We are currently suffering a cost-of-living crisis where the cost of everyday essentials like groceries and bills are rising faster than average household incomes. The rise in everyday costs is measured by inflation, and in April, inflation hit yet another high.
The current cost-of-living crisis is particularly acute because a variety of different pressures are pushing up the rate of inflation. This means costs are higher across the board, from food to petrol to energy bills, rather than prices rising in just one area.
Although economic growth has, over the years, helped to improve life expectancy, wealth, education and welfare, unrestrained resource extraction and uncontrolled use of natural resources have led to the climate and biodiversity crises.
The cost-of-living crisis is global, but government policy can affect how badly ordinary households, and climate action, are affected. Governments, in looking for ways to minimise the effect of the crisis and ensure energy security, are considering solutions that re-open the door to coal mining, fracking and increasing fossil fuel use. The UK’s legally binding targets under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and keep warming under 1.5C are being disregarded.
Other European countries have put a cap on energy, limiting the increase that could be passed onto customers, with the energy suppliers bearing the brunt of the increase in purchase costs. In the UK, the energy price cap rose by 54% in April, adding hundreds of pounds to household energy bills while energy company profits soared.
The economic growth of industrial nations is now causing quality of life to decline globally, both for humans and ecologically. Biodiversity is essential for life on Earth to thrive, yet has declined to a point threatening ecosystem collapse. ‘Growth’ based economies take too large a share of natural resources for excessive human needs, and these resources are being used in ways which fail to consider the limits of ecosystems or the needs of marginalised communities.
We need to move beyond growth economy models, and examine how we can live low-energy, high-quality ways of life while combatting social inequalities, tracking resource usage, opening access to technology, and re-envisaging the economy around meeting needs instead of making profits. Alternative economic models exist which are based upon diverse social values instead of monetary values, and include different kinds of drivers.
We need immediate action to reduce our dependency on energy, especially from fossil fuels. Government policy is key. Subsidies should be removed from fossil fuels and given to renewable energy to fund new clean jobs and more affordable green energy options. Investment is needed to help householders to improve energy efficiency, insulate, and move to greener energy sources. The planning framework needs to ensure new development is both low carbon and supports and protects biodiversity. Working from home was successful for many during the pandemic, reducing unnecessary travel – why not continue?
There is no Planet B. Without a healthy environment, our future is bleak. We need to stop measuring progress in terms of economic growth.
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Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth