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The Solution to Save the World

Ok, now let’s get to it. My last two posts were about how I would structure and write my next post. Now I am really excited to finally write it down.

Everyday as we watch the news we observe crises. We watch how the world financial crisis turns into an economic crisis. People lose their jobs. Some countries can not afford to provide social welfare to their citizens any longer. The German government provides billions of euros to stabilize highly indebted countries such as Greece or Italy. The result: protests, pain and panic


We observe how the conference on climate change, recently held in Durban, deals with a problem that cannot be easily solved. Some species of animals already vanished from the planet, some species of fish cannot be eaten anymore because there are two few of them. We watch how people migrate, move to other countries or regions of the earth where global warming has not yet destroyed the soil to grow food. But in Europe it seems that we have no place for those “climate refugees”.We see that we are running out of oil. Oil, the resource our economy is based on. We are not sure if there will be fought another war in the middle east. At least the Iranians and the western world are preparing themselves.
Everywhere we see the results of crises. Crises caused by humans.
The solution? Well, I am not sure. But others seem to have found it.
Today I will present the idea of a post growth economy. Some think this idea could revolutionize the economy and save the world.

So, what actually is a post- growth economy?
A Post growth economy, also called an ecological economy is about how the economy can coexist with natural ecosystems. Economic experts who have developed tis idea reason that the natural world has a limited carrying capacity and that its resources may run out. Changes to the ecosystems may be irreversible and catastrophic. The beginning of the catastrophe of a changing climate we can already observe today, as stated earlier. They argue that the current economy has ignored the environment. A sustainable world can only be achieved if development and growth are sustainable as well.
I found some blogs dealing with this issue. I want to give some examples to make the topic more understandable.

The Pros
The first blog entry I want to present is dealing with the topic of rising consumer debt because of christmas purchases. This post talks about how purchases around christmas increase a country’s GDP. But often this growth is caused by purchases financed through debt. This is the problem. “This debt addiction is unsustainable.” Repayment is often impossible. A second highly interesting blog post dealing with the topic I am writing about is published by Christine MacDonald. She often cites Herman Daly’s opinion.

One reason growth does not work is we have underestimated the ecological cost of growth, and overestimated the benefits of growth.

He seems to know what he is talking about as he worked a long time as an economist at the Worldbank. I find his thesis comprehensive and would therefore strongly recommend you to read the blog post about ecological economics and his thoughts. Though it might be tough to read through the entire article, I know.
I can follow the arguments of economists defending the thesis of an end of the era of growth. But I must admit I am not totally convinced. Is everything I have done so far, every item I have purchased a mistake? One step closer to a failing ecosystem. And, why don’t we talk about this issue at university? If it is so relevant, why have we never had a debate in class? Is it not that important after all as all these economists like Daly make us believe?
For sure, there are arguments against the idea of a post growth economy. Here are some opinions I found on blogs:

The Cons
One argument is that we need growth in order to deal with long- term debt problems OECD nations face. Another argument is that faster economic growth in OECD nations “can have a spillover effect in poorer regions”. I agree. I think there are still countries in the world that need development and growth in order to provide a better life for their citizens. But this blog does not refer to the problem of a decreasing number of natural resources.
The second blog against a post- growth economy provides a better approach. The author argues that there has always been development and that a post growth economy is against human nature. The blogger states that ” a growing economy does not necessarily mean a garage of sports utility vehicles for every man, woman and child on the planet. But it does mean a perpetual motion of innovation which can liberate us from the physical constraints of our environment which enslaved us in the past.”

What do I think?
My first thought: Nice. This is what I believe, too. I think constant innovation is just as normal as the sunset and sunrise. It is something that lies in our nature. We want to create things. Make life easier. Better. But I guess, if we now connect this to the post- growth economy thesis, we cannot invent, grow and develop.

I don’t know. I am confused. Am I supposed to save the earth by not consuming anymore? I am sure it is rather unrealistic to become a farmer like my grandparents just to save the environment.
Fact is, we see that there is something going wrong. And the idea of an ecological economy is not just some dudes’ opinion on blogs. Just to name a few acknowledged economists who declare the end of an era of constant GDP growth I want to list Herman Daly, Tim Jackson and Serge Latouche. They have won prizes, published articles and also discuss the change of habits in order to achieve a sustainable future.

