Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Prosperity without growth?

By John Pratt
Created 01/08/2010 - 23:20
Prosperity without growth?
by John Pratt [0]

A 2010 Deakin Lecture by Professor Tim Jackson [1]
Professor of Sustainable Development in the Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES) at the University of Surrey Economics Commissioner UK Sustainable Development Commission

So much of the analysis of how we respond to climate change assumes that economic growth and emissions reduction are compatible goals. But is this wishful thinking? To question maximising economic growth as an organising principle of society seems close to economic heresy. But is there any evidence that we can de-link consumption and economic growth from emissions growth? Must we re-think the very notion of growth and what it means to be genuinely prosperous?

The dilemma of growth: How can we continue to grow our economy and population while living on a finite planet?

The Club of Rome [2] suggested forty years ago that continuous growth is unsustainable because it draws on finite resources.

In 2010 the Stockholm Resilience Centre [3] laid out what is needed to continue to live and operate safely with the Earth’s planetary boundaries, warning that we are already outside our safe operating space.

Biodiversity loss is already sixty times greater than in pre-industrial times. Growth has produced a better quality of life but has come at a cost.

In the developed world increased growth means less than it does in the third world. Why have we become so addicted to growth? Is it because we do not know how to make our economies work without growth? We need to explore a different kind of economy. We need to work out a political response to this issue. In the last twenty years we have used technology to increase our efficiency, and as a result our carbon intensity per dollar has fallen by about one third. However, because of the growth in the global economy our carbon emissions increased by forty per cent. If we have a global population of nine billion in 2050 we will have to bring our carbon intensity per dollar down from 770g to less than 6g. Can we as a society really achieve this goal? How can we grow indefinitely and still meet our carbon targets?

Consumer goods help us find our place in the world. They help us tell our social story, giving us identity, status and meaning. Continuous grow brings us a sense of hope. In the last ten years we have had a massive monetary expansion to make sure our economies remained in growth – this gave us the Global Financial Crisis. Consumer debt rose dramatically, and now we are encouraged to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions on people we don’t like.

Is it possible to have prosperity that isn’t about rising income? A prosperity that would give us health and security, at the same time allowing us to participate socially with hope for the future – a life that gives us the ability to flourish as human beings on a finite planet?

We need to understand that our prosperity depends on the prosperity of others. We have just witnessed our governments hand out trillions of dollars to keep our current system afloat. If there was ever a time to rethink the relationship between the present and the future and the role of the state, now is the time.

We are social beings, not isolates. To be complete we need to free our imagination: our prosperity should be about caring for others – a prosperity of hope.

We need to create a stable economy that does not rely on growth. Growth should occur where it matters most, where it improves the livelihood of the poor. We must make room for growth that matters, and live a life of shared prosperity.

Source URL: