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Prosperity without growth?

Prosperity without growth?
by John Pratt

A 2010 Deakin Lecture by Professor Tim Jackson
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 suggested forty years ago that continuous growth is unsustainable because it draws on finite resources.

In 2010 the Stockholm Resilience Centre 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.


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GDP is an incomplete measure.

Dr Gruen also addressed the global financial crisis, saying the lead-up was perversely masked by the use of GDP.

"In the lead-up to the global financial crisis, measures of GDP did little to warn us of the increasing fragility of the global financial system," he told the audience.

"In the period before the crisis, much of the strong growth in GDP in many countries was driven by unsustainable asset price inflation and strong growth in consumption, funded by increased borrowing that turned out to be unsustainable."

Such distortions are visible in the way GDP measures activity in the banking sector.

Dr Gruen drew the conference's attention to the fact that when using GDP, compensation for bearing risk is included as output in the finance sector.

"When banks increased interest margins in late 2008, in response to a radical reassessment of expected defaults and liquidity risks, this increase was booked as an increase in the output of the financial sector rather than a correction in the price of risk as it should have been," he told the audience.

This essentially overstated the output from the financial sector.

This distortion is not only limited to the finance sector, but also extends to the natural resources sector.

"The value of natural resources when they are extracted is treated as production and an increase in GDP. However, natural resources are assets already owned by the community. Their extraction and sale represents the transformation of an asset, the natural resource, into another asset - cash."

"By not counting the depletion of the natural resource asset, production or value added is measured by GDP is overstated, possibly at the expense of the wellbeing of future generations," Dr Gruen stated.

Who would have thought? GDP is not a good measurement of growth.

Growth can be based on a house of cards.

Why are we getting all this honesty all of the sudden?

Must be something in the air.

The top down system

The climate change cause has had impeccable timing, of that I have no doubts.

The majority of first world nations have one thing in common, lots of red ink going out, and decreasing black ink coming in. The situation will need to be addressed seriously at some point in the near future. This means there can be only four outcomes:

1. Decreased spending (government spending cuts)

2. Increased taxes.

3. A combination of 1 and 2.

4. The Greece solution I call: welcome to the economic day after tomorrow. Forced changes.

I don't believe most high profile politicians and government people have deep fear of man made warming. Even if they do believe it, it hardly seems the most pressing issue. They would see environment taxes as manna from heaven though.

Look at nearly all first world nations and one thing becomes clear as day, the two staple taxes, income and company, are decreasing as a percentage of the take. Without going into the reasons this slide will continue and it's not a reversible slide. Governments have accepted this for some years.

Broad based consumption taxes and user pays tax systems are not new ideas. What they are is highly politically charged. These taxes are the most regressive one can opt for. They directly concern both energy and food costs. The poorer a person is, the higher percentage of their income will be lost. There's no getting around the point.

Will the pain make environmental gain? No. The reason? Nobody will allow it to go that far. The problem is that environment taxes are also placed on production. The reason? The taxes aren't truly broad based, they're not placed on goods imported, and these goods may well of not had any taxes placed upon them during the production process.

Politicians (smart ones) already understand all this and the pay off (green tax subsidised) will be decreased income and company taxes. Mostly company. Politicians don't fair well with an army of unemployed. Naturally this will be a much better outcome for established, large companies, than for smaller companies and startups. Most small companies don't have large profits (if any), and are much more adversely affected by higher costs (cashflow), and compliance with a mountain of new laws and red tape. The negative impact on industry will take some time, but it will eventually flow through for all to see.

I ask one question: if a government is heavily dependent on a consumption tax, why would that government not be happy with consumption? Or worse, why would a government seek the arrival of something like wind energy that doesn't attract this tax? The answer is simple: it's not going to be a problem. At least in the short to medium term.

The alternative energy industry is living on a false hope. And it'll mostly be splashed with loads of red ink in the not too distant future. Make dirty energy (through tax) as dear or dearer than clean energy. It's all so simple, except it has no hope of working.

If Australia took its stock standard best selling family car and added taxes to make it as expensive as a Porsche, does anyone really believe even one extra legitimate Porsche sale will be made? You'll see a whole lot more people walking though. Angry walkers. And angry people make for angry voters. Politicians don't like that.

