Embracing Limits: A Case for Economic Thresholds to Mitigate the Global Climate, Biodiversity, and Equity Crises
Paloma Henriques has authored two articles in The Maine Journal of Conservation and Sustainability's Spire 2022 Issue, making the case for minimum and maximum economic thresholds to mitigate the gobal climate, biodiversity, and equity crises.
Capitalism’s demand for continuous economic growth is driving the climate and biodiversity crises, while continuing the legacy of colonialist exploitation. Efforts to reduce emissions linked to cycles of consumption and production are increasing; however, there are great opposing forces. While the affluent continue amassing wealth and power, changing the system will continue to be extremely difficult. New policies, like taxes on wealth, income, and inheritance, maximum wealth or income, and maximum pay ratios, are needed to erode this opposing force. While a minimum wage has been implemented in many countries, the idea of a maximum wage is still peripheral (Alfredsson et al. 2018; Monbiot 2012). Pay ratios, the ratio of the top-earning employee of a business to the average worker, have ballooned rapidly – from 20:1 in 1965 to 320:1 in 2019 – in the 350 biggest U.S. companies (Melin 2021). Embracing upper limits as well as lower thresholds is a necessary step in the process of dismantling the entrenched power structures that not only consume resources and emit greenhouse gases disproportionately, but exert undue cultural and political influence, overwhelming efforts to mitigate ecological and social crises (Alfredsson et al. 2018; Weidmann et al. 2020).
Inequity is a choice that we make as a global society through the economic systems that we hold up as legitimate. We currently have the capacity and resources to meet the basic needs of all human beings on the planet (Binder et al. 2020), but the neoliberal capitalism that privileges growth over well-being has entrapped us into a profoundly unequal system, where, continuing the legacy of colonial conquest, some lives are valued more than others (Oliver-Smith 2016; Marino and Faas 2020; Marino and Ribot 2012; Haverkamp 2021). The global poor lack the resources to meet basic needs, eroding their capacity to engage in the political power building that is necessary to advocate for their rights, and become trapped in cycles of survival (Singer et al 2016; Ribot 2013). To increase resilience to a changing climate – as well as to benefit from the many sources of knowledge production needed to mitigate the climate crisis – lower threshold policies like basic income and job guarantees, as well as access to affordable healthcare, housing, high-quality food, and education, are needed to free the poor from survival mode and empower them to enter the political arena as agents of change. I will outline how minimum economic thresholds could lead to increased resilience and decreased vulnerability due to greater access to resources, how this will lead to increased access to power and decision making and thus adaptive capacity, and finally, how the politics of who gets to produce knowledge shapes policy outcomes (Fabinyi et al. 2021).