The economy vs. the environment: Which is more urgent?

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Fact Box

  • Collaboration with Zivvy News
  • Famous climate activist Greta Thunberg said in 2019 at an address to the British Parliament, “The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gasses. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth.”
  • A 2021 YouGov/Economist poll found that about a third of all Americans “deny human-caused climate change exists.”  
  • The Great Depression (1929-1939) was “the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world,” and began with the stock market crash of 1929. At its lowest point, “15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed.”
  • A 2022 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 70% of Americans view inflation as “a very big problem for the country,” while 42% viewed climate change that way.

Elliot (Economy)

When it comes to where our focus should be, the economy is more important because people need to have basic necessities in life before they can even think about saving the planet. It's quite problematic when we're telling the poorest of the poor to stop heating their homes in winter because we need to protect the environment. We need to address things like inflation and child poverty in our own developed nations before we can turn our attention toward fixing the planet. It's about priorities. 

It's also quite hypocritical when major governments and corporate interests tell us that WE are the problem when government officials and CEOs are burning jet fuel and creating insane emissions by traveling around the globe on private jets. Instead of printing money, creating inflation, and telling us how to live our lives, these officials should look at their own lifestyles first. It's pretty clear that the average American who is struggling to even put gas in their car is not the problem. 

By investing in the economy, we can simultaneously save the environment AND improve people's living standards. For example, the 2022 energy crisis could have created numerous jobs in sustainable energy. There's no reason we can't do both--but focusing on the economy would indirectly lead to better environmental outcomes as we shift towards oil alternatives. Investing in the economy gives humanity the resources and technology to make meaningful changes for the sake of the environment, something that could not occur without prioritizing the former over the latter.  

Chad (Environment)

While the media and politicians cannot stop talking about the importance of the economy, they fail to grasp how the economy's health is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment. We cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy environment. 

While there are many ways value is added to the economy (service, intellectual developments, technology, etc.), the most significant parts of the economy are based on the extraction or utilization of natural resources--it's the fundamental way value has been created throughout history.

Furthermore, we can only have a productive economy if our environment is looked after. The increasing costs of natural disasters such as storms, floods, droughts, and fires can be catastrophic. And these costs will only balloon further under climate change to collapse any economy that does not take proactive steps to mitigate them.

The costs of economic and climate refugees due to the effects of climate change and environmental destruction will cause instability in all world markets and supply chains. We are already seeing entire industries shut down in America, from our core transportation routes to our largest seafood markets

Society can adapt and respond in many ways to the economy's short- or long-term changes. These systems are artificial and mainly under human control. However, we have no artificial controls or replacement mechanisms for the large-scale issues of the environment.

No problems on our planet are more significant than environmental health, for without a healthy environment, we all cease to be. 'When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.'

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