Credit: Kris Krug, Flickr.
In developing A\J’s upcoming “Invest in Change” issue, I have been thinking a lot about our economic and social systems; how they affect us and how they could be changed as we make the transition towards a sustainable, low-carbon future. To dig deeper into these ideas, I attended “Economics of a Burning Planet”, a free public event as part of the Canadian Association of Ecological Economics conference, “Engaging Economies of Change”.
Young people today face some serious challenges as we get ready to enter the working world. We face increasingly precarious employment conditions, often in the form of contract and part-time work, long working hours, and the expectation of being constantly available via email. Recent reports show that many young professionals are experiencing anxiety and depression as a direct result of unstable working conditions, and feel that their work schedule interferes to a considerable extent with their personal and family lives. Not to mention the overarching fears and worries we have relative to the climate crisis, which can take a serious toll on people’s mental health, a phenomenon that has been called climate dread, climate grief, or climate anxiety.
On the flip side, surveys show that young people are very concerned about making sure their work is meaningful, and are willing to make less money if it means working in a position where they feel they could make a greater impact.
Whether we take action or we don’t, climate change will have an enormous impact on all human systems. The difference is, if we take action, we can direct the transition, whereas if we continue with business as usual, we will have to fumble through the chaos.
Climate change is scary, but transitioning towards a more environmental and ecological economy is a huge opportunity to tackle both environmental and social issues.
Part of the idea behind the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is just that: to give some direction to the transition. The SDG’s set lofty targets for things like reducing inequalities, conservation, climate action and gender equality. But they also include some serious contradictions, particularly when it comes to Sustainable Development Goal 8: decent work and economic growth. The problem with SDG 8 is that economic growth as measured by GDP is synonymous with increased greenhouse gas emissions. This goal therefore enters directly in conflict with many of the others, including goal 13, climate action.
The panelists at “Economics for a Burning Planet”, Peter Victor, Leah Temper, Deborah McGregor, and Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, discussed the problems associated with SDG 8, but also offered their perspectives about how to shift towards a more ecological economy, and what it means to have an economy that does not depend on growth.
The event made me think a lot about my future and what the working world will look like as we adapt our social systems to climate change. What would an “ecological economy” would mean for young people like me, starting to think about entering the workforce? When I graduate and when my younger brother graduates, what kinds of economic opportunities will we have?
One of the things that struck me was what the transition to an ecological economic system might mean for quality of life. If young people are currently overworked and overstressed, and are seeking more meaningful work that can directly address their worries related to the climate crisis, then ecological economic systems seem to hold a lot of answers. One of the proposals of ecological economists is to shorten the work week, which would increase wellbeing and quality of life for workers, and would give them more time to spend with family and friends.
On top of that, in terms of meaningful work, ecological economic models aim to strengthen communities by increasing local, equitable and just economic opportunity. The job opportunities that emerge to address the climate crisis will be meaningful, whether it’s through agriculture and local food resiliency, community building, strengthening energy efficient infrastructure, and increasing jobs in planning and risk-management for more frequent natural disasters such as floods and wildfires.
The big take-away for me was this: climate change is scary, but transitioning towards a more environmental and ecological economy is a huge opportunity to tackle both environmental and social issues. If we take the climate crisis head-on and commit to making systemic changes, the result could be better quality of life and more meaningful work for young people as we seek to navigate these transitional times and take control of our futures.
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