Infinite Growth and Its Ecological Impact

Jason Hickel asks “Can we have perpetual growth AND a healthy ecology?”

Jason Hickel asks “Can we have perpetual growth AND a healthy ecology?”

Jason Hickel, anthropologist, author, and fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, has written perhaps the best article I’ve read on the growth imperative and its ecological impact: The Nobel Prize for Climate Catastrophe.

The article is so well-written that I’m inclined to excerpt virtually the entire thing for this post (which I won’t do).

Here are a few excerpts that really require reading the article for context.

“All of this leads us back to a more fundamental question. Economists such as Nordhaus insist that perpetual GDP growth is necessary for human welfare. Three decades of delaying climate action have been justified on this principle. But is it even true? Is GDP growth really our only option?

“Remarkably, Nordhaus—like most orthodox economists—has never bothered to consider this question. The growth-is-good mantra is so baked into our consciousness that to question it seems almost crazy. Indeed, growthism is hegemonic to the point of transcending ideology. Politicians on the left and right alike hold it up as the single most important policy objective; they may quarrel about how to make growth happen, and how to distribute its yields, but on the question of growth itself there’s no daylight between them.

“In recent years, ecological economists have been staking out an alternative vision. We will have a much better chance of accomplishing our climate goals, they say, if rich countries abandon their pursuit of GDP growth. And if we do it right, we can not only protect human well-being but even improve it. Liberating ourselves from the growth imperative may be our best shot at flourishing through the 21st century.

We are at a crossroads. Nordhaus, and many world leaders, remain wedded to the obsolete dogmas of the last century. But scientists are clear that this is no longer good enough – and the rest of the world is ready for something better.”

About Larry Horowitz

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Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Jan 07, 2019


Thanks to the reference to the Hickel article which I just read in its entirety.   I wrote about the problem of growth on these pages almost 6 months ago in  a piece called The Great Deceleration that so piqued the interest of our readers that not one person commented.  In my piece I quoted author Alex Jensen writing for Counterpunch who said, 

“ is precisely the increasing scale of economic activity – of ‘the economy’ – that is the heart of the multiple interlocking crises that beset societies and the earth today. The relentlessly expansionist logic of the system is inimical to life, to the world, even to genuine well-being. If we wish to instead honor, defend, and respect life and the world, we must upend that logic, and begin the urgent task of down-scaling economic activity and the system that drives it. We must embark upon the ‘Great Deceleration’.”

I called for a  Degrowth Management Act in Washington to replace the ridicously named Growth Management Act which, unfortunately, is still in force. 


Larry Horowitz

Jan 07, 2019

Dick, I have been following the work of Brian Czech, Herman Daly, and the staff of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) for more than a decade, and I have been posting their literature on various local sites and referring to it in comment letters for about that long.

In 2016, the Vermont legislature passed HCR 412 “House Concurrent Resolution Honoring the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy Its Important Work,” including these two Whereas Clauses:

“Whereas, the long-term stability of a steady state economy requires its establishment at a size small enough to avoid the breaching of ecological and economic capacity, especially during supply shocks such as droughts and energy shortages; and

“Whereas, a steady state economy fosters economic development and an increase in human welfare through strategic changes in relative prominence of economic sectors, specific techniques, such as renewable energy usage, and an emphasis on social goals other than material production and consumption.”

The point is, we do not need to reinvent the wheel (though we desperately need new breakthrough energy technologies).  Organizations like CASSE and people like Alex Jensen exist as wayshowers.

The real issue is, and has always been, the concentration of wealth and power and the ability of the most powerful to maintain the status quo. 

How do we transition from where we are to where we need to be?  Will that involve an evolution?  Or will it require a revolution?  


Wendy Harris

Mar 01, 2019

Or, you could just talk to an actual ecologist trained in conservation science, or better yet, take any college ecology 101 class.  Economists act like they just discovered gravity. 

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