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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Getting Over the Growth-Is-Good Myth

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: economics, no-growth economics, climate change, sustainable business, environment, OnEarth, Keith Goetzman,

Occupy Wall Street protesterSome fallacies die long, slow, hard deaths, and it appears that’s what’s happening with the happy, comforting, brainless mantra “Growth is good.” The ongoing global economic recession and looming environmental catastrophe have finally caused a significant number of people to question just how we think we’re going to economically grow forever on a crowded planet with finite resources.

British economist Tim Jackson, author of the 2009 book Prosperity Without Growth, explains in a Q&A with OnEarth executive editor George Black that this previously unmentionable notion is gaining currency even among some forward-thinking business leaders:

You say in your book that “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists, and revolutionaries.” Is that more true or less true now than when you wrote it in 2009? 

Both. It’s more true in the sense that there’s a ferocious backlash against those who question the quasi-religious fervor about getting growth back. But at another level there’s this really interesting thing going on, with a whole spectrum of people beginning to question the assumption that it’s desirable, from ordinary people who have always been uncertain about why things must expand indefinitely to groups that have previously been obsessed with the idea of growth, like the World Economic Forum in Davos. It continues to surprise me that my book has had such resonance among business leaders. I was trying to say that it’s a real dilemma to structurally reorganize your economy. This isn’t an easy thing, and there are no off-the-shelf solutions. But we have to go into that place, no matter how dark and counterintuitive it seems. And I think that’s something the more visionary CEOs respond to, actually enjoy to some extent.

Source: OnEarth 

Image by Sunset Parkerpix, licensed under Creative Commons. 

keith goetzman
12/13/2011 3:42:19 PM

Dave Gardner, please send me your documentary and I'll check it out. Thanks.

david bruce
12/12/2011 11:30:02 PM

Can someone explain Gregory's "trickle up" concept to me?

dave gardner
12/9/2011 9:22:48 PM

The mythology around growth is strong and fascinating. I daresay worship of growth everlasting is the dominant religion on the planet today. Restoring economic growth is the #1 public policy goal in North America and Europe, future generations-be-damned. It's the subject of my new documentary, GrowthBusters. Keith, would you like a copy to review?

jim neri
12/9/2011 5:12:15 PM

While our current growth model is unsustainable let's try to avoid the pendulum swing that confuses "growth" with "change". If our planet has taught us anything it is that change is a constant and that we must adapt to it.

linda eatenson
12/9/2011 3:07:40 PM

I've been reminding people for years that every child of 3 knows you can only stack the blocks so high. After that, no matter how carefully you place them, they're going to fall. The child playing with blocks will often find that funny. For us as adults, not so much. Seems the kids catch on more quickly than we do.

gregory gaarsoe
12/9/2011 2:18:32 PM

If people had read about John Maynard Keynes resurrecting the concept of economic growth and how vehemently some people of the time had opposed it we would not be so enamored of the concept. And if we had killed it years ago, we wouldn't be in the fix we're in now. Trickle down has never worked. We need a new economic model of trickle up.