The era of plentiful and cheap resources ends

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Everybody who knows current European environmental policy could not be surprised by Janez Potočnik‘s speech. The Sloveninan economist and European Commissioner for the Environment opened the WRF 2011 conference emphasizing the need for better resource-efficient economy.

Potočnik started with a situation summary, as traditional with his speeches:

“The world’s population is increasing by around 200 000 people a day… By 2050 demand for food, feed and fibre is forecast to increase by 70% and yet 60% of our ecosystems underpinning these resources are already degraded… In the EU today we use some 16 tonnes of materials per person each year, of which 6 tonnes become waste…”

Potočnik’s words convey one message; radical change in societies and economic systems is needed. The other WRF 2011 opening session speakers  Bruno Obrele or Alice Klaudia spoke in the same spirit. The crucial question is how to manage this change.

Potočnik higlighted four main points to aim for which should lead to economic and environmental transformation:

1. We need to build an economy that reflects the true value of resources. Only when resources are priced properly can we follow the right market signals and behave according to them.
2. We must give up subsidies which support inefficient and environmentally damaging consumption.
3. We have to encourage companies to develop sustainable products, services and processes and support eco-innovation and eco-design.
4. We need to focus on housing, transport and food, one of the most energetically and resource demanding sectors connected with our lifestyle.

Sounds clear, but questions abound, like how can we put these points into practice? How can we evaluate non-market resources? Is it possible to stick a label with price on all natural values? And would this pricing motivate us enough to behave more responsible? How to set subsidies properly and avoid corruption or unexpected negative effects? Human beings tend to think more short-term than long-term, they tend to follow their selfish needs. In which way can you motivate people, entrepreneurs, citizens, consumers to reflect environmental issues whith mainly long-term character?

Keywords like eco-innovation, eco-design or resource-efficiency dominated in Janez Potočnik well presented speech.

I ‘d like to add less measurable values like intrinsic value of nature, ethics, modesty, self-reflection. They are the core base on which we can put all the resource-efficient technologies, hard measurements and plans.



6 thoughts on “The era of plentiful and cheap resources ends

  1. After all,
    didn’t we just listen to nice words from environmental “ministers”, whose message
    is not even reaching financial decision makers in the the EU?

    “Potočnik’s words convey one message; radical change in societies and economic systems is needed.”

    one just needs to open newspapers these days to see what one really talks about in the EU

    How to save the EURO without changing anything.. yes may be some countries have to be let into the
    domain of failed states. So, less resource constraints and the still richer countries in Europe can gain
    another few years or months?

    these realities are in contrast to your vision, aren’t they?

    “I ‘d like to add less measurable values like intrinsic value of nature, ethics, modesty, self-reflection. They are the core base on which we can put all the resource-efficient technologies, hard measurements and plans.”

    Do you really believe that those values can get value in a market based profit making economy?

    • Thank you for your comment with many apt points. Always when listening to these keynote policy speeches I miss some depth and of course I miss some tangible steps to follow. On the other side, condemn and ignore all the EU environmental policy would be even worse step. Giving critical and constructive feedback is the way better.
      To your second question: I do believe that the market based profit economy should be reshaped by enhancing these values.That’s why I wrote about them.

  2. Eco design, eco innovation, resource efficiency…radical change in economy is now very popular term too. With regard to the present situation when fear of a new crisis is spreading across the markets I must say that these words look very empty and if anything they came a little too late.

    I agree that we need some change. Maybe radical. But what kind of change is that?
    Should we save more money and invest more wisely?
    Or is the problem deeper and we should tear apart all economy books and start from scratch?
    Mr. Potocnik can surely say what are his views but I doubt that it would have some real influence on our lives.

    To our present economy entirely based on complex math, excluding simple human feelings, such as affection, fear or panic, to the economy where we can bet on some country goes bankrupt and thus get rich, to the economy where annual bank reports advice you not to invest your money in CHF, while secretly the same bank buys CHF angrily, we cannot hold on any longer. It seems that no one understands the laws of this economy properly. Not even the people in charge, who do not respect the basic economic laws they adopted themselves. Trust is also another magic word these days.

    The problem is I think just in the nature of individual people. Selfishness, recklessness, jealousy, irresponsibility, coldness. These characteristics are buried deeply inside us, they are inside every person who “wants to survive”. If you are soft, there will always be someone tougher to replace you. The “survival syndrome” is naturally inside the school child, farmer, teacher, lawyer and also inside the member of parliament or large interest groups and companies. These groups run our world, they have immeasurable influence and power…and they are not soft.

    Our present economy or world cannot change within a few years. It would take decades, generations, maybe hundreds of years, and its rather possible it would never happen, because we have to change ourselves and change the way we look on and live our lives.

    I agree with Lenka – If we want real change, we need different disciplines. We need the economy, no doubt. But we also need social skills, we need ethics. I would also add that we desperately need aesthetics, we need education, we need philosophy and we need culture. Only through this long and painful process we can change and be content.

    • Thank You, Jan, for Your comment!

      You grasped quite some insight. I agree with what You wrote. Nevertheless, may I share another view on one thing? You wrote ‘these characteristics’ are buried deeply inside every person. I believe they are buried deeply in everyone’s ego. Deeply in every man is Life, a need to sustain the life, to cooperate, to understand, to harmonize. To dig through a thick layer of ego to reach those is very difficult and painful, especially these days when the characteristiscs You describe are hyped to high (even selfdestructive) level. It is possible though 🙂

      Excuse me for such a philosophical, spiritual remark 😀 I got started. Ehm, economy, right. Back to Earth (a bit), back to the topic.
      I think it would benefit all if we start to listen more. Ministers each other, political parties each other, people each other. For instance, one of the elitarian university management programm CEMS recently started to cooperate with human rights ngos and sustainable development advocates. They want the students, future leaders and practitioners, to listen to other views. Director of the programme said he felt the responsibility of the financial crisis on academics’ side as well because they were teaching wrong methods and that is why he invited the not-for-profit sector into the curriculum in order to incorporate social and environmental factors side by side to economical. Maybe, one day business schools will leave out their course of assertivity. And that’s only system education, everyone can go down that road on his or her own.

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