Study: global economic growth “isn’t possible”

Continuing global economic growth “is not possible” if the world is to stop devastating climate change, according to a report by the New Economics Foundation (Nef). The study, entitled “Growth Isn’t Possible,” finds that “unprecedented and probably impossible” carbon reductions would be needed to hold temperature rises below 2 degree C (3.6 F), the limit beyond which global warming will become dangerous for human civilization. “We urgently need to change our economy to live within its environmental budget,” said Nef’s policy director Andrew Simms. “There is no global environmental central bank to bail us out if we become ecologically bankrupt.”

None of the existing models or policies could “square the circle” of economic growth with climate safety, Nef added. Report’s co-author Dr Victoria Johnson said “Magic bullets—such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear or even geo-engineering—are potentially dangerous distractions.” (BBC News, Jan. 25)

We have always maintained that such conclusions are self-evident. But Barack Obama, in a Dec. 15, 2008 press conference announcing energy policy team, stated, “There is not a contradiction between economic growth and sound environmental policies…” Will progressives have the fortitude and integrity to repudiate him on this fundamental if difficult point?

See our last post on the global climate crisis

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  1. file under “duh”
    > urgently need to change our economy to live within its environmental budget

    Is an extremely polite understatement.

    > Will progressives have the fortitude and integrity to repudiate him on this fundamental is difficult point?

    Nope. At least not nationally. It will have to be done state by state and the energy isn’t there. Any energy legislation will be met with cries of “Learn Chinese”

  2. Get to know your basic science first!
    Ilya Prigigone won a Nobel prize in physics some years ago for proving that life on earth would not run down due to entropy.
    This is because, although the earth is generally a closed system as far as natural resources are concerned, the sun is a large source of external energy.
    So, as long as the sun holds out, life on earth, including us, can continually grow.

    As long as we use energy derived from the sun – wind, water, lightning, and sunlight, we can continually grow economically AND remain in thermal balance.

    1. Vile sophistry
      You are conflating biological evolution with capitalism, a fallacy that the intellectually serious abandoned a century ago. Next…

  3. The issue is the current quality of growth vs qauntity
    The economic issue that needs to be addressed is the how one is to characterize and quantify growth.

    I often site the example of simple economy where I build a house valued at one dollar, and you build a bomb valued at one dollar. Should you provide a service valued at one dollar and blow up my house, the GDP for the period will be 3 dollars.

    Economic growth is possible while addressing environmental and social issues. What is unsustainable is the quality of growth that the world has grown accustomed to. This brings up the concept of Net Economic Welfare, which was introduced to economics in the 1960’s but has fallen out of fashion and has been rejected by militant capitalists.

    Personally, I believe that the production of high fructose corn syrup should not be counted as a component of the United States “Food Production.” Nor should the assembly of burgers in McDonald’s be characterized as “manufacturing.”

    Unfortunately that is how production and growth is mis-measured in the popular economic mind-set.

    Thank your for the opportunity to share.

      1. The Problem is How does one Define Growth
        I would like to give Obama the benefit of the doubt in believing that he is speaking of economic growth in a more nuanced manner than the hard numbers that are commonly attributed to growth in econometric models. Change is an absolute certainty whether we like it or not. To continue to think of economic growth in the same manner as has been done up until the present would be catostrophic for the environment and society. Any economic model functions on a ‘garbage in-garbage out’ methodology.

        I believe that should the paradigm of economic growth be re-evaluated, as suggested by the article, then what Obama says can be characterized as true.

        Again, I am giving him the benefit fo the doubt.

        Thank you.

        1. No it isn’t
          “Growth” and “change” are not synonymous. As long as the global system is predicated on taking an ever-growing share of the Earth’s resources and turning them into consumer goods, we are headed towards a crash. It is just a matter of time, and there’s no way around it.

          1. THE THREAT TO LIFE
            From whatever perspective we choose this fact is clear ‘there is a threat to life as we know it”, and this threat is being constantly amplified by the actions of man. The actions of modern technological man have helped bring this threat very close to becoming real for us on this planet Earth.

            In a fundamental sense, life can exist only in low entropy “islands” within the isothermal energy system that is the universe. Descriptions of these phenomena can extend from gas clouds, to nebulae, to stellar and planetary systems. Information allows for more detailed descriptions of greater complexity, be it of physical or biological systems. All being organized and sustained by the differential flows of energy possible in such “islands”.

            One such organizing principle has been termed “life” and the expression of this principle in our physical/chemical milieu studied as biology. The first beginnings of life on this planet, as well as its subsequent evolution has been well documented by the fossil record: and biological evolution has been demonstrated to involve a hierarchical ascendancy to more and more complex forms of living beings. We humans, being one expression of life at a time when it has been achieved the greatest diversity in its expression on Earth.

            If the historical record demonstrates that the manifestation of life on this planet shows a tendency towards greater complexity, any reduction of the conditions or options allowing evolution along this path will stifle the expression of the organizing principle (life) on it. Observation confirms the fact that the actions of man have contributed to such a reduction of options. In the course of history, the forests of the Mediterranean or the floodplains of China provide some examples of this reduction. However all these reductions pale4 into insignificance by the action of modern man.

            Today we rapidly remove the conditions necessary for the continued existence of genetic, ecological and cultural information, as these are seen to be unimportant to the society of modern man. These losses have now reached critical proportions, the actions leading to such losses being reivindicated by the human value system called “Consumerist, growth oriented society”. This value system claiming representation of the will of humanity. Using a theory called “Consumerism sovereignty” where “whatever contributes to the satisfaction of the individual is decreed good and whatever detracts from the individual satisfaction is decreed bad”; the salesmen of the world set about the activity of creating desire. So that, more and more resources were required to satisfy the individual preference, The individual preference being constantly redefined by the pecuniary actions of these same salesmen. The product of these actions has been to place an ever-increasing demand on all resources, be it renewable or non-renewable. As the values and ideals of the “Consumerist, growth oriented society extend to include more and more of humanity, there is a proportionate reduction in the ability of life to express itself on this planet.

            The diversity of species or ecosystems, the function of the great chemical cycles such as Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, nitrogen, etc. The value of public goods such as clean air and water, are but some units that we can measure this threat to life by. But until the paralytic grip that the present economists and salesman have on the decision-making politicians and administrators are weakened, there exists a little hope for planning a sane, sustainable future for living beings on this planet.

            The “Consumerist, growth oriented society” is in a fundamental sense, an antithesis to life. Its promotion and sale to the world as “development” and “progress” can only be seen as an irresponsible action by power brokers that view the development of a currency system to be of greater validity than the conservation of the living systems.

            In the worlds of the cartoon character Pogo Possum “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us”. But the problem lies in belling the cat. Self criticism is hard enough for an individual, for an entire discipline and it’s associated professions it will require a sense of responsibility of gargantuan proportions