To some extent, I’d like the early posts here to be sequential in laying out a case for the site’s basic arguments. But timely items from around the Web and elsewhere are part of the plan as well. With that in mind, I bumped into a piece on Alternet by Stephan Harding. It’s about the idea of implementing “Tradable Energy Quotas” (TEQs) as a way of promoting a “steady state economy.”
Previously, I’ve mentioned the importance of the idea of the steady state economy. Any thoughtful examination of the current pervasive growth imperative, leads to the conclusion that endless economic growth — with its growth in physical throughput — is unsustainable. Our ecosytem has limits. And such growth is leading quickly to its collapse. A move to a steady state economy would be a key step toward putting on the brakes and taking the ecosystem fully into account in our economic policies.
Pssst… need some cheap TEQs?
As Harding explains, TEQs would help. Every adult would be given an equal annual quota of energy units (initially carbon-linked, but eventually, once clean energies are relatively pervasive, just energy-linked ), with the option to buy more or sell their surplus. Industries and energy providers would be involved as well. Over some period of years, the total energy budget would be stepped down, bit by bit, until it reached some necessary minimum. As Harding puts it: “The final amount of energy available to the nation — the lowest rung of the energy step — is set at a level low enough to ensure that the economy does as little harm to the natural world as possible while ensuring that citizens enjoy a simple but comfortable standard of living.”
In setting a cap on energy available for consumption, this process would be consistent with a steady state economy. I’m not sure I agree with everything in Harding’s article. (For instance, I’d much rather he not refer to TEQs as “intelligent growth.” A steady state economy is all about superior alternatives to unending growth.) But the idea of TEQs, or something similar, is well worth study. We need some sort of organized effort toward a steady state economy or other sustainable economic model — if there is such a thing — and studying the effects and feasibility of TEQs could be a part of that.
Nothing special needed?
It’s exciting to see discussion of the idea of the steady state economy at a site as popular as Alternet. And the notion of TEQs could have enough novelty to get the ball rolling toward implementation. But moving toward a steady state economy may not even take particularly novel ideas. Brian Czech of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy explains (see the last paragraph):
The steady state economy may be pursued in the policy arena with the same policy tools that have historically been used to facilitate economic growth. These include fiscal policy tools such as government spending and taxation, and monetary policy tools such as money supplies and interest rates. Certain institutional adjustments are also entailed. For example, some have posited that a fractional reserve banking system may not be reconciled with a steady state economy and that fee-service banking is the most feasible alternative.
If that’s true, it may be a matter mainly of drumming up the interest and the will to make the change. Talk it up!
Image source: PLoS Biology Vol. 4/8/2006, e278, posted on Wikimedia Commons