Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Andrew Revkin has started a great series of posts at dotearth asking:

Do We Have to Outgrow Growth?

By Andrew C. Revkin

Following the Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, Herman Daly has responded to my query about whether there is an upside to the recent consumption slowdown, and to the broader question of whether humans can or should shift from their current growth-focused economic norms to a new definition of progress. Does he see a viable real-world path to his “steady state” vision of the economy?

Yes Andy, I do. And it is clear that the growth-driven path is not viable, and in all likelihood no longer even economic. The Classical Economists already laid it out long ago, especially John Stuart Mill. Recently the “real-world path” you refer to has been outlined by the British Sustainable Development Commission in their report “ Prosperity Without Growth” [Dr. Daly wrote the foreward]. Also the path for Canada has been carefully studied by Canadian economist Peter Victor in “ Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster“. In addition see the C.A.S.S.E. statement on economic growth and its conflict with biodiversity preservation (see steadystate.org) signed by many professional organizations and individuals, including Paul Ehrlich and I think E.O. Wilson. Will mainstream growth economists ever wake up? Maybe, maybe not. Keynes said, “We are capable of turning off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.”

I also asked him about my notion that the ongoing spike in human numbers and appetites is akin to a testosterone-fueled teenager going through puberty, and about what the species equivalent of adulthood might look like:

When we “grow up” the first thing to do is to stop further growth, to become a mature steady state in physical dimensions, and then concentrate on qualitative development and maintenance: knowledge, wisdom, justice, the noosphere, etc. Arrested development in the adolescent growth phase leads to giantism, obesity, overpopulation, resource wars, and massive die-offs.

Juliet Schor of Boston College contributed a comment echoing Dr. Daly’s conclusions. Some techno-optimists and economists see an endless series of innovations always redefining the basket of things we call resources. After all, coal was just a black rock for most of human history; silicon was beach sand, and now it’s the heart of semiconductors and solar panels. The result, this group says, is that infinite aspirations can in fact fit on a finite planet.

Do we have to outgrow growth or embrace it?

Check out the comments following the dotearth post.

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