Sustainable economic systems are focused on sustainable development rather than economic growth. The four types of economic systems all have environmental implications as do the three types of economies reviewed in this post (brown, blue, and green). It should be stated at the outset that most modern economies are mixed but increasingly climate change, air pollution, and environmental degradation are driving efforts to transition away from the brown economy toward both the blue and the green economies.
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. At the center of this economy are the 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).
This type of economy is rife with political corruption and is responsible for the massive levels of global warming causing greenhouse gases (mostly carbon and methane) in our atmosphere. Air and water pollution are defining features of this type of economy as are a range of harmful impacts on biodiversity. In addition to being the leading driver of civilization-ending climate change, fossil fuels contribute to the death of millions each year. This type of economic system .is focused on growth and development independent of the environmental toll. The brown economy makes demands on our environment that surpass the Earth’s carrying capacity and it encourages unrestrained exploitation of finite resources.
The blue economy also called the marine economy is one that supports clean and healthy oceans and 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 critical to a healthy biosphere. They are a rich repository of marine life, sea-based food, sea-embedded minerals, and coral reefs. Despite their importance to life on earth oceans are under threat from pollution, climate change, and acidification.
In a blue economy, we are tasked to engage in better management of finite water resources and create more livelihoods for an increasing number of people. This type of economy is focused on water stewardship and it entails minimizing pollution and waste as well as greater efficiency.
Specific economic activities associated with this type of economy include sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism, and recreation. Whatever the economic activity the blue economy is about minimizing marine pollution and resource use. Coastal restoration, protection, adaptation, and offshore renewable energy development are all 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 (economy, 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 emphasizes economic, 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 atmospheric CO2 which is absorbed by our oceans causing 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 adversely 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 major contributors to climate change, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss. A green economy is focused on ending our suicidal genocide against nature by focusing on social equity and environmental justice. This is largely about addressing climate change (zeroing out emissions), environmental protection, and habitat conservation.