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Eco-economic Tak Couple

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

AnnaKate had a lot of time during the lockdown so she was thinking if economy boleh jangan couple dengan environment tak.

Banana has never been my favourite fruit. It has a soft mushy texture that doesn’t sit well in my mouth. Also the ripeness is just one notch less erratic than an avocado. But it’s a different story if it’s pisang goreng, cekodok pisang or banana cakes. I’ve had a fair share of banana cake when my sister decided to bake them for fun during the MCOs.

COVID-19 lockdowns brought out the good, the bake, and the ugly in us; home bakers mushrooming with ovens actually running out of stocks in stores. Meanwhile, the bad has to be on a global level – the economy is at a near standstill.

For one, non-essential businesses are closed and consumerism is scaled down to just food deliveries and limited online shopping. To mitigate this economic pressure, the Malaysian government has offered various stimulus packages to generate cash flow; in hope to reignite consumerism to induce economic growth.

With a personal financial crisis looming as fallout from the pandemic, my sister began looking for alternative sources of income and she decided to put her newfound baking skills to good use.

Despite a dire financial situation, she being an environmentalist thinks that the pandemic is a blessing in disguise to the environment; not discounting the devastating fact of thousands of deaths from the virus.

NASA said environmental pollution is reduced by as much as 30% from less energy consumption and lower oil demand, contributed by a reduced mobility of up to 90% from Google’s mobility index report[1].

So I got to thinking – Can the so-called yardstick of human progress “the economy” grow without bearing ecological deterioration? Can we decouple economy from ecology?

Most policymakers and conventional economists, and even former US president Barack Obama,[2] now endorse the idea that the economy can grow, using less resources and causing fewer environmental problems.

Some argue that decoupling the two is a delusion as they observe decoupling is only partly due to genuine efficiency gains and other parts are a combination of three illusory effects. [3]

  • Resource substitution for e.g. renewable energy for fossil fuels

  • Growth of financial activities for e.g. currency trading

  • Production cost shift from one nation to another (usually the richer to the poorer nation) for e.g. many goods consumed in developed nations are made in developing nations

In baking and selling a banana cake, my sister generates cash flow and contributes to the GDP when she buys ingredients and gains a small income from the sale; simply put that’s “good economy”. Energy is consumed when she uses an electrical oven to bake; that’s “bad environment”.

However, she has zero fuel consumption by walking to and fro a nearby grocer for the ingredients and reduces wastes by using overripe bananas to bake; offsetting the oven energy consumption to “good environment”. Basically, this equates “good environment” and “good economy”.

And most importantly, it makes the environmentalist in her proud and happy about the balance. So she has her cake and gets to eat it too.

I think, eco-economic decoupling is not impossible, but realistically, it cannot be absolute either whereby economic growth is coupled with a decline in usage of resources. The key here is moderation, balance and ultimately a new mindset.

Rather than fighting between better economy and healthier environment, there’s a need to shift our mindset to measure progress. A study says we must go beyond GDP, measuring the various objective and subjective components of well-being to monitor our progress. [4]

Personally, I too believe the epicenter of human progress is human well-being and the measure of progress by economic figures is just a human construct anyway. Essentially, there is interconnectedness between human well-being and health of the environment; well-being is directly and positively connected with a healthy environment.

If baking makes my sister happy and she has a healthy conscience reducing carbon footprints with her foot prints, won’t that be a better measure of “economy”?

[1] [2][3]


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