Of course the most important point is why would a government cause itself so many problems, in a quest to wipe out the very tax so many number crunchers are counting on saving the whole box and dice? The answer is again simple: nobody is planing on doing any such thing. And you can take that to the bank.

I don't like environment tax because it will come about through dishonest means, and because it's not a particularly smart tax, and it most definitely will not live up to anywhere near the hype. It's just a another easy solution that allows for false comfort whilst putting off doing the hard yards!

Trust me, you want growth

John Pratt: "the planet is finite, the biosphere we live in is finite, the amount of oil and other resources on the planet is finite. The number of people this planet can support is finite".

Everything that has a beginning will one day come to an end. I do understand the concept. What I don't do is spend every waking hour thinking about my one day "for certain" demise. It would be pointless for a start. It would also be criminally unproductive. Wouldn't I be better served spending my time being a part of something useful? Something that was in my sphere of control?

We aren't just about due for environmental collapse. I don't have much time for hysteria or indeed hysterics.

We in the first world need to reduce our footprints so others have the opportunity to an education, food and health. We live in a global village and the decisions we made effect others thousands of miles away.

If by "footprints" you mean economic growth, you're wrong. Attempting to force negative growth won't help one single person. It'll only damage multitudes of people.

The mistake you have made is to mix up economic growth with redistribution. I picked this up with your bits about the winners and losers.

Think of an economy as a pie. If the pie grows 2% it becomes 2% bigger. That's 2% more for everyone to theoretically share. The new 2% isn't taken from one part of the pie and placed somewhere else. It's a new fresh 2%, 2% that wasn't there before, and 2% that hasn't been redistributed from a "loser" to a "winner".

Less absurdity please

"Think of an economy as a pie. If the pie grows 2% it becomes 2% bigger. That's 2% more for everyone to theoretically share. The new 2% isn't taken from one part of the pie and placed somewhere else. It's a new fresh 2%, 2% that wasn't there before, and 2% that hasn't been redistributed from a "loser" to a "winner".''

Step down from your perpetual motion machine, Paul Morrella, and try to grasp that the extra flour for the larger pie comes from somewhere, and that that is exactly the issue.

We will all be losers

Hi Paul,

So the pie grows by 2% and 2% more carbon goes into the atmosphere.

Do you accept that we need to reduce our carbon emissions and if we continue to grow we will increase our carbon emissions?

We can't continue to pump carbon into the sky indefinitely and we can't deny the people of China or India a lifestyle equal to ours.

Something has to give, all I am suggesting is the we may have to limit our growth so others can catch up. At the moment we are racing ahead destroying the planet with no thought for others alive now or in the future.

We will all be losers.

We will reduce our footprint on the planet by technology or change or lifestyle.

All I am suggesting is that until we have the technology we may have to change our lifestyle.

I know some people don't like to believe that we all have limits but the fact is we always do.

We can take more than our share by force for a while but eventually those locked out will be strong enough to fight for their share.

Surely the intelligent thing to do is to share before others have to resort to force.

Why would I believe you?

Michael Talbot: "That is a straw man and a deception. No-one wants poverty, but the more intelligent are reflecting on the fact that the world is now poor, exhausted, but there are seven billion humans crawling on its surface, not to mention the natural environment that it is life or death to them to conserve".

A person is asking for a nation to purposely look for negative growth. I'm asking for examples of where negative growth is a good thing. A reasonable question one would think. As yet nobody has supplied an example.

 "Negative growth" (depression) will be painful for many, will not be an excercise in affluence, but that does not mean the deniers in their fantasy world have a right to insult those seeking a reasonable way forward when there is certainly none in that denial".

So people should all lay down and accept a life of poverty? Good luck with that and I wish you well on your journey.

"Go and talk to your Friedmanite mates, Pinochet, Deng and the rest, and spare us this language. Take a holiday".

Milton Friedman was a monetarist. Many of his teachings are still very relevant today. For example Central Bank decisions on interest rates are heavily influenced by "Friedmanite" writings. That a dictator or two happens to be identified (mostly wrongly) with Mr Friedman, isn't relevant to me.

