The #GreenParty Case for challenging Economic ‘Growth’

A resume of the talk I gave at the recent Cambridge ‘beyond economic growth’ Conference: 




1970s ‘The Limits to Growth’, Club of Rome.  The report was ‘discredited’ because it predicted that certain resources would run out before they have done.  However, the report’s predictions about pollution were in fact too conservative.


Saral Sarkar ‘The Crises of Capitalism’ 2011– limits to growth is a causal factor in the financial crisis – the Return on Investment on ‘real’ products declines as the availability of resources becomes more limited.  This means money has to be made through speculation, debts etc.


Hegemony of growthist discourse.  But this conference has over 100 ambassadors who can challenge the presumption in favour of economic growth.  We need to stop the the economy plunging into uncontrolled depression, but that does not require economic growth. It requires a Green New Deal, as described here:


‘Green House’ Think Tank’s post-growth project: aims to work out what GB would look like if we did not subscribe to economic growth.  Deep reframing – establishing a basis for an alternative hegemony; treating future generations as being equally deserving.


We need a new name for this alternative.  I favour ‘Dynamic Equilibrium Economy’.


Aubrey Meyer: ‘contract and converge’ 1996 – idea of indefinite economic growth with no impact on environment (what Meyer called ‘angelisation’) is absurd. Daly mkes the same argument.


Decoupling (ie growth without environmental impact):

Types of decoupling:

·         relative (not good enough)

·         absolute (has not been shown to work in any instance)

Jonathon Porritt: ‘Capitalism as if the World Matters’ 2005 – says relative decoupling may be possible, but to date there are no examples of absolute decoupling.

Even though it is true that there will have been (relatively sh periods during which carbon emissions ‘apparently’ dropped to a greater extent than is accounted for by recession, these effects are more than outweighed over time by such factors as the continual growth of air travel (including especially ‘one-sided’ air-travel, air travel originating in Britain – see my evidence on this, below) and shipping especially since about 1970, and above all the continual rise in embodied emissions especially since the 1950s. See for example my evidence here 

There has without doubt been a vast increase in imports of embodied emissions over the past two generations, particularly the past generation: this increase outweighs all the carbon emission ‘reductions’ claimed since 1990. Basically, as I stressed in my evidence to Parliament, what has happened is a gargantuan mistake, from a global point of view – we have moved production to where labour is cheap, but labour is no longer the genuinely ‘constraining resource’ (sic.); we have offshored emissions and multiplied them considerably, in the process.

Here are the key sources:

These actually do reasonably convincing calculations that show that increases in emissions due to net imports outweigh other reductions. The Helm one is more accessible if a bit rougher; the essentials are on page 19.  


Need for growth? – assumption that we have inexhaustible needs and that we need more economic growth to satisfy those needs.

EG removes need for equity and fairness – if we all grow, the argument goes, even poorest will benefit and be raised from poverty – ‘trickle down’ effect.  So don’t need to address social equity issues in other ways.  But ‘trickle down’ has not happened: wealth concentrates in hands of a few.

See Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: ‘The Spirit Level’ 2009 for the consequences…

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