Article - Clean Growth

As we emerge from the pleasant cocoon of Christmas and the New Year back into the world of action, we hear various voices telling us that we face tough choices ahead. After all that Christmas cake, it seems that we must now face the dreadful reality that one cannot have one's cake and eat it. 

I suppose that, as with all proverbs, there is something in this. At least, if one takes it literally, the consumption of a piece of cake does make it rather hazardous to rely on the presence of the same piece of cake for the next day's tea.

But, in the spirit of New Year cheer, I am happy to point out that not every choice is a tough one and that it is sometimes possible to achieve something metaphorically equivalent to having one's cake and eating it. 

I think this is what we have collectively begun to discover about the environment - which has been a hot topic in political circles over the New Year period. 

In the bad old days (not very long ago, in fact) we were told that this was a classic case of tough choices: we could either have all the benefits that a modern, digital economy and continuing economic growth can bring to billions of people around the world or we can have a beautiful, sustainable and healthy environment in which to live - but not both. 

The real point brought out by the recent 25 year Environment plan and the Clean Growth Strategy that was published last year is that we don't need to make a choice of this kind. We can have an economy that grows and prospers at the same time as an environment that is fit to live in.

Part of what makes this possible is the advent of benign technologies. 

Not very long ago, it was widely assumed that hydrocarbons like petrol and coal would have to be burned in large quantities if we wanted to use our cars and light our homes. But now we are discovering that a combination of nuclear, solar and wind powered generators can produce a huge proportion of the electricity we need at economic prices without emitting carbon dioxide. And we are also discovering that this electricity can be used to power cars, buses and taxis on an economically attractive basis, thereby putting an end to the many noxious fumes that have threatened both our health and the health of the planet. 

But an even more exciting discovery is that, by preserving the ecosystem we can very frequently improve rather than damage the prospects for economic growth. 

It turns out that, in the long run, it is much cheaper and more economically efficient, as well as much pleasanter and much safer to protect our living oceans from plastics and to manage our river catchments in a way that is ecologically intelligent than it is to deal with the consequences of dying oceans and flooding rivers. 

A combination of cunning new technology and ecological intelligence can go a long way towards enabling us to consume the cake without compromising our ability to enjoy the next day's tea.