Citizen Action Monitor

Why do we fail to see the connection between economic growth and planet degradation?

Simple: a growing economy is all we know.

No 2026 Posted by fw, August 08, 2017

To access all other synopses from Prosperity without Growth, click on the Tab titled “Prosperity without Growth” — Links to All Posts in the top left margin. 

“Beyond the limits.” That’s the title of Tim Jackson’s seventh and final section of Chapter 1 of his book Prosperity Without Growth.

What “limits” is Jackson referring to in his title? He seems to leave us guessing. Was he inviting us to infer our own meaning? That’s what I did and settled on this meaning:

Given that continuous global economic growth is incompatible with the earth’s finite resource base and fragile ecology which supports life on earth, Jackson contends that, going forward, business as usual is not a viable option. So, he puts forward an alternative vision – a vision beyond the limits of economic growth.

Below is my synopsis of section 7.

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Beyond the limits: a synopsis, excerpted from Chapter 1 of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

The prevailing economic model relies on a continual, exponential expansion of the size of the economy,” contends Jackson. However, continuous global economic growth is incompatible with the earth’s finite resource base and fragile ecology which supports life on earth. The harsh fact is, global economic growth has already resulted in a 60% degradation of the world’s ecosystems. Yet, it is taken for granted that economic growth will continue – indefinitely – for rich as well as for poor countries.

But why do we fail to see the connection between economic growth and planet degradation? Simple: a growing economy is all we know. The recent recession triggered by the 2007-2008 collapse of the global financial sector may have created considerable instability around the globe, but few questioned the determination to return to the security and stability of the familiar business as usual growth model.

But question it we must,” declares Jackson. No longer can we allow economists to duck the pivotal question: How can a continually growing economic system fit within the confines of a finite ecological system?

The only answer to this question, in Jackson’s words, “is that growth in dollars must be ‘decoupled’ from growth in physical throughputs and environmental impacts.” (To explain “decoupled” — If economic growth did not concurrently and negatively affect the environment, the two would be said to be “decoupled”).

Here’s another way to express Jackson’s answer to the question How can a continually growing economic system fit within the confines of a finite ecological system? –

If resources processed through a production system increase, and environmental impacts worsen concurrently with economic growth, then the two are not “decoupled”. To be truly decoupled, measures of resources processed would have to decrease and measures of environmental impacts would have to lessen concurrently with an increase in economic growth.

In fact, there are no significant prospects for decoupling economic growth from further environmental degradation.

The myth of growth has failed us,” Jackson pronounces. “It has failed, spectacularly … to provide economic stability and secure people’s livelihoods.

The reality of our predicament is stark: the era of cheap oil is over; commodity prices are volatile; the environment is degraded; conflicts arise over land, water, and resource use; a global climate crisis is upon us; and the global economy is broken.

A return to business as usual is not a viable option because prosperity for the few and social injustice and ecological destruction for the many is indefensible.

Jackson puts forward an alternative visiona vision beyond the limits of economic growth: economic stability; protecting people’s jobs; creation of new employment opportunities; a renewed sense of prosperity; and a deeper commitment to justice in a finite world.

However, today’s governments are so focused on material growth in consumer-driven cultures that they remain blind to alternative visions of prosperity.

But Jackson is not deterred; he is convinced that “there remains a unique opportunity to invest in change,” to have prosperity without growth.

“Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times.”

END OF SYNOPSES FOR CHAPTER 1

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