So what does the Root Bug – the mismatch of supply and demand in the labor market – have to do with climate change threats, biodiversity deterioration, unsustainable waste management and other environmental challenges?

The technologies to solve almost all of these issues either exist or could be developed fairly quickly if we just implemented the proper economic incentives: set sufficient Pigovian taxes on externalities (like pollution), taxed natural resources or auctioned sustainable use quotas for them, stopped subsidizing wasteful resource use (such as fossil fuel extraction, meat production and careless mining) and protected biodiversity with harsh penalties for any breaches.

But despite decades of talk about the threats of an unpredictable climate change, mankind is making no progress whatsoever in getting rid of the use of fossil fuels. On the contrary, we are investing heavily in new technologies to access more and more remote oil and natural gas reserves and doing nothing to prevent the use of abundant fossil coal. Some nations are even waging entire wars to keep these resources cheap. The destruction of endangered habitats and thus invaluable biodiversity has not slowed down significantly either.

Despite huge increases in productivity, it seems that we still cannot “afford” to do things the sustainable way, but, instead, we keep on passing costs on to future generations. We need to look deeper into what “afford” means in this case. It’s not a matter of there being a lack of money or human resources (labor). It’s just that our current economic system’s fragility and growth dependence can’t take it.

When jobs, national competitiveness and economic growth are at stake and when anything holding back economic activity threatens plunging the economy into a spiral of economic collapse, any long-term considerations don’t even come into question. However, we have developed versatile solutions to people’s guilt regarding these issues as well as  populist, symbolic political bandages focused on symptoms at best.

Section 3.4. in Fixing the Root Bug presents some simple policy alternatives that could be used to solve our environmental sustainability challenges. But, more importantly, it explains how the Root Bug (with the growth dependence and economy war that it sustains) is the main obstacle to implementing such policies, both locally and globally. It also claims that the whole debate between “degrowth” and “decoupling/green growth” is largely irrelevant. The problem is not growth – it’s growth dependence. An addiction does not make the object of addiction itself intrinsically evil. Regardless of whether one wants more or less of a kind of activity, getting rid of a possible dependence on it should one’s first priority.