Monthly Archives: April 2014

Can we Employ Everyone in a Low Carbon Economy?

Jim talks about decorating a lounge
Jim talks about decorating a lounge

Jim visits his friend Arnav in the nearby city. Arnav has just moved to a new flat with great views over the surrounding countryside towards the coast. He shows Jim the lounge and asks for his views on the décor. Jim thinks that the room is great but isn’t too keen on the decoration.

Jim suggests a few people who may be able to help Arnav.  Jim’s interior designer would be a good start. He could maybe suggest some better colours and revise the room layout. He knows a business that will renovate the furniture. He knows of several good sculptors if Arnav wants to recast the existing sculpture. The wall screens show broadcasts when Arnav is alone, and are his interface with work colleagues, but can be set to be part of the decoration when Arnav has company. Jim  knows a company that specialises in creative options for those screens. Arnav will probably also need a decorator, an electrician, a plasterer, a cleaner, and a project manager.

In 2050 service industries have expanded. Few people would think of trying to decorate a room without professional assistance to create the vision and to implement it. The quality of decoration is one of the factors that defines the status of a person. People visit each other’s homes much more often than in 2014, because public transport is so easy. Many people, especially mothers, use IT to allow them to work from home. Colleagues and clients often see the interior of homes, either during face to face meetings or in the background during video conferences. Room décor is important.

The service industries associated with decoration are just the start. Others deal with clothing, fitness, food, holidays, education, IT, and many other topics.

This expansion of service industries brings environmental benefits because the planetary impact of service industries is generally much lower than for manufacturing industries.

It also means that we can employ everyone in a low carbon economy. There is no direct link between carbon use and employment. It will be possible to create a thriving and sustainable economy in future without changing the basic human need for status and a good lifestyle.

Can’t we do this now? We already are to some extent. Service industries in western economies are expanding at the expense of manufacturing, though at present this is because of manufacturing automation and cheap foreign labour rather than because of environmental concerns.

The trend towards brand names is also encouraging. People will readily pay considerably more for a fashionable brand name. They would sooner buy one item with a good name than 10 generic items. The effect is to reduce the number of items made and bought, reducing environmental impact. The advertising for these high status items is increasingly claiming environmental benefit as one of the main reasons to buy the product.

By 2050 public opinion will have swung much further and it will be regarded as vulgar to indulge in excessive consumption. Status will be defined by image, quality and style rather than by the number, size or power of personal possessions.

The Q tax will help to drive this trend. It will ensure that advertised claims of environmental benefit have a basis in reality. It will also drive behaviour by making excessive consumption costly in financial terms.

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