You suggest I take a holiday, I suggest you learn what you're writing about.

Welcome to the real world

Unfortunately most don't seem to understand the term economic growth. Personally I don't believe many have a problem with economic growth. I think the problem is with the processes of economic growth, of which there is a great range.

I take exception to nonsense such as this:

We in the first world need to reduce our footprints so others have the opportunity to an education, food and health. We live in a global village and the decisions we made effect others thousands of miles away.

This person cannot prove this statement is true in any way. Doing this would be a totally pointless exercise. In fact it stinks of a superiority complex that isn't deserved. The middle class of places such as China and India already enjoy a better standard of living than the middle classes of many first world nations. They also enjoy much higher economic growth rates.

I know this because I've spent most of the last year in Asia. The Western World should be more concerned about keeping their social safety net, which I personally believe won't last the next twenty years. I assure you all, I'm not alone in that thinking.

Mean median and mode

Paul, be a bit careful when you use the term middle. In countries like Australia, the majority of people would be classified as middle class. Anyone really living in poverty is largely because they (or their family group) are mentally unwell.

In Asia, as you well know, the demographics are very different.

You also very well know that growth is a very different measure from gdp per capita,

You do often make valid points. please don't damage your credibility with assertions you know are inappropriate. I think a more appropriate argument is that (with current world systems) cutting down growth in Australia is more likely to reduce growth in Asia rather than increase it.

Economic growth is a fiction

Economic growth is a figure dreamt up by economists. It sees the planet as an infinite resource.

It puts no value on clean air, water or other species we share the planet with.

All that matters is Gross domestic product. That is: are the fat cats getting richer?

Domestic product could be going to the top 10 percent with total disregard for the people starving at the bottom 10 percent.

How many people have been killed and will be killed in the future because of China's air pollution?

“The residents of many of China’s largest cities are living under long-term, harmful air quality conditions,” Zhao Weijun, deputy director of the air pollution department of NEPA, reported in 1997 in China Environment News [16]. China has long recognized air pollution as a critical problem. Ambient concentrations of total suspended particulates (TSP) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) are among the world’s highest

China has record growth. Pity that many are going to die as a result.

India has good economic growth.

India Economy Growth :The rate of growth improved in the 1980s. From FY 1980 to FY 1989, the economy grew at an annual rate of 5.5 percent, or 3.3 percent on a per capita basis. Industry grew at an annual rate of 6.6 percent and agriculture at a rate of 3.6 percent. A high rate of investment was a major factor in improved economic growth.

Economic growth in India has left many without water:

About 60 per cent of aquifers in India will be in a critical condition in another 15 years if the trend of indiscriminate exploitation of ground water continues, the World Bank has said in a report.

In its latest report on the country’s ground water level, the bank has expressed concern over the rate of depletion of water table in the country and has called for immediate corrective measures.

Around 29 per cent of ground water blocks in the country are semi-critical, critical or overexploited and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. By 2025, an estimated 60 per cent of ground water blocks will be in a critical condition. Climate change will further strain ground water resources, the report said.

Morrella to Wash Mouth

Morrella: I take exception to nonsense such as this:

It's not for the insolent Morrella to "take exception", and the writer he insults is far more rational than he is in ingenious rhetoric such as (quoting another of Morella's gratuitous insults of Pratt. just another): What doesthis nonsense mean? Would you say a place like Liberia (negative growth) is helping you to live? Can you give an example of a country with negative growth that is helping people to live?

That is a straw man and a deception. No-one wants poverty, but the more intelligent are reflecting on the fact that the world is now poor, exhausted, but there are seven billion humans crawling on its surface, not to mention the natural environment that it is life or death to them to conserve. "Negative growth" (depression) will be painful for many, will not be an excercise in affluence, but that does not mean the deniers in their fantasy world have a right to insult those seeking a reasonable way forward when there is certainly none in that denial.

A natural environment is helping people to live. The means of subsistence are helping people to live. The promoters of the Ponzi scheme of growth, now on its last legs, the latest comers the greatest losers, will steal that environment and those means.

