Prosperity without growth
Further to the discussion I had with Kiashu in the previous post, I thought a recent post from the Oil Drum would be appropriate to continue our discussion on why it seems we have to consume always more and if there are alternatives.
A British organization wonders in it’s latest report if we can achieve prosperity without growth. This is an important question as economic growth is seen as the ultimate goal of our modern societies.
This paper is worth reading as it clearly shows the limits of our current thinking based on infinite growth in a finite world. My guess is that we will have to stop linear thinking and start circular.
Indeed, we manufacture stuff that we use and then throw away when we don’t use them anymore. Reducing and recycling would go a long way towards sustainability. As an example, 900 kilograms of paper can be created with a ton of used paper.
Likewise, efficiency would be a major improvement of our societies. Why should we have more and more stuff ? Can we get back on focusing in being rather than having ? These are questions that have been in my mind for months…
But without further ado, here is how this report begins:
Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth. For the last five decades the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. If it continues to grow at the same rate the economy will be 80 times that size by the year 2100…
… In short, this report challenges the assumption of continued economic expansion in rich countries and asks: is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth?
It notes in its summary facts that are worth spreading:
Growth has delivered its beneits, at best, unequally. A fifth of the world’s population earns just 2% of global income. Inequality is higher in the OECD nations than it was 20 years ago. And while the rich got richer, middle-class incomes in Western countries were stagnant in real terms long before the recession.
Far from raising the living standard for those who most needed it, growth let much of the world’s population down. Wealth trickled up to the lucky few.
Fairness (or the lack of it) is just one of several reasons to question the conventional formula for achieving prosperity. As he economy expands, so do the resource implications associated with it. These impacts are already unsustainable. In the last quarter of a century the global economy has doubled, while an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded.
Global carbon emissions have risen by 40% since 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol ‘base year’). Signiicant scarcity in key resources – such as oil – may be less than a decade away.
A world in which things simply go on as usual is already inconceivable. But what about a world in which nine billion people all aspire to the level of affluence achieved in the OECD nations?
Such an economy would need to be 15 times the size of this one by 2050 and 40 times bigger by the end of the century. What does such an economy look like? What does it run on? Does it really offer a credible vision for a shared and lasting prosperity?
These indeed are interesting questions that we will have to answer quickly if we want to avoid collapse. Let us not suffer the fate of previous societies.
To learn out more, please download now the full report (pdf. 3 Mo ; 136 pages)