Peace, justice and joy: towards a green economy 

Clare Redfern, editor of Green Christian magazine, reports on Molly Scott Cato’s talk at the Green Christian conference. 

Our current economic system is not working to safeguard a habitable planet for anyone. It is clearly not bringing justice or peace or joy. 

Whilst it’s undeniably true that economic growth over the past 40 years has lifted millions out of extreme poverty, providing benefits such as electricity and clean water, the Earth’s parameters for a sustainable future are being increasingly overstepped.  With biodiversity loss, deforestation, climate chaos, water and soil pollution due to intensive agriculture and more besides, we are inexorably creeping beyond safe limits for planet Earth. And all these problems are caused by our economy and the lifestyle that goes with it. 

But the economy is a social system, and we could change the way it works! 

So claimed Molly Scott-Cato, Professor of Green Economics and former Green MEP, in an inspiring talk for the Green Christian conference last year. She went on to outline how we could design things differently: to minimise our use of energy and resources, instead of the current model, which is designed to maximise profits. 

So what does a green economy look like? 

“It’s about quality not quantity”, Molly stated, and a radical adjustment in thinking is needed. Social innovation is required as much, if not more than, technological innovation. The school pedal-bus was given as an amusing example of sustainable school transport.

It’s niche maybe, but it illustrates the co-operation, dedication and humour that alternative ways of living might both generate and require. Pooling our energy and talents within communities would be an important aspect of beginning to live within the limits of sustainable consumption. 

Different modes of ownership must be developed too, said Molly, for example, car-share schemes and better public transport, rather than more electric cars. The development of local industries and supply chains is vital too. Of course, improved energy efficiency in products, further developing renewable energy and alternative heating systems are also important; we already have all the technology we need to create warmer homes and schools, but these must be publicly funded for the poorest so it’s not the wealthy alone who benefit. 

Molly also stressed the need for “land reform”, advocating a redistribution of land as crucial. This would go hand in hand with the need for reconnection with food growing and green spaces, increasingly recognised as essential to wellbeing. Land could be allocated to those who want to work it to produce vegetables securing supplies of locally grown food, not those making huge profits. 

“There is no wealth but life” said John Ruskin – this could be the motto of the green economist! So much of our human potential is being missed out on because we are too busy pursuing nebulous ideals of acquisitions, gadgets and novelty. A new ethic of consumption is required which satisfies our human needs rather than the obsession with status symbols manufactured by adverts. 

Molly suggested that the biblical concept of “Jubilee” could be reclaimed; this was when every 50 years, the land was rested, debts had to be cancelled and wealth (and this included land) was redistributed. In Old Testament times, it seems it was clearly understood that wealth accumulates wealth and the most vulnerable suffer as a result, so the Jubilee year was the way that redistribution of land and economic wealth occurred. 

We must surely draw on such wisdom to develop inspiring ways that bring justice with flourishing for all. Connecting to our local place, knowing where we belong, finding joy in community; this is the spiritual wealth that people seem to be searching for right now. Molly’s final recommendation came from her favourite part of the Quaker Advices and Queries which tells us that we should: “Rejoice in the splendour of God’s continuing creation.” Amen to that!

Molly Scott-Cato is Professor of Economics at Roehampton University and a former Green MEP.  Her complete talk from Green Christian’s Building Back Greener conference can be found on the Green Christian YouTube channel

  • Article re-published with permission from Green Christian magazine.

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