Go and talk to your Friedmanite mates, Pinochet, Deng and the rest, and spare us this language. Take a holiday.

IED - improvised economic distillation

Now where does one begin when trying to understand the weird and wonderful economic mind of our PM, Paul Morrella that is.

Some people follow Keynes, others Hayek and I think it is dear old Chris Parsons who follows Marx (I may be wrong but he certainly did give me that impression), nevertheless it seems dear old Paul belongs to the school of improvised economic distillation (IED). I know it well and have been a paid up member for years.

Allow me to give you an example of the IED process:

"Can you have prosperity without economic growth? No."

In the mind of an improvised economic distillate (iIED) the term "prosperity" undergoes a complicated distillation process that evapourates the heart and soul from "prosperity" reducing same to "unadulterated" money – lots of which equates to financial wealth; Paul clarifies the process such:

"I write about prosperity in monetary terms".

Economic growth does create monetary wealth, but more importantly: who gets the wealth, how do they get it and what do they do with it?

Paul refers to the continent of Africa; today most human beings in Africa are not wealthy and many are not prosperous either. How can this be in a continent where there is heaps of resources and potential wealth for all?

A close friend, a christian missionary who has spent years in North Africa, would answer the question as such: because they keep on having wars.

It could be argued that before colonialism and imperialism Africa was in general a prosperous continent; sure they had their squabbles (if war it was mainly of a ceremonial nature; few if any causalities and a good testosterone high for the warriors; after the show everybody went home and got their rocks off, until Sharka Zulu changed the rules in SA, then everybody went home without any rocks at all – but that's another story) but all in all the natural resources of the continent supported most who lived there taking into account their agrarian/collector lifestyles and the times.

Then Africa became popular for all its treasures; the history books tell the story – and it became so popular other empires got into arguments over who got what (same in China) , refer The Berlin Conference 1884 (no African was invited). It must be noted that by that date the poor old African black fellas had already copped heaps from the prosperous west – theft, slavery and all that. But hey, we know what's best for the coloured folk.

Before the white fellas colonised and stole Australia I believe the black fella had a longer life expectancy than in these prosperous times – these days most black fellas are neither prosperous or wealthy, however before we arrived most black fellas lived (by definition) prosperous lives – financial wealth was a totally alien concept. A similar story in the USA.

So, where is this going? In my mind, the mind of a fellow iIED who has paid a little attention to how we, of the prosperous west, got here, can easily find the processing power to distill the term "wealth" (economic wealth that is) down to its most basic component, based on wealth's accrued historical ingredients:

Wealth = Theft.

Of course history teaches us the broader definition of "wealth" includes the following terms: exploitation, deception, rape, disease, murder, war, slavery, fraud, Wall Street, US foreign policy, pollution and land degradation, just to mention a few. In short, wealth appears to have a flip side: poverty.

Based on the (historical) IED view of the world one can only come to the conclusion that if economic growth equals wealth (and prosperity), which in (IED) reality equates to theft, then it makes sense that we now find ourselves in this Orwellian world of perpetual war, where war becomes nothing more than a conduit to suck what remains of our global common wealth into fat bellies of the ever "prosperous" kleptocracy.

It should further appear, to any ardent iIED who has distilled the current wealth creation (rigged) games of Wall Street, that Wall Street's end game will make IEDs out of most of us, but this time we will be Impoverished Economic Destitutes – just like many once prosperous Ethiopians (apparently one of the most fertile and potentially prosperous places on the planet).

Then, the only way Impoverished Economic Destitutes will be able to reclaim their common wealth will be to steal it back again – somehow.

Finite is only in your mind

One last thing, many products for growth aren't finite at all. The most important product is of course the human mind. All great leaps begin with an idea. An idea for a better way of doing things.

The best way to cease growth is to cease education. Kill knowledge and you kill the desire to learn. Kill the desire to learn, and you kill the desire to improve. Kill the desire to improve, and you kill the desire to want. A baby doesn't cry for the lollipop its never had.

