Sept 28, 2019: Greta vs Growth

16-year-old sticks it to the UN.

Regular readers of this Newsletter will know that I think the pursuit of perpetual growth is the root of all kinds of evil. But the concept that ‘Growth is Good’ is so deeply ingrained in the global economic, political and social fabric that none of our so-called ‘leaders’ have the brains or the guts to question whether it’s true.

So I was both heartened and dismayed this week when Greta Thunberg included the following phrase in her address to the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York…

We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!’

I was heartened because, finally, someone was smart and brave enough to stand on the biggest international stage and question the holy grail of growth. But I was dismayed that it took a 16-year-old Swedish school student to break the silence. The idea that we can achieve infinite economic growth on a finite planet with finite resources is so ludicrous that it should be ridiculed by every ‘leader’ at every opportunity. However it is so pervasive that it has become invisible and sacred and no political or economic leader will dare to question its sacredness.

Hopefully the scolding they just received from a school girl will wake those ‘leaders’ from their dreams of growth before they sleep-walk us all right off a cliff.

You can read the full transcript of Greta’s speech here.

And the following is a piece about the evils of growth which I wrote in our Newsletter back in November 2015 and which I repeat here because nothing has changed except that now one person has spoken up. Good on you Greta!

Perpetual Growth = Cancer

We are labouring under a global economic system that is founded on the principle that ‘Growth is Good’. This founding principle requires perpetual growth in every measure of economic achievement. There is no question that this philosophy has led to an unprecedented spurt of technological and scientific endeavour, but at what point do we stop to question whether this is beneficial? Has all this economic growth actually made our lives any better? Has it been worth the cost in terms of human suffering and damage to the planet? I wonder what an aboriginal elder would have to say on the subject. Indigenous people all around the world seem to have a deep understanding of the need to nurture the earth that nurtures us. So what do they think about perpetual growth? To me it looks a lot like cancer… it grows and grows, gradually consuming, and eventually killing, its host. Are we on the same path?

When you think it through, the only way we can continue to ‘grow’ the global economy is by encouraging more and more people to consume more and more resources. I think this is why population growth is such a taboo subject… it lies at the heart of a belief that pervades every government, nation, religion and business in the world… the belief that ‘growth is good’. The addiction will only end when the resources run out unless we voluntarily, and globally, decide to break the habit. But right now, like any true addict, we are in complete denial over the cause of our problems.

From ‘Growth’ to ‘Balance’

This economic paradigm of perpetual growth is killing the planet. I strongly believe that we need to change the goal from ‘growth’ to ‘balance’. Can you imagine a global economic system that strives for balance? For a start we would have to figure out how many people the planet can sustainably support. Then we’d have to find a way to more fairly distribute the available, sustainable, renewable resources to ensure that everyone has a decent quality of life. These thoughts would not sit well with the people and institutions that run the current system and who, not coincidentally, gain the most from it. I may well be crucified for uttering such blasphemy in the face of an economic and political system for which growth is god but we have these 7.4 Billion elephants in the room and I think it’s time someone mentioned it.

Of course I’m not the first to do so… there are all sorts of people out on the fringes, shouting from the hills that we have to consider the limits to global growth. But no-one in the middle of things, no-one at the centre of the global stage, seems willing to risk putting their hand up and saying, ‘there is a huge problem looming and we had better take a long, hard look at it.’


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