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The Impossibility of Growth

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George Monbiot is no stranger to the Wall of Fame but this latest piece from his website is just epic. The Impossibility of Growth obviously caught our eye and those of many other organizations. The article has been making the rounds via social media and we couldn’t be more pleased. But we also wanted to give it more attention and bring it to you in case you missed it.

The opening two paragraphs hit the reader like a hammer. He turns to Jeremy Grantham for a quick calculation to demonstrate what a steady growth rate of possessions since 3030BC would look like. “It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.”

And Monbiot doesn’t mince words when it comes to where to place blame and what this means for civilization and the planet. “To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.” Well this is quite a conundrum. Sorry, I wanted to see if I could come up with the biggest understatement of all time. I think I succeeded. He’s right and it’s difficult to be optimistic when you take all of this into account. But it is also more of a reason to fight the staus quo with tooth and nail, rather than accept the fate. We’re not just in this for ourselves afterall.

Monbiot also points to coal as the real game-changer compared to previous industrial revolutions. He notes that “coal broke this cycle” of ebb and flow with growth and allowed it to just continue at warp speed. “Now, as the most accessible reserves have been exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible position.” We are completely raiding the planet of her natural resources, causing irreparable damage, and still craving more of it. The destruction is happening right before our eyes but people refuse to take it seriously. Monbiot draws attention to national parks from the Amazon to Africa where we will continue to drill it dry. Not to mention, “these new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.”

He goes on to address a very serious hurdle in the growth conversation… ”the myth of dematerialisation.”  It’s often argued that we will become more efficient with our resources as the digital age progresses…that technology will save us. But this is simply untrue. “As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilites of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we were miraculously to reduce the consumption of raw materials by 90% we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.”

Yet this remains a completely taboo and alienating subject to bring up. Which is why Monbiot deserves a prominent place on the Wall of Fame today. This is a piece that really gets to the heart of the matter.

Please share it and give us your feedback as well. We are also asking for financial support so we can continue to bring you important pieces such as this.

Photo Credit, Yasuni National Park | Tim Laman, National Geographic

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  • Mike Hanauer
    Mike Hanauer Wednesday, 04 June 2014

    I don't see this is lose-lose; I do think a steady state economy is practical, and would have to include population downsizing. Then the trick is to get governments, likely led by the US government, to see, advocate, and implement. Now this would seem to rest on restoring our lost democracy to make that happen.

    1. Special Interests controlling our government and the media, which makes it impossible to pass any meaningful legislation to help the common people, future people and the planet, and
    2. Eternal economic and population growth in the USA, which overwhelms all else we try to do to save our quality of life, the middle class and the environment.

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