The joys of the economic downturn

Knowledge is not enough – that much is clear. Nothing we know seems to have an effect on the vigour and speed with which we are destroying the environment in the name of growth or national interests.

Janne Hukkinen, Professor of Environmental Policy, suggests looking at an advertisement by the investment giant Goldman Sachs. You will find the story that people want to hear: a story of continuous, ascending growth. This vision tempts us, although on closer inspection the idea rooted in traditional economics of one-dimensional growth turns out to be flawed.

In contrast, we associate the word ‘downturn’ with a terrible plunge into the abyss. Hukkinen illustrates the idea with a still frame from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

A weaker economy, a better life

“If we want to survive, we must learn to view and present the economic downturn in an intuitively attractive way,” Professor Hukkinen claims. He has named his alternative model the ‘roller coaster’.

Using the shape of the roller coaster to illustrate the economic cycle helps us to get away from the idea of there being no bounds. In addition to economic indicators, this model encompasses ecosystem services and addresses the nature of our network of social relations. Weakening economic indicators mean a rise in the quality of life in the form of eco-social changes: the improvement of equality and the recovery of natural resources.

“In the roller coaster model, we must connect together the carriages of the rich and the less well-off,” Hukkinen says.

Hukkinen’s model is based on the theory of the adaptive cycle developed by Crawford Stanley Holling, one of the founders of ecological economics. Hukkinen was also influenced by cognitive science research on models of thought that attract and repel people.

Hukkinen says that the new environmental policy must “tickle our intuition” similarly to what war propagandists and salesmen have been doing throughout history.

“We also need new indicators to enhance the visibility of eco-social growth, which is one of the model’s dimensions,” Hukkinen notes.

Professor Hukkinen was one of the speakers at the Talouskriisin vaikutus ympäristöön (Environmental impact of the economic crisis) seminar at the Science Forum on 9 January 2013.

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Text: Virve Pohjanpalo
Photo: 123rf
Translation: Language Services/Language Centre (University of Helsinki)
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