OPINION

Sustainable growth

In difficult times like these, Greece is fortunate to have a man as sensitive as Karolos Papoulias as president of the Republic. His public remarks satisfy the public demand for fairness and hope for a better future. Many were moved by his recent comment that «the protection of the environment is a matter of democracy.» Following the restoration of democracy in 1974, it was often said that democracy means that the early morning knock on your door is the milkman and not some police officer about to arrest you for your political convictions. After 1981, people said that democracy is not just about civil liberties but also social justice, fair distribution of wealth and the fight against social exclusion. Now it’s time to inject our democracy with an environmental agenda. As Papoulias said, «the repercussions of natural disasters are felt by every one of us. But particularly those who live in depressed areas.» The economist Nikos Keranis recently reminded me of Paul Samuelson’s NEW concept. NEW, an acronym for net economic welfare, refers to the estimation of real growth taking into account externalities. In other words, soaring exports of fish and fruit may be recorded as growth but the real cost may be far greater than profit at a time when the Vegoritida lake is in danger of drying up and fish stocks in the seas are severely depleted. These hard truths should spark a new civic movement animated not by money but the will for a more hospitable environment. Growth figures mean little when a large part of our income is spent on electricity to relieve us from the rising temperature, itself a result of shrinking forests and an expanding cement jungle. The current growth pattern is particularly dangerous, for it is taking a hefty toll on the resources that belong to our descendants.