What about ‘green growth’?
Most mainstream economists and politicians accept the science on the dire state of the planet, but not many people think capitalism is the problem. Instead, the dominant response to the ecological crisis is to call for ‘green growth’.
This theory involves producing ever more goods and services, but with fewer resources and impacts. So a business might design its products to have less environmental impact, or a product at the end of its life could be reused – sometimes called a ‘circular economy’.
At ZIVELI we make all our products with natural fibres, and all our products are handcrafted, curbing the use of energy.
If our entire economy produced and consumed goods and services like this, we mightn’t need to abandon the growth economics inherent to capitalism. Instead, we would just “decouple” economic growth from environmental impact.
Too good to be true
There are several big problems with green growth theory. First, it isn’t happening at the global scale – and where it is happening to a limited extent within nations, the change is not fast or deep enough to head off dangerous climate change.
Second, the extent of “decoupling” required is simply too great. Ecological footprint accounting shows we need 1.75 planets to support existing economic activity into the future – yet every nation seeks more growth and ever-rising material living standards.
Trying to reform capitalism – with a carbon tax here and some redistribution there – might go some way to reducing environmental harm and advancing social justice.
But the faith in the god of growth brings all this undone. The United Nations’ development agenda assumes “sustained economic growth” is the best way to alleviate global poverty – a noble and necessary goal. But our affluent living standards simply cannot be globalised while remaining within safe planetary limits. We need degrowth, which means planned contraction of energy and resource demands.
Taking a fair share
Let’s do the maths. If all humans continue to live like we do, we’d need more than four planets to sustain us. Earth’s population is set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Our current levels of consumption do not add up.
Something resembling a fair share could involve developed nations reducing energy and resource demands by 50% or even 75% or more. This would mean transcending consumer lifestyles, embracing far more modest but sufficient material living standards, and creating new post-capitalist modes of production and distribution that aimed to meet the basic needs of all – not for limitless growth.
The “downshift” in material consumption can begin at the individual level where possible. But more broadly we must create local and sharing economies that don’t depend on globalised, fossil-fuelled distribution chains.
A range of social movements will be needed to persuade politicians to adopt systemic change.
Last year’s global student strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests were a good start. Over time, they could create widespread public momentum for an alternative, post-growth economy.
Ultimately, structural and policy inventions will be needed. This includes changes to land governance to make sustainable living easier. And we need to start having difficult but compassionate conversations about population growth.
We are certainly not suggesting we adopt a centralised, Soviet-style state socialism. After all, a socialist economy seeking growth without limit is just as unsustainable as growth capitalism. We must expand our imaginations and explore alternatives.
We don’t have all the answers – and we think post-capitalist movements, now and in the future, will probably fail. But if we do not recognise capitalism’s inherent growth fetish as the central problem, we cannot formulate a coherent response.
At ZIVELI we are trying to make sustainable living easier. Log on to http://www.ziveli.in to shop slow fashion goods and sustainable home decor products which support a green growth.
#beboldforchange #bethechange #youhavethepower #livesustainable #ziveli #ziveliindia
This article is inspired from Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne.