What if Green Growth Can’t Save the Planet?

If our economic health is predicated upon growth and growth can’t be sustained, what then? This post explores that reality and our options. Also, info about today’s Senate Judicial Committee hearing of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. Senate Judicial Hearings & Christine Blasey Ford. The hearing is scheduled to begin today (Thursday, September 27) at 10 a.m. ET or 8am MT in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. If you’re looking to stream the hearing live on your computer or mobile device, I’ve rounded up a few options below:

With the increasing number of charges being leveled and more and more people stepping up to corroborate the charges leveled by Blasey Ford, Ramirez and Swetnick, one would hope that GOP leadership would pause. There is some evidence that a few key GOP votes are wavering. I am sure the testimony today will not make it any easier to approve a nomination that at one time seemed only needing a rubber stamp.

Retake Our Democracy at Journey Santa Fe, Sunday, Sept. 30, 11am-noon, Collected Works, 202 Galisteo. Roxanne and I will discuss our 10,000 mile 70 day Look, Listen and Learn Road Trip and the successful social justice initiatives we found in our conversations with advocates and city leadership in cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Baltimore, Cleveland, Madison, Jackson, Nashville, and Austin. We’ll have time for questions to discuss what of what we found could be applied here in NM. Join us and bring friends for we expect to be an illuminating conversation.


What if Even Green Growth Is Not Sustainable?

With a growing number of economists and climate change scientists pointing to the need to curtail growth or to find ways to grow more sustainably, many policymakers are advocating for “green growth.” As explained in a recent Resilience blog written by Jason Hickel,  green growth advocates argue that if we invest in more efficient technology and introduce the right incentives and restrictions, we’ll be able to continue growing while also reducing our impact on the planet. Numerous studies describe how we are already consuming our resources at an unsustainable level. According to green growth advocates, the goal is to achieve “absolute decoupling” of GDP from the total use of natural resources. Put another way, the theory is that if you are very efficient in sustainable resource use, you can produce an increase in GDP without increasing our use of resources. This would be a very good thing if the math worked. Two recent studies suggest that it does not.

Green growth became a “thing” at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 and green growth remains central to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. But even in a world totally committed to reduced waste and production efficiency, we will never be able to produce something from nothing and we have long ago surpassed the sustainable level of planetary resource use. In 2000 we hit the 50 billion metric tons of resource use, considered then to be the threshold for what mankind can consume. To give you a sense of the planet’s current sense of urgency, even with dire warnings in 2000, we now utilize 40% more resources than in 2000, 70 billion metric tons.

But even assuming a renewed and sustained commitment to green growth, two recent studies suggest that growth just can’t be green. The first study was done by a team of scientists led by the German researcher Monika Dittrich who conducted an elaborate computer modeling and first assumed continued 2-3% increases in economic growth over the next 32 years. By 2050 our consumption of resources would be 180 billion metric tons, almost 4 times a sustainable level. When the team re-ran the formulas incorporating the highest possible efficiencies and green technologies, the model still produced an annual consumption of resources of 93 billion metric tons, better than 180 billion metric tons, but still double a sustainable level of resource use.

in 2016 a second research team assumed a carbon tax that would raise the global price of carbon from $50 to $236 per metric ton and imagined technological innovations that would double the efficiency with which we use resources. Anyone who has been paying attention to international economic and political negotiations will realize how distant we are from considering any kind of increase in carbon will appreciate how far we are from this kind of global commitment. Nonetheless, their statistical model arrived at virtually the same result as the first study: we would reach 95 billion metric tons consumed annually by 2050.

Hickel isn’t terribly optimistic about the world suddenly taking resource consumption seriously, but he did have some ideas about what we might do to help reverse our unsustainable use of resources and it involves an entirely different approach to everything, something Retake has been suggesting in numerous blogs related to creating the Next System. Hickel proposes as a start:

  • Imposing hard caps on resource use, as the economist Daniel O’Neill recently proposed;
  • Ceasing use of GDP as an indicator of economic success and adopt a more balanced measure like the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which accounts for pollution and natural asset depletion; and
  • Eliminating the assumption that economic success requires increased growth.

None of this will come easily and comments at the end of the Resilience piece noted that a significant reduction in population could also be a factor, either via an intentional reduction in birth rate or in a more dystopian vision, due to widespread starvation.

Retake had produced a blog way back on July 18, 2017 posing the question: What if we can’t continue to grow? It included links to other research on sustainable economics as well as four minutes from Noam Chomsky clearly distinguishing a more socialist approach that is going to be required to address the concerns above  Click here to review that post.

Click here to read the Resilience reprint originally published earlier this year by Foreign Policy magazine. I have included a six minute video from Richard Heinberg, author of the End of Growth. It describes in very simple terms, how we got here. How we avoid the path so clearly indicated if we do not heed these warnings will be the subject of many posts in the future. There are alternatives and there are people working to invent The Next System as an alternative to ceaselessly consuming our planet and exploiting our people. We just need more people like you advocating for adopting these approaches.

Our recognition of the need to move beyond our current approach to economic development was part of the motivation for Roxanne and I going on the Road Trip. We wanted to find out more about what people with a different vision were doing. Please come to see us present on our trip and what we learned at Journey on Sunday at 11am at 202 Galisteo at Collected Works,

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne



Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use and Wildlife, Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development

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3 replies

  1. Around here, we have a lot of Greenwashing, it is promoted in every news outlet here. It is kind of counter intuitive, but the City just approved more development in Hyde Park, well of course they did. There once was a moratorium on building up there, but that only made it more desirable, and expensive. There was nothing on “Affordable Housing” as usual. Before 45’s Tax Cuts, the fairy tale here in River City, was that some Tech Billionaire was going to “invest” as a tax write off. That myth is still really prevalent. That is part of the justification for giving taxpayer money to these Mega Corporations. I bet the City has already lined up all kinds of “incentives” for the developers.

    When they first started all of that uphill development, everyone downhill was subject to sewage overflows. Of course that kind of thing was censored in our local “News.” You could walk into houses where there was a ring or a stain that showed were the sewage overflow ended. They homeowner would often claim, it was just a a ‘leak.” Every time it happened the City would act as if it had never occurred before. Their legal team advised them to pretend it was a fluke or the callers imagination. The Realtors did not have to divulge that the house had once been inundated with sewage.

    That Hearing is like Deja Vu, Anita Hill all over again. It is really creeping me out. There was a sit down protest at Yale. I guess the rest of us gals can all be comforted that we did not get an ivy league education, and the sexual trauma associated with it. The denial is so pervasive. Our nations last shred of decency was when they allowed Thomas onto the court. It was a signal that this pervasive behavior would continue.

    There was another Child Abuse Murder in River City this week, and the typical apathetic response. They put the perp in the newspaper, so we could all get a good look at her. Nothing about the conditions denial, and almost genocidal war on the poor, that children are experiencing daily. The activities of the non profits, are amplified in local media, and social media to counter the facts. All of the Pod People just went along with the “Pull Together” a silly but expensive Website they did as a Public Relations and Propaganda stunt.

    I have been following this guy, he lays it out pretty neatly.


  2. HI Paul and Roxanne. Descartes’ post and the referenced article are quite telling. I have worked in ecology and energy management for more than four decades. Humanity has deluded itself for millenia about its ‘garden’ mentality. Along with the delusion that anyone can carve out an imaginary slice of land with invisible borders and then manipulate it in some advantageous fashion for the private benefit of the owner, comes the self-congratulatory arrogance that these modifications are harmonious with Nature, beneficial to its billion-year-old wisdom and in sync with the road to the heavenly stars all humanity strives to be on.

    If humans crossed their eyes they could easily see that there is no garden. Autocrats throughout history have waged scortched Earth wars against any attempt to learn from and emulate the strategy of bio-diverse survival, a scheme that is fluid yet predictable, organized yet mysterious, fraught with personal tragedy yet uplifting in its wisdom of sacrifice leading to peaceful co-exstence. Competition has long been used as a ruse to recruit and train the most susceptible warriors to carry out the orders dribbling out of the despotic ubermind.

    The trio of worshipped addictions – competitive oneupsmanship, glorification of individuality, and frenetic and incoherent consumption of finite resources – are strands of the braided noose cinching ever tighter around the collective human neck, The over-simplified urge to somehow ‘green’ ourselves away from the brink of Perdition still nestles comfortably in the tapeworm-filled belly of the 3-4000 year-old Taker corpus. Cohen’s clear warning in ‘Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow’ is that without waking up and making the effort to use the forebrain in comprehending phenomenae and human infusion within them, we and the graceful yet chaotic planet we come from will inevitably lead to extinction.

    Extinction IS forever. Period. No more dalliances in frivilous mental activity. No thought. No consciousness. No sensation. No pleasure. No pain. No self. No other.

    As a scientist, I have, for at least 20 years, concluded that homo sapiens sapiens, us, is an accident of evolution, not a logical progression. T.S. Elliot concluded, when I was yet a boy, that all of this would end, not with the big bang of atomic perihilion, but with a collective whimpering, in the cold and dark of a dead rock, once teeming with creativity. life and promise.

    There is, now, no forseeable exit from this tragedy. Best for all of us to extend love and compassion to what remains, and make our peace with the victims of our shortcomings.

    No god I can conceive of would dare to salvage such a corrupt creature as man.


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