Prof. Kool: When markets are up, the environment’s down

School of Environment and Sustainability Prof. Rick Kool’s essay in The Conversation highlights the inverse relationship between economic growth and environmental conditions. He calls for daily reporting of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as an indicator of environmental health.

Here is an excerpt from the essay, It’s worth a daily reminder: When markets are up, the environment is down:

“Many Canadians listen to the radio every morning and, as sure as the sun rises, we’ll hear the stock market report every weekday. Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, and some days it’s not moving much at all. And if you’re not listening to radio or watching TV, most newspapers will give you the same message, every morning, usually on the front of the business section.

In our world, “up” is usually associated with “good” while “down” is bad. Our moods fit this categorization; we might say “I’m on top of the world” when happy or “I’m in the pits” when feeling low. The phrases “I’m up” or “I’m down” need no further explanation.

The same goes for market reports. When the markets are up, the unstated message is that we should feel good; the economy is strong and things are looking up! When the market is not moving, well, tomorrow is another day, and there might be some market growth. When the market is down, that’s alarming. And when the market stays down, that is really not good at all.

But not everything that is up is good; cancer cells are stellar exemplars of growth, but when cancer is “up,” that’s not good for the patient. Some of us struggle with weight gain, and a rising number of pounds on the scale is not better. When interest rates are up, that’s great for those with money in the bank, but terrible if you’re paying off a large mortgage.

[…]

Global warming and climate instability are the outcomes of our economic system’s activity. What happens to our weather on a daily basis is due to atmospheric physics; what is happening to climate is due to the global economy.

Indeed, greenhouse gas emissions are closely tied to national gross domestic product numbers. As Dalhousie University researchers Larry Hughes and Ayesha Herian note:

 “For much of the post-Second World War period, the growth of many national economies was closely correlated with an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The strong coupling of economic growth and GHG emissions has been a major contributor to human-induced climate change.”

Canada’s commitment to the Paris climate change agreement means that we need to begin to differentiate the performance of our economy from the continued proliferation of greenhouse gases. The market reports offer an interesting place to, on a daily basis, make this clear.”

Read the entire essay.