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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Sustainable Industries

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks with author Hazel Henderson about the problems of industries dependent on diminishing resources, such as fishing and logging. Henderson says governments need to encourage the transition away from "sunset industries" by phasing out subsidies and imposing taxes on the use of nonrenewable resources.


CURWOOD: As we've just heard, the fishing industry is an extractive enterprise that's up against its limits. But it's not the only business facing this kind of challenge. Loggers, for example, are running out of virgin forest. In her new book, Paradigms in Progress: Live Beyond Economics, development analyst Hazel Henderson calls for a shift from an economy that consumes resources to one that recycles them. She says subsidies to displace fishermen and loggers should be only stopgap measures.

HENDERSON: I think inasmuch as it gives them and those industries breathing space to either shift to more sustainable modes of organizing or to give the people an opportunity to get retrained, there's some justification for it. But on the other hand, wherever we have industries which are based on resources that are just basically declining, like fisheries all around the world, these industries are going to have to be restructured, and people are going to have to find other ways of making a living. And it's very hard, but eventually it's going to lead to a revolution in the way we provide for ourselves, and, you know, we're just having to face up to this now.

CURWOOD: What about the overall problem of the commons? That is, a resource that we all own publicly? When there's plenty of it there's not much of a problem, but as its supply begins to dwindle, it creates an incentive for one person to beat out the other to get a little bit of what's left. Now, this seems to be, to be part of the major problem with the fisheries. What kind of economic policies should our government use to deal with shrinking resources of common property?

HENDERSON: Well, basically, you do have to turn to some kind of, of government regulation. And I think at the moment, we sort of, after the Cold War we suddenly have this idea, you know, that the market is going to be able to solve all our problems. Well it isn't, and it never did. And every economy in the world is a mixture of markets and regulations, and I think that we have to realize that when resources get over-used, you can't use the straight competitive model. You have to have a set of rules. We need to introduce pollution taxes, taxes on waste, taxes on taking out, extracting virgin materials, taxes on planned obsolescence, you know, throw-away cameras and lighters and that kind of thing. And what studies show in Europe is that if we shifted the base of our taxation to these kinds of taxes, we could then concomitantly lower income taxes.

CURWOOD: Now, the people who are engaged in fishing and mining and timber say if too many fees are imposed, that activity won't be profitable. How do you respond to that?

HENDERSON: Well that's true, and all it's doing is reflecting reality. In other words, these are sunset kinds of activities. And there's a whole new industrial sector and plenty of new companies which actually are small companies that are creating more jobs than are being lost in these old sunset industries. But of course, the people involved have to be helped through those transitions from the old jobs that are dying to the new jobs that are growing.

CURWOOD: I want you to look at the fishing industries future. What do you think the fishing business will be like in the future, in the new economy that you are projecting?

HENDERSON: Well I suppose most fishing will be farmed. That just as we went in agriculture from being hunters and gatherers to planting the crops, the fishery industry, I think, will change from hunting fish in the oceans to growing fish in environmentally appropriate ways.

CURWOOD: Are you pessimistic or optimistic about our ability to make good use of our remaining resources?

HENDERSON: Well I think on balance I'm optimistic, because human beings are learning very rapidly about all of these things, and we're sharing information. But we don't have a very long time to turn the ship around. And where we have become confused is that the growth of the GNP became kind of the goal instead of just the means to achieve the goal. But the goal, of course, is human development. And most of the statisticians in the world, statistical offices, are now refiguring their national accounting systems so that they will subtract from the Gross National Product these hidden costs of depleting resources, and some of these new indicators can help us to re-target ourselves within nature's limits.

CURWOOD: Well thank you so much for taking this time with us.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Hazel Henderson is a development policy analyst. Her book is called Paradigms and Progress: Life Beyond Economics.



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