot survive without growth.

The concept of green growth is primarily an excuse to continue economic growth with a green paint. The possible decoupling of production growth from carbon is relative but far from absolute in practice with existing technologies and production methods. Nature reacts on absolute decoupling only. The energy that comes down from the Sun is about ten thousand times what we use now, but even solar energy is limited. In practice, exploitation of solar energy and other renewables for human energy purposes has limitations too. It is too late to accept illusory mitigation concepts. Green growth is an illusion.

Productivity increases by 2% per year, maybe a little less now. The argument for growth is that if there is no economic growth then there will be 2% less workplaces next year. If we don't have growth then there will be more unemployment. This is a very peculiar argument because there is no natural law that we should work 37 hours per week. A flexible working hour system would be a simple solution. John Maynard Keynes said: "Take care of employment, and the budget will take care of itself". It is immoral that people who want to work should be forced into unemployment.

We face an international problem: How should an acceptable global carbon cap be divided over time? Attempts at agreements were fiascos since COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. In 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a speech in New York and said, why do you think that the developing world should accept that the rich world emits ten times as much CO2 than they do per capita? The only way we can get international agreements on this is at 2050, every man and woman in the World has the same right for emission. The German industry got furious, and she has been silent on this since then.

Scientists have looked at what has happened since "Limits to Growth" was published in 1972. They compared two scenarios from the report, the collapse scenario and the stabilized world scenario. They found that all the data follow exactly the collapse scenario. This scenario collapses in the middle of this century.


We know what is needed, but it requires radical social changes. We should increase national equity by strongly progressive taxes on income, fortune, houses and inheritance.

Rich people say that they will leave the country if taxes go up. I happen to have been member of the boards of a number of Danish industrial companies. I know the truth is that they could not find any job in foreign countries with the same salary.

We are undermining our democracy. Democracy is based on argument, discussions and listening to each other. Money should not decide. I don't think that the USA has democracy any more, and I am afraid we are going the same way. It should be illegal to give commercial or private money to political parties and to politicians. All parties should have government support. It is only arguments that count, not money. As long as money decide, we cannot make the necessary changes. We have to change the system also.

Two Nobel price winners, Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have declared that there is no scientific basis for our present neoliberal model, and it is more harmful than useful.

President Roosevelt saved the American economy in the 1930s with his new deal by acceleration of public investments and strong market regulations. This policy has been completely forgotten. John Maynard Keynes said that if you want to ruin the global economy then just allow capital to move freely. You will be certain to destabilize the global economic system. Until the 1980s, Denmark regulated capital movement. Now the EU has decided that capital movement must be free. This is exactly the opposite of what Keynes advised. Why are we so stupid?

The Danish Wise Council is not wise at all. The WTO is doing all the wrong things. The first thing we should do is replace the WTO with a new trade administration. This trade administration should have as its first priority to have more equity and environmental considerations. Introduce global transfer tax and Tobin tax. If you cannot get the UN to do that, then we should make a competitive organization. The clever countries should make their own trade administration with completely different priorities. We also have to change the priorities of the World Bank and the IMF.

We have to be naive and crazy if we want to do the things that are needed. Maybe the Nordic countries could start breaking out. They have to break out of the EU also. We should not wait for the US or China to make changes.

My book is a kind of testament. It ends with an appeal to my grandchildren's generation: The good news is that there is already a budding recognition in your parent's generation of the need for radically new ways of thinking. The bad news is that the global monetary power is controlling large parts of the political communication and decision processes. It will be a hard struggle, but not a hopeless struggle. I wish you luck with your struggle - you will need it!.

Watch the talk on video

Power point presentation


Niels I. Meyer: Nok er nok - Stop den skæve udvikling (in Danish), 88 pages, Tiderne Skifter, 2012, 125 DKK.

Jørgen Steen Nielsen: Den store omstilling. Fra systemkrise til grøn økonomi (in Danish). Informations Forlag, 2012.

Ross Jackson: Occupy World Street, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, USA, Spring 2012. Danish version: Occupy World Street. Vejen til en værdig fremtid, en global plan for økonomiske og politiske reformer. Hovedland 2013.

CEESA project, final reports 2012:

Danish introduction

Den nuværende generation af bedsteforældre og forældre har efterladt kloden til de unge i et klimamæssigt, miljømæssigt, økonomisk og samfundsmæssigt morads. Dette er uddybet i min nye, lille bog fra november 2012 med titlen ”Nok er nok – Stop den skæve udvikling”. Bogen analyserer i en række korte og kontante kapitler de eksisterende barrierer og dilemmaer for omstillingen til en grøn og bæredygtig verden og giver en række konkrete løsningsforslag til at overvinde disse barrier på nationalt og internationalt niveau.

I foredraget belyses en række centrale resultater og løsningforslag fra min bog, og i konklusionen lægges der op til et nyt ungdomsoprør baseret på faglig indsigt i disse akutte problemer. De efterfølgende powerpoints giver et overblik over de gennemgåede emner, som forhåbentlig vil inspirere mange unge til videregående læsning og handling. Det er jeres fremtid, der er på spil.

Venlig hilsen fra Niels I. Meyer