When it gets right down to it, that's what many here are asking for. So "that everybody can live" and such. I've never said extremely simple minded people aren't "happy". Far from it, many are probably extremely happy with their simple lives. Nobody is stopping anyone here from joining them if that is their wish, I'm simply writing I don't wish to go along for the ride.

Life is complicated good and bad, and that's why I love it so.

Utter tosh

The most important product is of course the human mind. All great leaps begin with an idea. An idea for a better way of doing things.

What a load of absolute rubbish. So far as I can see this tosh has been accepted as fact. There is nothing so annoying as someone who will misrepresent - wilfully I'd suspect - a concept to deceive.

Growth is - always - a result of exploitation of resources: the human body exploits foodstuffs and the "economy" resources; to grow means to consume for one cannot create from nothing.

To describe the human mind as a "product" is utter balderdash: it is not "produced" to some AS9000 standard. It is, in fact, a resource.

"Economies" can, of course, grow infinitely. So long as there are infinite resources to feed that growth.

Father Park

The planet is finite

Paul, the planet is finite, the biosphere we live in is finite, the amount of oil and other resources on the planet is finite. The number of people this planet can support is finite.

We can't continue to pump pollution into the atmosphere indefinitely, We can't turn our agricultural land into desert indefinitely.

What are we leaving for our kids?

We can't continue to build growth on debt indefinitely

We will use our brains and do things better and that will give us growth.

It is not just about Australia. We need to make room for China and India,

their people need room to grow.

What will we have left when we have sold all our resources?

Will China and India give a stuff about us?

While we have some influence we should at least try to use our brains and make the global economy equitable.

Dream of a planet where all have equal access to food and resources.

Or live in a dog eat dog world where we are a miniature poodle.

A great leap forward

Yes Paul, "all great leaps do begin with an idea."

How this for an idea, we learn to share our planet with others.

To me that would be a great leap forward.

Rather than a game of winner takes all.

We in the first world need to reduce our footprints so others have the opportunity to an education, food and health. We live in a global village and the decisions we made effect others thousands of miles away.

Let there be growth where growth counts.

In the third world, would be a good start. 

Monetary terms

I write about prosperity in monetary terms. It's not possible to have such without economic growth. When we make decision we generally swap one set of complications for another. Poverty for wealth isn't any different. Ditto wealth for poverty.

John Pratt, you say I'm in a cargo cult, and then you add this bit of meaningless quasi religious speak:

We can ignore the warning signs and face a very uncertain future or we can use our intelligence and limit our growth so that others may simply live.

What does this nonsense mean? Would you say a place like Liberia (negative growth) is helping you to live? Can you give an example of a country with negative growth that is helping people to live?

Rational is such a thing of the past

Can you have prosperity without economic growth? No. It is possible to have economic growth without population growth, as long as the population remains in a stable condition. No outbreaks of the black death and that sort of thing.

The arguments used against economic growth are a form of intellectual dishonesty. Firstly they seek the reader to look a far, and not at the benefits the reader would surely be enjoying. Using the example of a billionaire against a starving African is a good one. Without economic growth the situation wouldn't be any different, it would though be on a much higher scale.

The arguments against economic growth, don't make any economic sense. The arguments against economic growth aren't worth listing here. So of course the people against economic growth dont' won't to use economics. Enter the doomsday scenarios. Those things that like the return of the Messiah will be upon us for sure. We just need a little faith.

Fortunately most religions don't happen to think Judgement Day can be avoided with the introduction of a tax. At least at the time of a writing. The Beatles song Taxman has never seemed so scary!

The whole argument is made clearly absurd by the arguments for large scale infrastructure projects, that rely on economic growth, and in fact are meant to improve it. All the bad things are economic growth, and the good things apparently are not? It's a clear case of wilful stubborn ignorance. The type of ignorance that is pure danger if it ever takes hold.

At any rate, what type of clown would push anti-growth, whilst cheering for stimulus measures? Measures that are meant to stabilize the economy in the hopes growth comes at a later date. The answer is of course a political clown, one with an agenda, and one without any regard for anyone but themselves.

Robber barons

I enjoy your posts, Paul. You are very good at getting to the root of the issue.

The problem with economic growth is that much of it is not growth. It is theft, pretending to be growth.

