Richard Douthwaite (1942-2011)
Richard Douthwaite was an economist and writer with a special interest in climate and energy issues and local economic development. His first book, The Growth Illusion: How Economic Growth Enriched the Few, Impoverished the Many and Endangered the Planet was published in 1992 and was re-issued in an extended and up-dated second edition in 1999. It explores why the present economic system is dependent on economic growth and the effects that the resulting pursuit of growth has had on the environment and society. His other major book, Short Circuit (1996) gives dozens of examples of currency, banking, energy and food production systems which communities can use to make themselves less dependent on an increasingly unstable world economy. His The Ecology of Money (1999) calls for different currencies for different purposes and for changes in the way money is put into circulation so that a stable, sustainable economy can be achieved. He edited Before the Wells Run Dry (2003), a study of the transition to renewable energy in the light of climate change and oil and gas depletion and To Catch the Wind, (2004), a report on how communities can invest in wind energy. He was a co-founder of Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, the Dublin-based international network of people who believe that the world's sustainability problems are due to the use of dysfunctional systems and are trying to develop better ones. He was co-editor of the Feasta Review, which carries cutting-edge thinking on sustainability issues. He led a recently-completed research project which was commissioned from Feasta by the Irish Government’s Environmental Protection Agency into the effects that very much higher energy prices might have on the various sectors of Irish life. In spring 2006 he co-wrote a report for the South African Department of Agriculture on the ways in which biofuel production might affect the two farming sectors in that country – the commercial farms and the subsistence producers. The report recommended a development strategy designed to maximise the benefits accruing in the rural areas. He acted as economic adviser to the Global Commons Institute (London) from 1993 to 2005 during which time GCI developed the Contraction and Convergence approach to dealing with greenhouse gas emissions which has now been backed by many countries. He subsequently helped Feasta devise the Cap and Share framework for emissions reduction. He was a visiting lecturer at the University of Plymouth and contributed the economic content to the Master’s course in Theology and the Environment at Dalgan Park, Navan. He contributed lectures to courses at four parts of the National University of Ireland (Dublin, Maynooth, Cork and Galway) and at the universities of London (Goldsmiths and LSE), Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Leicester, Newcastle, Manchester, Uppsala, Malardalen, Stockholm (KTH) and Budapest.
The introduction of smart metering later this year presents a great opportunity to engage Irish people en masse into substantially reducing their energy consumption, simply by showing them how much electricity they’re consuming, and how much the cost varies at different times of the day. However, as Richard Douthwaite warns, there is a real risk that smart metering may come in a form that benefits the electricity companies and not the end-user.
Much of the debate on reducing international carbon emissions has focused on the extra cost of making the necessary cuts to slow the onset of climate change. According to Richard Douthwaite, the Irish Government is considering introducing Cap and Share, a system which would actually earn ordinary Irish people money for reducing emissions.
The unprecedented development seen in Ireland in the Celtic Tiger years was fueled by the availability of cheap, abundant fossil energy. As the boom ends, the state is attempting to boost the economy with investment in larger than ever infrastructural projects which will not benefit many of the tax payers who are funding them, and crucially don’t recognize the extent to which peak oil production will affect their viability, as Richard Douthwaite reveals.
RICHARD DOUTHWAITE proposes measures including energy upgrade of the housing stock which could help to avoid economic meltdown, and JAY STUART outlines some energy saving measures which could be rolled out.
Much hope has been pinned on the development of new technologies for sinking carbon and generating low impact energy. Richard Douthwaite reveals the major contribution that could be offered by something very old; a soil type that has been in use for 6,000 years.
In terms of 1972 money, oil prices averaged about six dollars a barrel between 1987 and 2000. Last October they reached $40. They are now around $50 a barrel which means that they are beginning to climb back into the territory which caused the global economy to crash in 1979/80.
knows that the cheapest way of doing something can turn out to be very
expensive in the end. The decision to make Ireland ’s electricity
system so reliant on gas is about to bear this principle out. By Richard Douthwaite.