Growth Is Death - Our Economics Must Change or We Die

March 1st, 2015 by Andy in General Topics

Finally - someone pointing in no uncertain terms the stark obviousness of the “impossibility of growth”, and how things that cannot go on forever…don’t.

Last spring, British writer George Monbiot wrote this starkly lucid and honest piece on how and why our economic systems (and thus the political ones which enable them) must fundamentally change. The system has to fundamentally change, and our notion of what “progress” is has to be conformed to something other than economic cancer.

As he says, discussion of this primordially important issue is “the great taboo of our age ‚Äì and the inability to discuss the pursuit of perpetual growth will prove humanity’s undoing. Of course, turning our focus upon this issue is being aided of late by the outspokeness of Pope Francis, who has increasingly used his notably visible platform for addressing the fundamental moral and ethical dimensions upon which this whole subject resides.

Not that it’s “new” to many of us, but to see this spelled out in such socially uncomfortable detail in a global publication like this is telling. This is a must read for just about everyone. Monbiot, bringing the party of truth, whether you like it or not…

If we can’t change our economic system, our number’s up

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues miraculously vanished, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled for a few hundred years the phenomenon we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, with the accessible reserves exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.


The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious, will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world’s diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.


Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about colonising space - which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them - have resurfaced.

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we miraculously reduced the consumption of raw materials by 90%, we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result, they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle-class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

Monbiot also continued this discourse with his more recent piece on Growth: The Destructive God That Can Never Be Appeased.

You’ve heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the international “trade” deal which is in essence a corporate coup over the organs of self-governance. Here, Monbiot elaborates on a EU-US version of this process.

This bonfire of regulation is accompanied by a reckless abandonment of democratic principles. In the Commons on Monday, Cameron spoke for the first time about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If this treaty between the EU and the US goes ahead, it will grant corporations a separate legal system to which no one else has access, through which they can sue governments passing laws that might affect their profits. Cameron insisted that “it does not in any way have to affect our national health service.” (Note those words “have to”). Pressed to explain this, he cited the former EU trade commissioner, who claimed that “public services are always exempted.”

Read the complete article Here

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