Region Forward Blog

New Economy Old Power

Jun 1, 2011


The “new economy” is a term that’s been bandied around for awhile. In general it’s meant to reflect the transition from a manufacturing-driven economy to a largely service-based economy that has occurred in many Western nations since the late 20th century. However in one major sense it’s a misnomer. The new economy is in fact still running largely on old power.

The New York Times reported Monday that global CO2 emissions from energy use hit an all time high last year after taking a temporary tumble during the recession according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). What this shows is that as things stand any growth of the economy – “new” or otherwise – is directly correlated to a growth in climate change causing emissions. The two must be decoupled. Whereas economic growth is desired emissions growth is detrimental; however as it stands now the two increase in tandem.

This isn’t a Western/developed countries vs. developing countries issue. At least it shouldn’t be. Though it’s often framed that way if true progress is going to be achieved this paradigm must be eradicated. For much of the 20th century developed nations spewed emissions into the atmosphere relentlessly in order to fuel their growth. Now developing nations are doing the same. The solution lies in cooperation and action from both sides. Areas in Canada and Europe have taken positive steps like taxing carbon or pledging climate aid to developing countries while China has made good on its pledge to reduce its energy intensity (energy usage per unit of economic output).

These are just first steps and much more needs to be done especially on the part of the United States. Metro Washington was the first region in the country to adopt a region-wide plan to reduce emissions and others have joined in. National-level policy is desirable however until that occurs regional and state level policy appears to be the most likely venue for progress.

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