Prosperity without growth

June 9, 2010

I’ve just finished reading the book ‘Prosperity without Growth’ by Tim Jackson, along with some other bits and bobs about how to create – this is a deep post man – a more sustainable planet. As somebody with a very hazy knowledge of economics it was fairly easy going and i would recommend reading the whole thing. However, for the short of time its basic premise is that our economic system is bust: ecologically, financially and socially. I am going to try and post a few times on some of the themes and thoughts provoked by the book and some other stuff that i’ve read or listened to recently.

The book argues that maintaing economic growth is seen as essential to maintaining social stability within our societies. Without it governments fear mass unemployment and social breakdown. However, the whole system has recently been kept going only by a massive expansion of debt (take, as an example, the 5 grand limit credit cards you used to get offered) and a willingness to ignore the massive ecological impact of stripping the earth of the materials and resources needed to keep this growth going. Governments have felt it easier, and a lot less politically damaging, to put aside the ecological consequences of these policies and try to continue with the – arguably now busted – current economic model of growth at any cost. This is despite the very big warning signs that we are putting our problems onto a very large store card with the expectation that future generations will merrily pick up the bill.

It’s relevant, to me anyway, to point out that i am no swampy. I have limited time for pointless protests movements which only have an interest in self flagellation and the promotion of bongo playing.  But, just as not everything you read in the Telegraph means its automatically wrong, not everything swampy promotes is wrong either. And recently i have felt it more and more important to separate my cynicism about ‘green’ movements from some of the economic, social, scientific and ecological thinking these movements contain. I do feel that there is a need for some sort of ‘mainstream’ sustainable lifestyles – to help people get over the idea that being green means being a crusty – but that’s a topic for another post and perhaps it’s only my hang-up anyway.

One of the things that has most rammed home the idea that we can’t go on as we have is the issue of population growth. In 1960 there were 3 billion people, in 2006 there were 6 billion and by 2050 there is likely to be 9 billion. This is unbelievable. It is also potentially – actually inevitably – disastrous if everyone of these 9 billion people on the planet then feels entitled to live the same lifestyle as today’s average american. If you listen to this radio programme by the President of the Royal Society Martin Rees – Reith Lecture – he argues it could be ok for this many people to live on the planet but only if they hardly ever travelled, ate only a vegetarian diet and communicated mainly via the internet.

But how do we make the transition to such a world, when the one in which we currently live people go ballistic if you even suggest to them they may have to drive less or take less flights? Particularly if such notions are proposed by governments and politicians who are made out to be hell bent on creating automaton peoples that are slaves to some vague hidden agenda – if you are on the left this will probably be led by the corporations; if you’re on the right the organisers will be the socialists, PC brigade and environmentalists.

I’m not sure what the answer to that rather large question is but i will have a go at trying to give it some further thought in those later posts i have committed myself to writing.


One Response to “Prosperity without growth”

  1. tbm7 said

    An enormoulsy wide-ranging topic, Cricks, and therefore one that can be met with few easy answers.

    But it’s unquestionable that over-population is the biggest issue out there – it astonishes me that, even today, it’s largely an elephant in the room.

    I’ll post a more thorough response on this asap, but this article provides a good starting point:


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