Thursday, December 8, 2016

To Grow or not to Grow is not the Question

The fundamental dilemma underlying all our global problems seems to be the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet. The irrational belief in perpetual economic growth amounts to a clash between linear thinking and the nonlinear patterns in our biosphere — the ecological networks and cycles that constitute the web of life. This highly nonlinear global network contains countless feedback loops through which the planet balances and regulates itself. Our current economic system, by contrast, is fueled by materialism and greed that do not seem to recognize any limits.

Economic and corporate growth are the driving forces of global capitalism, the dominant economic system today. At the center of the global economy is a network of financial flows, which has been designed without any ethical framework. In fact, social inequality and social exclusion are inherent features of economic globalization, widening the gap between the rich and the poor and increasing world poverty.

In this economic system, perpetual growth is pursued relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption and a throw-away economy that is energy and resource intensive, generating excessive waste and unnecessary pollution, while depleting the Earth’s finite natural resources. Moreover, these environmental problems are exacerbated by global climate change, caused not as much by our energy-intensive and fossil-fuel-based technologies as by the uncontrollable natural cycles of solar output.

It seems, then, that our key challenge is how to shift from an economic system based on the notion of unlimited growth to one that is both ecologically sustainable and socially just. “No growth” is not the answer. Growth is a central characteristic of all life; a society, or economy, that does not grow will die sooner or later. Growth in nature, however, is not linear and unlimited. While certain parts of organisms, or ecosystems, grow, others decline, releasing and recycling their components which become resources for new growth. This kind of balanced, multi-faceted growth is well known to biologists and ecologists. It is“qualitative growth” in contrast to the concept of quantitative growth used by today’s economists.

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