Where i've taught
The act of teaching has always struck me as the best and most effective way of bringing about reasoned and purposeful change.
Researching and writing about these matters is of course vital. Without those activities we will never establish a credible base on which to build understanding which can then deliver change. But teaching in the end is vital. But it must be teaching which reflects also a deep practical understanding of what can and what cannot be realistically achieved. Knowing the arguments is never going to be enough
I’ll take a practical example. I have always questioned whether our dedication to economic growth was soundly based or sustainable. As a young economist at the OECD secretariat in Paris I first had to think about something that later became known as the “limits of growth”. The limits of growth exposed the theoretical weaknesses of assuming that growth in GDP would enable us to focus on solving all other practical problems. We soon began to realise that other much more serious problems would emerge from our reliance on economic growth. But in the end the balance of the policy debate favoured relying on the market to solve these problems by technological change and innovation.
OECD Chateau de la Mouette Paris
The sometimes cited proof of this argument came from a late 19th century Royal Commission Report in Britain which solemnly argued that life in London would cease if the volume of horse manure created by the ever growing number of horse drawn carriages was not put into reverse. The rest of the tale settles the argument: the arrival of the internal combustion engine. This, so the argument runs, brought the replacement of horse carriages by motor cars. Proof that free markets and technological change will always come up with an affordable solution.
The early motor vehicle: Ford T-Model
But will it in that way always deliver a solution? The answer to that is almost certainly no. We are unable to address the challenge of sustainable development. As I have argued in the press the Kyoto Protocol, which followed the signing of the UN Framework on Climate Change in 1992, has after endless meetings and solemn commitments to reduce CO2 emissions failed to turn the climate change tide.
The market has not delivered though the Covid19 pandemic in less time than the bat of an eyelid has radically reduced global growth and global emissions of CO2. We have collectively failed to get industries and government to commit to reducing emissions. Despite the fall in CO2 emissions as a result of the pandemic it will rise again without radical changes in “the way we do business”.
These sorts of insights and lessons have to be understood and acted upon. As a teacher of business I have a clear duty to make sure that we all understand that we face environmental destruction unless we can with certainty bring about fundamental changes in corporate behaviour and corporate governance which are the drivers of this calamity.