At the G7 conference in Bavaria on 7 and 8 June 2015, it was agreed to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century. But despite this significant objective, there were no short-term measures put in place to start on the process of achieving this goal. Nevertheless, the agreement contained commitments to further developments in carbon markets, elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, incentives for the development of green energy and support for developing countries in reducing hydrofluorocarbons.
The agreement also sent a strong message to the 21st United Nations International Climate Change conference scheduled to meet in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. The G7 communiqué states that binding rules would be required if the target was to be met.
The agreement should enhance transparency and accountability including through binding rules at its core to track progress towards achieving targets, which should promote increased ambition over time. This should enable all countries to follow a low-carbon and resilient development pathway in line with the global goal to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C.
But many environmentalists argue that a more fundamental approach is needed. This requires a change in the way the environment is perceived – by both individuals and politicians. The simple selfish model of consumption to maximise consumer surplus and production to maximise profit should be rejected. Instead, the environment should be internalised into decision making.
What is more, there should be an integral ecology which brings together a wide range of disciplines, including economics, in analysing the functioning of societies and economies. Rather than being seen merely as a resource to be exploited, respect and care for the environment should be incorporated into our whole decision-making process, along with protecting societies and cultures, and rejecting economic systems that result in a growing divide between rich and poor.
In his latest encyclical, On care for our common home, Pope Francis considers integral ecology, not just in terms of a multidiciplinary approach to the environment but as an approach that integrates the objectives of social justice and care for the environment into an overarching approach to the functioning of societies and economies. And central to his message is the need to change the way human action is perceived at a personal level. Decision making should be focused on care for others and the environment not on the selfish pursuit of individual gain.
With a change in heart towards other people and the environment, what would be seen as externalities in simple economic models based on rational self-interested behaviour become internal costs or benefits. Care and compassion become the drivers for action, rather than crude self interest.
A key question, of course, is how we get here to there; how society can achieve a mass change of heart. For religious leaders, such as the Pope, the approach centres on spiritual guidance. For the secular, the approach would probably centre on education and the encouragement for people to consider others in their decision making. But, of course, there is still a major role for economic instruments, such as taxes and subsidies, rules and regulations, and public investment.
G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuels by end of centuryEU Observer, Peter Teffer (8/6/15)
Integral Ecology Approach Links ‘Welfare of God’s People and God’s Creation’ Catholic Register (11/6/15)
President’s Corner Teilhard Perspective, John Grim (May 2015)
In his encyclical on climate change Pope Francis reveals himself to be a master of scientific detail Washington Post, Anthony Faiola, Michelle Boorstein and Chris Mooney (18/6/15)
Pope Francis Calls for Climate Action in Draft of Encyclical New York Times, Jim Yardley (15/6/15)
Pope Francis letter on climate change leaked: Draft Vatican encyclical released three days early Independent, Kashmira Gander and Michael Day (15/6/15)
The Pope is finally addressing the gaping hole in the Judaeo-Christian moral tradition Independent, Michael McCarthy (15/6/15)
Pope Francis warns of destruction of Earth’s ecosystem in leaked encyclical The Guardian, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and John Hooper (16/6/15)
Explosive intervention by Pope Francis set to transform climate change debate The Observer, John Vidal (13/6/15)
Pope Francis’ Leaked Encyclical Draft Attributes Climate Change To Human Activity Huffington Post, Antonia Blumberg (15/6/15)
Pope Francis’ Integral Ecology Huffington Post, Dave Pruett (28/5/15)
Pope Francis: Climate change mostly man-made BBC News, Caroline Wyatt (18/6/15)
Pope urges action on global warming in leaked document BBC News, Chris Cook (16/6/15)
- What do you understand by ‘integral ecology’?
- Is an integrated approach to the environment and society consistent with ‘rational’ behaviour (a) in the narrow sense of ‘rational’ as used in consumer and producer theory; (b) in a broader sense of making actions consistent with goals?
- Can cost–benefit analysis be used in the context of an integrated and cross-disciplinary approach to the environment and society?
- What types of incentives would be useful in achieving the approach proposed by Pope Francis?
- Why do many companies publicly state that they pursue a policy of corporate responsibiliy?
- To what extent does it make sense to set targets for the end of this century?
