Environmental Implications of the Brown Blue and Green Economies
Sustainable economic systems are those focused on sustainable development rather than economic growth. In a preceding post, we reviewed four types of economic systems and their implications for the environment. In this post, we take a look at the environmental implications of three colored economies: brown, blue, and green. It should be stated at the outset that most modern economies are a mixture of all three but increasingly we are seeing consorted efforts to transition away from the brown economy towards both the blue and the green economies.
At the end of the article, the brown economy will be compared to both the blue economy and the green economy.
A brown economy is one in which economic growth is largely dependent on environmentally destructive forms of activity, especially fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. This includes major oil corporations (Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Gazprom, Petrobras, etc) as well as a wide range of companies that assist with the extraction, refining, and transportation of fossil fuels (eg TC Energy, which was previously known as TransCanada pipelines).
One of the byproducts of this form of the economy is massive levels of climate change-causing greenhouse gas (GHG) which includes carbon dioxide and methane.
Air and water pollution are defining features of this type of economy as are a range of harmful impacts on biodiversity. In this system, economic development contributes to deadly forms of pollution, and the Earth’s carrying capacity is overtaxed, putting a strain on finite resources.
The blue economy also called the marine economy is one that supports clean and healthy oceans, as well as coastal, and other aquatic ecosystems. This form of economy acknowledges that water is crucial to our financial, biological, cultural, and spiritual well-being. Although some have coined the term to apply to a comprehensive sustainability regime, in the context of this review, the blue economy primarily focuses on managing oceans, waterways, and water resources.
The seas cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and they are a rich repository of marine life, sea-based food, sea-embedded minerals, and coral reefs. Oceans are under threat from pollution, warming, and acidification.
In a blue economy, we are tasked to create more livelihood for an increasing number of people with better management of finite water resources. This type of economy implies water stewardship which entails less pollution and less waste as well as greater efficiency.
Specific economic activities associated with this type of economy include sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism, and recreation, which minimizes marine pollution and uses of the ocean and coastal space that do not result in direct use or consumption of resources. Coastal restoration, protection, adaptation, and offshore renewable energy development are also important parts of this type of economy.
The UN succinctly defines the green economy as one that, “carries the promise of a new economic growth paradigm that is friendly to the earth’s ecosystems and can also contribute to poverty alleviation.” As indicated in a United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report on the green economy (page 16) diverse strategies for economic growth and environmental stewardship can complement one another.
UNEP defines a green economy as, “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” This definition is in line with the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental).
The green economy is premised on economic production which minimizes emissions, reduces resource consumption and lowers environmental costs. Part of this approach involves recycling natural resources in a model of economic development that can merge the economic with environmental and social benefits.
In its simplest essence, the green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.
The Brown Economy Vs. the Blue Economy
While the brown economy generates pollution that flows directly into waterways (eg coal ash) it also pollutes the ocean through carbon pollution which causes acidification and coral bleaching. The brown economy’s dependence on fossil fuels also contributes to global warming and many of the impacts of this warming directly impact the health and well-being of our oceans.
The Brown Economy Vs. the Green Economy
While the green economy seeks to develop a sustainable economic system, the brown economy does not take into account adverse environmental impacts. Fossil fuels are the leading cause of climate change, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss. A green economy is focused on addressing climate (zeroing out emissions), environment (protection, conservation), and biodiversity (habitat preservation, land corridors, etc) and seeks to minimize impacts in these areas