Economies main goal is to keep growing, with some people at least becoming more prosperous as a result. Yet there is a school of thought that economies cannot possibly keep growing forever. After all, much economic growth is based on exploiting finite resources. And this is quite mainstream news to most of us now… Take the case of the use of plastic. 1 Million Plastic Bottles Bought Every Minute, plastic bottles are commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which take 400 years to naturally decompose, yet 91 percent of it is not recyclable. Hi growth indicators in the drinking industry are then, producing, as an externality, all the plastic problem we have to deal with now.
What’s more, with a global population that is currently pushing 7.7 billion,
supporting that number of people is also likely to be challenging with a limited
number of finite resources. This leads to the concept of “post growth economics”.
What is Post Growth Economics?
Post growth economics recognises that economic growth can continue up to a
certain stage, but past that it will not be possible to sustain. This means that there
will be other steps needed to ensure that human wellbeing can be maintained or
Post growth economics differs from other existing ideas about economics. It is
focused on looking at what is working and using that as a foundation, rather than
looking at what is wrong and trying to fix it.
Explained by Post Growth, “in this way, post-growth does not specify the answer to the limits to growth challenge, as steady state economics and degrowth attempt to do”. Instead it looks at the overall system and the way it is developing and tries to find solutions to address issues from within it that seem promising.
The whole idea revolves around trying to pinpoint ways in which post growth futures can be built, using assets already in play – whether those are cultural or technological.
One Planet Lifestyle
There are some important underlying principles that post growth economics are built
on, and these are worthy of consideration, to better understand the concept being
presented. One is that everyone can live in such a way that will lead to enhanced
prosperity and peace for all, and that this can be achieved both individually and
globally. This is referred to as being a “one planet lifestyle”.
The idea behind post growth economics is to focus on doing things in a more resilient and sustainable manner so that this prosperity and peace can be achieved. A second important
underlying principle for post growth economics is the realisation and acceptance that there are limits to finite resources, and that this means physical limits to economic
growth also exist.
As we can see by looking at any economy even at a very shallow depth, it is clear that these have a strong reliance on the use of agricultural land, forests and water, and that all of these resources are finite. That is, the economy will at some point not be able to regenerate them at the pace they are being used. If we allow that to get out of control, then we will be unable to sustain the human race.
Further, advocates of post growth economies suggest that we are already using up natural resources at a speed at which they cannot be renewed. Yet another concept underlying the idea of the post growth economy is the fact that if you conceive of a one-planet lifestyle, you can see that there are significant pressures on that already. These include the rapidly expanding human race, inequality in production and consumption and issues of space.
Since each person needs some resources to survive, then there needs to be some limit to the consumption that we each have. This means working on making consumption more
equitable, and avoiding producing too much waste. In addition to this, there is the
underlying principle that technology can only go so far to keep economies growing,
and at some point, this will reach a limit. A good example is that oil is limited.
Technology and Post Growth
Technology can be built that helps to get more oil from reserves that are challenging
to access, but it cannot grow the amount of this finite resource that is available.
Worse, increases in efficiency in technology have been seen to be linked to
increased wastefulness and additionally more consumption overall. This means that
technology is not going to provide an amazing solution, so we need to overcome our
idea that growth can continue forever.
It is difficult to argue with the underlying ideas of post growth economics advocates.
The concepts are rational and realistic. We all need to start looking at ways we can
support steps to move towards post growth economics, and finding ways to make
consumption more equitable.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.