- In what crucial ways might GDP need to be adjusted if it is to be used as a measure of the success of the approach to society, the economy and the environment as advocated by Pope Francis?
On 5 and 6 April, there was a conference on conscious capitalism in San Francisco. In January, a new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia, was published. Many in the business world are enthusiastic about this seemingly new approach to business, which focuses on broader social, environmental and ethical goals, rather than simple profit maximisation.
As the Washington Times review linked to below states:
“Conscious Capitalism” promotes a business culture that embodies “trust, accountability, caring, transparency, integrity, loyalty and egalitarianism.” The management ideal of “Conscious Capitalism” contains four key elements of “decentralization, empowerment, innovation and collaboration.” Above all, this exemplary form of business practice relies on careful attention to four tenets: higher purpose and core values, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership and conscious culture and management.
So how realistic is this vision of caring capitalism? There may be a few inspiring businesspeople, truly committed to improving the interests of the various stakeholders of their business and society more generally, but could it become a model for business in general? And if so, does this require education, monitoring and regulation? Or can a libertarian approach to business generate an environment where conscious and caring capitalists flourish and succeed better than those with a more narrow focus on profit?
The following videos and articles discuss conscious capitalism and the arguments of those, such as John Mackey, founder and co-CEO of Whole Food Market, who advocate it.
Conscious capitalism The Economist, John Mackey (15/3/13)
Conscious Capitalism: Heroes of the Business World Conscious capitalism, April in San Francisco (5/4/13)
It’s Not Corporate Social Responsibility Conscious capitalism, John Mackey (Jan 13)
Articles, reviews and information
Conscious Capitalism: Creating a New Paradigm for Business Whole Planet Foundation, John Mackey
Companies that Practice “Conscious Capitalism” Perform 10x Better Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz (4/4/13)
4 Ways to Become a (More) Conscious Capitalist Inc., Francesca Louise Fenzi (8/4/13)
The New Management Paradigm & John Mackey’s Whole Foods Forbes, Steve Denning (5/1/13)
Book Review: ‘Conscious Capitalism’ Washington Times, Anthony j. Sadar (20/3/13)
Book Review: Whole Foods Co-CEO John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism Huffington Post, Christine Bader (28/1/13)
Chicken Soup for a Davos Soul Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray (16/1/13)
Conscious business Wikipedia
- What are the features of conscious capitalism?
- Do firms “get the shareholders they deserve”?
- How might firms that are not pursuing conscious capitalism be persuaded to become more conscious and more caring?
- How does conscious capitalism differ from corporate social responsibility?
- What would you understand by “conscious consumers”? How might their behaviour differ from other consumers?
- Why might firms engaging in conscious capitalism become more profitable than firms that have a simple aim of profit maximisation?
- What reforms, both internal within a firm and in the legal environment, does John Mackey advocate? Do you agree with his suggestions? What else do you suggest?
A campaign to introduce a tax on disposable plastic bags in England has been launched by various pressure groups, including The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. Plastic bags, they maintain, litter streets and the countryside and pollute the seas, where they cause considerable damage to marine life.
They propose a tax of 5p per bag, which would be passed on to consumers. Such a levy has already been introduced in Wales in October 2011. As a result, plastic bag use in Wales has dropped dramatically (see also the full report from the Welsh Government). The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly are also planning introducing similar charges.
Many other governments have introduced taxes, charges or bans on plastic bags and many more are considering introducing such measures. Ireland introduced a 15 euro cent charge on single-use plastic bags as far back as 2002 and saw a 94% reduction in plastic bag use (328 per person per year to 21). The charge was raised to 22 euro cents in 2007 after bag use rose to 30 per person.
Other countries have banned plastic bags altogether: some, such as Rwanda and Somalia have banned all plastic bags; others, such as China and South Africa have banned very thin bags; others, such as Italy, have banned non-biodegradable ones.
In the USA, various states or districts have introduced levies and in the EU, where more than four billion bags are thrown away each year, the European Commission will soon publish proposals for limiting the use of plastic bags.
So what are the arguments for limiting the use of plastic bags? Why is it not enough to leave things simply to the market? And if the use of plastic bags is to be reduced, what’s the most efficient way of doing so? Are there any problems with alternatives to plastic bags? The following articles and reports consider these questions?