I want more electricity, a company meets this demand by building a coal plant (the most economical option). We've got growth. This is how markets work. However, there is a voiceless third party to this transaction, the people whose air is polluted and homes submerged. We have a "growth" that is hugely bolstered by hidden thefts which economists have long recognised, but swept under the carpet with the obscure term 'externalities'.

"Can you have prosperity without economic growth? No. "

Yes we can, by two different ways. Firstly, economic prosperity is only one element of prosperity: consider for example social prosperity or spiritual prosperity. One can easily expand one's network of friends without economic growth. And it'll increase one's happiness more than having the latest BMW in the garage.

Secondly, prosperity is relative ( economists call it diminishing returns). A loss of $100 is not going to seriously affect my prosperity. For a family in Niger, it makes a huge difference. Overall increase in world economic prosperity, nil economic growth.

Paul, I am not against economic growth. But, I refuse to pay blind obsequence to a false god. And am getting increasingly frustrated with economists who preach half-truths.

Till When?

The arguments against economic growth don't make any economic sense?

What is economic sense?  A rationalization for infinite economic growth?

We did it.  We grew.  We are full grown,  The resources of the planet are exhausted but there are seven billion humans on its surface.  There are almost no fish left in the sea, much, much closer to none in the rivers, when a century ago the population of present Melbourne could have been fed from the Yarra - not quite, but going on, the rivers were brimming,  There is rampant desertification and vast flooding.  We can't switch to biofuels to avoid adding fossil carbon to the biosphere and recycle vehicular carbon.  Too late for that.  Well, we can, it would starve millions, possibly a good, a needed outcome.

So, it doesn't make economic sense today to do other than pursue infinite economic growth?

We have an emergency.  We are doing nothing about it.  More correctly, we did nothing about it when there was time  We will never do anything about it now.

Carbon trading was for decades ago.  The time's past.  To put it another way, carbon trading is economic growth by trickery, the economically rational response to global warming, when there is no economically rational response.  Likewise, biofuels were needed decades ago, when the human population was small enough, but now it's too late.  The time's past.  A genuinely rational response today would be to ban, simply ban the driving of cars.  Very urgently.  But we won't.  We'll never do anything to avoid global warming.

Summer is approaching in Australia.  Are we going to be lucky this time, or will there be a large jump in fatal heat stroke?  What about the communities with no air conditioners?  What about the increase in global warming caused by the use of air conditioners?  A genuinely rational resonse would be to ban air conditioners this summer and endue 50-degree days without them.  But we won't.  Still, let's hope for what will be increasingly rare, a summer like the ones we used to have, that there won't be 50-degree days this time.

Black death?  Okay, how can the urgently-needed black death be brought about?

Can you have prosperity without economic growth?  No.  Agreed.  Wilful, stubborn ignorance on my part, but then, I'm a clown.

We must limit our growth

Hi Paul, your argument for continuous growth sounds a bit like a religious belief , or a cargo cult. No logic has been applied and no argument put forward as to how infinite economic growth is possible in a finite world.

We have limits and currently our economy is hitting those limits.

We can ignore the warning signs and face a very uncertain future or we can use our intelligence and limit our growth so that others may simply live.

The Story of Stuff

Before you vote please listen to The Story of Stuff

 Do your kids and their kids a favour.

It is time for change and you can make it happen.

Q&A Dicky Smith

This the most relevant thread for mention of the ABC double on population, first the Dick Smith hour doco that functioned as a broad brush intro for the Q&A debate following.

Bob Brown had appeared strangely passive in the Smith doco, but seemed galvanised to action, more engaged and informative on Q&A.

A population expert joined him in giving some sort of overview to the population debate, particularly from a global/outsider perspective; way over the heads of most of the audience, was this very bright lady. from there it went down hill, ending up with the buffoonary of John Elliot, Tony Burke and others altho people the like of Tim Flannery were in the audience to balance some of the more cynical or silly ideas

Not good sometimes, what I saw tonight.

At least now it seems to be out in the open.

