Notes from Underground

Writer Dougald Hine reflects on the growth dilemma – and argues “The need for economic growth is a social construct, not a law of nature.”

“In a recent issue of the journal New Political Economy, Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis ask ‘Is Green Growth Possible?’ They set about examining the empirical basis for claims about the decoupling of economic growth from environmental impact. Their findings are damning. The drop-off in advanced economies’ resource use – heralded by proponents of green growth as the moment when we passed ‘peak stuff’ – turns out to be a statistical illusion created by the offshoring of manufacturing. Once you take into account the resources used in factories elsewhere to produce the goods and services we consume, the growth of our economies is more stuff-dependent than ever. Meanwhile, the ever-narrowing pathways towards the Paris goals for limiting global warming are paved by carbon capture technologies that are either ‘unproven or dangerous at scale’ – or dependent on decarbonisation rates, if we start right now, that are vastly greater than seems plausible for any economy without an overall slowdown in activity.

Having surveyed the evidence and probed the models, Hickel and Kallis conclude that green growth is a fantasy born out of desperation. ‘It is not politically acceptable to question economic growth,’ they write, ‘therefore green growth must be true, since the alternative is disaster.’

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