Wed, Sep 22, 2010 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTERS ]

Environmental logic

Reading Heizo Takenaka’s article on Japan’s economy, I was just waiting for the oh-so-­typical swipe at environmentalists and I wasn’t to be disappointed (“Japan as No. 3: Will the slide down the economic ladder continue?” Sept. 13, page 9). Just at the end, he asserts that “civic movements and groups — like environmental organizations … take little heed of the need for economic growth.”

Again, an economist portrays environmentalists as opposing economic growth, as if this somehow follows logically. Rather, it is a gross simplification that economists make again and again to mislead the public. These days, pursuing economic growth for growth’s sake is becoming counterproductive for two reasons: First, logic dictates that growth simply cannot go on forever on a limited planet (impossiblehamster.org). Second, given the planet’s natural limits, further economic growth done the conventional way — by overusing ­declining resources and ­producing noxious wastes — increasingly undermines our ability to live happy, fulfilling lives.

So what are we to do? The only logical conclusion can be that we need a broad public discussion about what constitutes desirable and what constitutes undesirable economic activity. The question before us should always be: What kind of growth do we want?

For example, we might want the market share of fossil-fuel based industries to decline and those of renewable energy industries to grow.

This is a decision based not on economics, but on value judgments: We decide that we do not want all those fossil fuel residues dumped into our environment, leading to air pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, acid rain, soil degradation, mercury poisoning and all those other goodies that come along with the burning of fossil fuels. Rather, we want clean energy because it will be better for us in the long term, so we take the political ­decision to phase out fossil fuels.

Such a discussion about what kinds of economic growth we want should include all segments of society, be informed by valid scientific analyses and be guided by ethical considerations about long-term sustainability (steadystate.org). We need to recognize that depletion of natural capital is not beneficial to economic growth (whirledbank.org/ourwords/daly.html) and therefore we should constrain unsustainable activities much more than we currently do. Some forward thinkers such as Paul Hawken have called for a new “Ecology of Commerce” whereby intelligent government regulation based on public debate and sound science guides economic activity from destructive toward sustainable production (tinyurl.com/guardian-reborn). The economic growth that comes out of this forward leap in ecological economics should render our world more livable, more just and more fun for everybody, not just for those few who have benefited from the economic growth during the last few decades, while leaving most of the planet exhausted and most people on stagnant or decreasing incomes facing an ever-declining quality of life.

BRUNO WALTHER

Taipei

Taiwan’s country code

I have always wondered why Taiwan was assigned the country code number of 886 for international calls, since the code for China, 86, is so close. It appears that whoever did the assigning of numbers considers Taiwan to be part of China, since no other country in Asia has a code that is anywhere near the code number of another country. I did some research and found out. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) publishes a list of 192 countries on its Web site, and Taiwan is not on the list. Taiwan is considered a part of China (“Taiwan, China — 886”). Can this mistake be corrected someday? Maybe 88 would do fine.

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