A passionate Dick

Dick Smith is passionate about his concern for our reliance on growth. His program Dick Smith's Population Puzzle was excellent and will surely lead to much more debate on the issue of growth.

At one stage he battled to overcome his emotions, he had been challenged by his daughter to think about our future. As a result he is one of a small list of  Australia's business leaders who has looked out 50 years and realised that our economy is based on a pyramid scheme. A scheme that requires more and more people to continue to grow.

As we grow our population by 400,000 or more a year where are the new hospitals, schools, roads? Who pays for the required infrastructure?

Some very interesting questions were raised. Not least was the morality of Australia poaching doctors and other skilled workers from third world countries while we have 7 million illiterate Australians.

How do we feed a high population as we run out of cheap energy provided by the use of fossil fuel?

Our politicians can no longer hide they need to face the future and answer some of these very difficult questions.

Is affluence absolute?

Jay Somasundaram: "Our goal should be, not growth, but (near) full employment."

I'm no economist, and I'm puzzled by the demand for population growth, supposed to be needed for economic growth, followed by the demand for economic growth, supposed to be needed to provide employment for the population, followed by the demand for population growth, supposed to be needed for economic growth.

And Jay suggests, "Or even reduce the work-week in line with productivity improvements."

Does anyone remember the "affluent society", much discussed 30 or so years ago, then a thing of remark, a novelty?  We are unique, our country, our society, our century in the post-paleolithic era, in being distinctively affluent.

What does that mean?

And, if we are distinguished in that way, is the idea of prosperity without growth the same as affluence without growth?

And are we are thinking that our prosperity or our affluence is primary, is non-negotiable?  That global warming must learn to stay in its place and not affect that?

What is the basis of substituting a demand for near-full-employment without growth for a demand for economic growth?

Is the question, can that happen, can growth decrease or cease, and not diminish the society's affluence?  Is that the condition imposed?

Are we prepared to reduce global warming, but only on the strict condition that our prosperity is not to be touched?

I'm puzzled that responding to the fact of global warming been made an economic issue.  Yes, the costs are relevant, yes, Garnaultish work is needed, but not to decide whether to take certain action, rather, to forecast the consequences of the action we must take.  And yes, Garnault has usefully pointed out some actions we can take.  Maybe that's it..

I'm puzzled, maybe I've missed it, typically would, at the absence of talk about the need for the human species to seriously reduce its consumption of the world's resources full stop, no conditions.

Of the need to be non-prosperous, rather than the need for non-growth prosperity.

Perhaps, colonialists instinctively, we will make others pay the cost.  But then, maybe someone will do that to us.

Maybe that's what growth's all about. 

Unemployment and growth

We are told that growth is needed for full employment. Every time the government wishes to introduce a policy that business growth, the standard refrain is that it is needed to maintain employment.

Is this true?

There is of course, a simple logic to it, growing business needs more staff. Things are of course not so simple.  Businesses often grow by shedding staff. 

I suspect the problem is that we have set the wrong goal. Our goal should be, not growth, but (near) full employment. We could, then, stop economic growth, but increase employment in social or environmental activities. Or even reduce the work-week in line with productivity improvements.

"Global warming is very real" - from Russia with love

Russians are not used to heat waves. When the high temperatures that have overwhelmed Russia over the past six weeks first arrived in June, some 1,200 Russians drowned at the country's beaches. "The majority of those who drowned were drunk," the Emergencies Ministry concluded in mid-July, citing the Russian habit of taking vodka to cool off by the sea. But while overconsumption of vodka is a familiar scourge in Russia, extreme heat is not, and as the worst heat wave on record spawns wildfires that are destroying entire villages, Russian officials have made what for them is a startling admission: global warming is very real.

At a meeting of international sporting officials in Moscow on July 30, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced that in 14 regions of the country, "practically everything is burning. The weather is anomalously hot." Then, as TV cameras zoomed in on the perspiration shining on his forehead, Medvedev announced, "What's happening with the planet's climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us, meaning all heads of state, all heads of social organizations, in order to take a more energetic approach to countering the global changes to the climate."

A wake up call indeed. When you vote on August 21 make sure you put the planet first.

Our political leaders certainly need a wake up call!


