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Neoliberal Economics and the Challenge of Protecting the Environment

Author: Richard A. Byron-Cox

Abstract: The world is on a quest to achieve sustainable development if we are to believe those that sit at the controls of power in the international arena. Indeed the United Nations (UN) marked its 70th
anniversary with the adoption of seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Development as we understand it is first and foremost economic growth and social progress leading to a better life for the humans on this planet. So the mission is (should be) really one primarily of creating better economic and social conditions for all. However, the protection of the environment never featured in this equation. Alas we found out that this is easier said than done, as there is a price to be paid for this socio-economic progress. And some correctly understand that this price to be extracted by nature is one that threatens our very existence. Suddenly we see the necessity for a debate on sustainable development.
Some claim that the debate is now over and there is common agreement that sustainable development is the way to go. But is this agreement mere words without any substance? And who
really have agreed to this? Are the actions required to realize this agreement being taken? Or are we
preaching a new gospel while our old practices have become even more dangerous and subversive to
the environmental integrity of the planet? Are people like the climate scientists that form part of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and others like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges
and Gus Speth simply alarmists? Does not the findings of Oxfam as regards global economic
inequality, and how it is reinforced and the consequences of the same; or those of the FAO
concerning the growth of population and the consequent dramatic increase demand for food, water
and energy point to anything except sustainability in the future? These are all really deadly serious
questions that must be answered and answered now.
The Speaker, Dr. Richard A. Byron-Cox argues that the neoliberal economics presently ruling the
world makes achieving the SDGs impossible. He is emphatic that these goals can only be realized
through inter alia rejecting the present economic relations. He further argues that until protection of the environment is de facto elevated above the concerns of profit, there is going to be a catastrophic
increase in environmental degradation, exposing the illusionary nature of the plan to achieve the

Keywords: environment, SDGs, neoliberal, economics