On October 4, 2013, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Representative of German Industry and Trade (RGIT) hosted a luncheon discussion with Ralf Fücks, President of Heinrich Böll Foundation, who presented his recent book Smart Growth – The Green Revolution to an audience of 50 representatives from government, business and civil society in Washington, DC. Fücks addressed possibilities for economic growth to go hand in hand with ecological sustainability and identified the factors necessary for making such a green transformation of our economies possible.
The discussion presented an important and critical challenge to our current economic and political strategic vision. Fücks called into question the environmental pessimism first presented by the authors of Limits to Growth in the 1970s. Faced with a growing global population, an expected doubling of global economic output over the next 20-25 years, and the alarming effects of climate change, the need for a more sustainable and green model for economic growth is now greater than ever. Fücks argued that a green industrial revolution could become the catalyst for urgent, long-term economic growth during the current economic and budgetary crises on both sides of the Atlantic. It could be realized with a global transformation of energy production systems, more efficient energy usage and consumption, technological innovations, and a renaissance of social values. A model of smart growth would not only change our production cycle, but it would also affect our everyday lives, for instance by developing more opportunities for decentralized energy generation. According to Fücks, both Europe and the United States must take active roles in directing public funds towards projects that advance an energy and economic transformation, and encourage private investors to follow suit. To do so, Europe and the U.S. should each tap into their own inherent strengths: Europe’s abidance to the precautionary principle as the cornerstone of public policy, and the driving and ambitious entrepreneurial spirit of the U.S., both of which will prove essential to achieving transformational progress.
Rather than seeing the future as a world of constraints, the discussion generated excitement for a green and modern age, the contours of which are already taking shape in Germany, where a nuclear phase out and transition to renewable energy generation are in progress. The discussion showed that this vision of economic growth is in fact in the best interests of actors all across society, ranging from politicians and civil society to scientists and entrepreneurs. Discussants agreed that the main challenge would be to incentivize governments to put the right regulatory framework into place that would result in green and sustainable growth becoming reality.