A catastrophe is about to unfold for millions of the world's poorest people. It happened five years ago, and this time the international aid agencies were in place when the early warning lights started flashing. But it is nonetheless happening all over again. More than 10 million people in the eastern Sahel, in some of the world's poorest nations such as Niger, Chad and Mali, have exhausted their foodsupply and all their assets two or three months before the next harvest. Thousands of animals have died, forcing pastoralists to leave their villages.

As the poorest nations in Africa starve due to drought, millions in Pakistan are suffering the worst flood in nearly a hundred years.

As floodwaters from the north-west surged into Punjab province, more roads were swept away and villages turned into islands. In areas where the floods are receding, drinking water is contaminated and cholera is looming. One catastrophe follows hard on the heels of another, and a weakened civilian government is in many keys areas wholly absent.

While we in the rich world argue for more growth and continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, millions of lives are at risk.

In Australia we complain when a few hundred refugees from these areas arrive in boats. We refuse to take action on climate change. This is what Kevin meant when he said we are facing the biggest moral challenge of our generation!

Where are the religious or political leaders?

The issues we are facing today are greater than when Wilberforce fought to abolish slavery.

Wilberforce was a deeply religious English member of parliament and social reformer who was very influential in the abolition of the slave trade and eventually slavery itself in the British empire.

Where are the Wilberforces of our generation?

How the two party system has failed voters

Adam Brandt on how the two party system has failed voters.

If you really care about the planets future, listen to Adam Brant

From compulsory voting to the Westminster system, our entire electoral process is underpinned with traditions and rules that shape our political world. But what are the notions and concepts we take for granted that aren’t an essential part of that framework?

Candidate for the Federal Seat of Melbourne, Adam Bandt - aiming to be the first ever Green to win a Lower House seat in Australia - argues that far from being a symbolic presence to sway the tone of an election, smaller parties and independent candidates are an essential part of the democratic process. Two-Party Politics, he argues, isn’t only a thing of the past: it’s something best left behind.

Presented as part of The Wheeler Centre's Lunchbox/Soapbox series, July 2010

Kindergarten parliament

When watching parliamentary debating time, its very easy to spot the minor parties - they are the one behaving like adults. The speeches and questions by the two majors are about oneupmanship and game-playing.

Something strange has happened to economics

First, resource scarcity is an increasingly pressing issue. It shows up in concerns over pollution (including global warming), in the discussion of “peak oil” and so forth. The idea that diminishing returns will become a more significant factor in the next century than in the past two seems to me to be compelling, now that modern economic growth has spread across the globe. So we need to return to economic models that incorporate resources, as a matter of course.

Second, in a globalised economy, taxing labour and capital will become increasingly difficult. That leaves land. The Australian government is right to want to extract the full rental value of its mineral resources for the benefit of the Australian people. Similarly, the people of the UK should wish to extract the rental value of London for their own use. The benefits of infrastructure investments that make London more productive would automatically be recouped if land rents were heavily taxed. Meanwhile, the taxation of capital and land could be reduced.

This is an interesting article by Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator for the London Financial Times

Mr Wolf thinks the Labor mining tax is a step in the right direction.

Where is the leadership?

Thanks Jay, for your encouragement a national debate is certainly needed, in fact a global debate, because we are talking about global issues. It is difficult for one nation to act alone.

We need leaders to bring fresh ideas and solutions. It is a pity that the religions of the world have not put sustainability as their number one priority.

Surely if we are commanded to love one another then this is the way forward.

We need to allow room for others to grow.

At the moment we are like pigs at the trough and only the strong are getting enough to eat.

It is not a political debate, not a left or right issue, but a moral issue.

Kevin07 was right: it is the greatest moral challenge of our generation.

National debate

Well done John, Australia owes you big time!

Now if only Webdiary could turn this into a national debate. And we do need a debate. It's a complex issue that needs to be teased out, and there is likely no perfect right or wrong to it.

The Greens have long been the standard-bearer of sustainability. Unfortunately, they currently lack vision or drive. Bob Brown is a gentleman, perhaps a good elder statesman, but not the type of leader needed to drive through real change.

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