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Debunking Chris Huhne’s growth plan

Debunking Chris Huhne’s growth plan

The Guardian, Thursday 28 August 2014 19.05 BST

There are at least four problems with Chris Huhne’s paean to growth (Comment, 25 August). First, he fails to distinguish between relatively and absolutely decoupling energy use and economic growth. Energy intensity per unit of growth is indeed decreasing, but overall final energy consumption in the UK is increasing – from 148.6m tonnes of oil equivalent in 1988 (Huhne’s preferred date benchmark) to 154.8m toe in 2008 (Decc figures).

Second, he conveniently skates over the outsourcing of UK energy use to other countries. According to the US Energy Information Administration, global energy demand will increase from 524 quadrillion British thermal units in 2010 to 820 quadrillion Btu in 2040 – a 30-year increase of 56%.

Third, energy is not the only limit we have to contend with; research by the Stockholm Resilience Centre suggests we have exceeded, or are on course to exceed, safe levels relating to the nitrogen cycle, biodiversity, climate change, ocean acidification, freshwater use, land system change, aerosol loading and chemical pollution.

Fourth, he erroneously equates growth with wellbeing. According to the Office for National Statistics, GDP per person has grown by a factor of 3.5 since 1955, allowing for inflation. Yet economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald write that reported levels of happiness in the UK in the unprecedented years of prosperity from the 70s to the 90s were practically flat. The Green House thinktank will shortly be publishing a major inquiry into post-growth politics. There we conclude that growth is indeed an “enemy of the planet” – and of its people.
Professor Andrew Dobson
Spire, Keele University

• A new form of quantitative easing to fund green activity would strengthen the economy not only of the UK but also of the rest of Europe, were it to be introduced continent-wide. This approach would be preferable to the proposed “helicopter money” solution (Report, 25 August), whereby newly printed money is showered indiscriminately on the majority of EU inhabitants. This would suck in more imports rather than paying for the kind of labour-intensive, green infrastructure programme that could help provide every community in Europe with a sustainable local economy.
Colin Hines
Convenor, Green New Deal Group