I think this is an important aspect to realize. GDP growth does not necessarily mean progress or happier people. There are surveys stating that people in Germany are less happy than people in Costa Rica, a country with a much lower GDP than Germany. In fact,  people in Germany are sometimes even more stressed out because of highly demanding jobs they fulfill or high expectations of their employers.

Due to this fact there are countries like Bhutan that measure their economic and social development not in terms of GDP anymore. They use an indicator called “Gross National Happiness”. The goal is to have as many happy people living in your country as possible.
A constant GDP growth does not ensure this goal. Other measures have to be used, too. For example, the equality of income distribution. To better understand the principles of what the Bhutan happiness index is about I would recommend you to watch a very comprehensive video.

Wrapping it up

Ok, I must admit this has become kind of a long blog post. But the topic cannot be described and discussed within a page.

What do I believe in?
I actually do not know. I see the crises and how we as a society are responsible for them. I understand the sustainability approach. But I cannot imagine a complete change of the structure of society and economy in order to save the world. And besides, many countries do not have such a developed economy as ours, do not have the same living standard. We should not prohibit them to continue to develop. They want to live their lives as we do. I think we will always grow. Or at least continue to develop. Maybe growth will not be only defined by measuring the GDP but using other indicators as well. But going back to the past where everyone had their own property, worked the field in order to survive is not possible.

My opinion.

This is a huge topic. Therefore I would not like to finish by simply publishing this post but continue to talk about it and enter into a discussion.

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  1. tennisanika

     /  January 9, 2012

    Really interesting point they made to step back from measuring wealth in GDP growth. But even if we’d follow Bhutan’s example, not all of our environmental problems would vanish I’d say. It COULD change the way people think about their lives and their wealth but this would not bring back rainforest , neither cool down ocean temperatures…
    My apologies for being so pessimistic but the conference in Durban is just another proof that nothing will change. It really upset me when I heard that Canada now resigned from Kyoto because they fear too big economic losses. Even if they’d argue that they are not the largest emitter in the world -and their participation could not change as much as a US or China participation in Kyoto- looked at it from a global point of view, if everyone had that attitude saying “I am only so little, I don’t make a big difference”, we would very soon experience an incremental increase in environmental catastrophes etc, I imagine.
    I think countries with large economic power are unfortunately too selfish/egoistic to give up a little bit of their wealth in order to save other people’s living environment.
    I wish everyone had the opportunity to go out and see that there are so many people who have (economically) so much less than we have, but are so grateful for what they have and live happier lives than most of us do. I think THAT could help them to change their minds …

  2. What an interesting topic and views! I really enjoyed the introduction and how you later on gave examples to make it more understandable for us who have not researched this topic. I aslo liked how you eplained that this was not just a topic among bloggers but also among academics. Furthermore, I totally agree with you when you say that you are confused. How are we supposed to know how life would be if the world was different? Unfortunately, people are selfish and I don’t think the situation we are in will ever change but I appreciate you bringing up the subject. Good work!

  3. Lucas

     /  January 30, 2012

    To bad your post didn’t hold the promise of its heading. I was hoping for you to open my eyes instead you gave me even more perspectives. I seriously don’t know what to think. Blaming the top 1% of the world’s economy is simply not a constructive approach! , even though it’s true.
    Besides the different perspectives you yourself confused me a little, ’cause you sometimes lost track of your red threat, the environment. It felt like you skipped it every other observation. I don’t know whether this was on purpose but it opened the topic to a certain extent, which would have broaden the topic to far for one post, but since this is not gonna be your last one on this topic it’s completely fine and even adds content.

    To your discussion I can only contribute that one day the economic ecosystem will be at capacity but by then we can probably not be sure about the sunsets anymore you were talking about. Having economic growth is good because economies are constantly inflating. Everything else would me that a non-developing economy would be the overall goal, which would also mean that the economy was most satisfied when the crisis decreased the German economic growth to about 0, but where we?
    I reckon as long as the world’s economy has not reached its yet undefined capacity growth will occur. The question is how? Who benefits from whom or what?!

    Considering the environmental perspective I recommend Viola’s post to those who haven’t read it and especially the contained video:

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