England urged to pick up Wales’ plastic bag levy businessGreen, Jessica Shankleman (1/8/12)
Wales’ plastic bag charge yields massive green savings businessGreen, Jessica Shankleman (5/7/12)
Supermarkets ‘should charge £1 a bag’ BBC Today Programme, Samantha Harding and Judith Holder (2/8/12)
Environmentalists team up to push for bag tax in England Plastics News, Anthony Clark (1/8/12)
Break the Bag Habit Keep Britain Tidy (1/8/12)
Plastic bag use ‘up for second year running’ Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (5/7/12)
Plastic bag use in Wales plummets due to 5p charge, figures show Guardian, Adam Vaughan (4/7/12)
Carrier bag charge ‘effective and popular’ figures reveal ITV News (4/7/12)
What should be done about plastic bags? BBC News Magazine, Chris Summers (19/3/12)
Irish bag tax hailed success BBC News, Chris Summers (20/8/02)
The Big Fix The Math Behind Sacking Disposable Bags Atlantic Cities, Nate Berg (26/9/11)
Fremantle moves to ban plastic bags ABC News, Lucy Martin (23/7/12)
Bans Plastic Bag Ban Report, Ted Duboise (updated)
Vote With Your Dollars, and Also Vote New York Times, Gernot Wagner (30/7/12)
Evaluation Of The Introduction Of The Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge In Wales: Attitude Change And Behavioural Spillover, Wouter Poortinga, Lorraine Whitmarsh and Christine Suffolk Report to Welsh Government by Cardiff University (June 2012)
Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrierbags: a review of the bags available in 2006 Environment Agency, Joanna Marchant (25/7/11)
Stakeholder consultation on options to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags … EC Environment (19/3/12)
- Draw a diagram demonstrating the externalities involved in the use of plastic bags. Show the marginal private and social costs and benefits and the socially efficient level of consumption.
- How would you set about establishing the amount of consumer surplus from the use of plastic bags at a zero price?
- Compare the relative social efficiency of a tax on plastic bags with a ban on plastic bags.
- Would education be an effective alternative to taxing plastic bags?
- Why might it be difficult to get supermarkets and other retailers to agree to a voluntary ban on giving out free plastic bags?
- Why might it be extremely difficult in practice to establish the socially efficient price for plastic bags?
Even in the current gloomy economic climate, there is something else that has grabbed media attention – the outbreak of swine flu. This is of particular concern, given the WHO’s announcement that we are in an H1N1 flu pandemic. The symptoms and health risks have been widely broadcast, but it is not just this that governments are concerned about. The economies of some countries, in particular Mexico, have been suffering. ‘Swine flu has dealt a major blow to Mexico’s already battered economy’. Many countries have issued advice to businesses on dealing with a potential pandemic and some countries are facing trade restrictions. It’s important to consider the economic consequences of this outbreak in a time of global recession. How will some of the worst hit industries cope and what are the costs that firms could face if the situation gets worse? The following articles explore the issues.
Economic impact of swine flu BBC News: World News America (4/5/09)
Advice to businesses on swine flu BBC News (4/5/09)
Swine flu nations make trade pleaBBC News (3/5/09)
WTO protectionism report to feature swine flue bans The Economist (12/6/09)
Mexico economy squeezed by swine flu BBC News (30/4/09)
Swine flu fears hit travel shares BBC News (27/4/09)
Swine flu: Four ETFs to watch Seeking Alpha (12/6/09)
Employers have to pay for swine flu quarantines Scoop Business: Independent News (12/6/09)
- Which industries are the most affected by the outbreak of swine flu?
- What are some of the costs that businesses will face following the WHO’s announcement that we are in a flu pandemic?
- Some of the articles talk about possible trade restrictions. What are the arguments (a) for (b) against protectionist measures in these circumstances?
- How will this flu pandemic add to the global crisis we are currently facing? What will happen to share prices, to tourism, to people’s expectations?
- Do you think that firms have a social responsibility to deal with this pandemic?
- Will there be additional health costs and who should bear them? What do you think will be the impact on the NHS, given its method of provision and finance?
- Do you think that this pandemic will affect the global economy’s ability to recover from this recession?