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PSIR Book Review: Have We Reached the Limits to Growth?

Have We Reached the Limits to Growth?

Have We Reached the Limits to Growth? – MICHAEL JACOBS , XHULIA LIKAJ

  •  Donella Meadows in her The Limits to Growth forecasted an uncontrollable collapse in the global population and economy if prevailing patterns of environmental resource use and pollution continued.
  • She claimed in her study that Exponential economic growth could not go on forever; at some point in the next 100 years, it would inevitably run up against Earth’s finite environmental limits.
  • But the work of Donella Meadows became the subject of criticism from Economists on the following grounds:
  • If a resource becomes scarce, its price will rise. Other resources will then be substituted for it, and it will be used more efficiently.
  • Technological innovation will lead to new, cleaner methods of production.
  • Far from leading to social collapse, economic growth is self-correcting – the only way for countries to develop out of poverty.


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  • Economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly came in support of ‘The limits to growth’ and made following points:
    • Physical limits to growth exist because planet’s biosphere cannot grow exponentially.
    • Cutting down trees faster than they can grow will give rise to deforestation.
    • Disappering of agricultural land will give rise to extinction of species.
    • Pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than it can be absorbed will heat up the planet.
  • Mainstream economists have began to recognise the above mentioned problems.
  • But at the same time economists are of the view that economic growth is measured in terms of national income and output (GDP), and there is not a simple relationship between these indicators and environmental degradation.
  • They suggest following means to safeguard planetary boundaries:
    • Using renewable energy and recycling waste.
    • Shifting consumption from goods to services can make economic growth much less environmentally damaging.
  • We can therefore have “green growth”: higher living standards and a healthier environment, too.
  • Green growth has become the official objective of all the major multilateral economic institutions, including the World Bank and the OECD.
  • But Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Environment Programme have been warning with ever-growing urgency, the world is still headed for environmental disaster.

However, environmentalists give the following points to avert the environmental catastrophe:  

  • Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis are of the view that “Degrowth” can enable the world to live within its environmental means and leave enough resources for the poorest countries to develop.
  • They argue that GDP growth in rich countries is now correlated with multiple social problems, from rampant inequality to growing mental ill-health.
  • But the economic debate between advocates of green growth and degrowth is also a political argument between pro- and anti-capitalist ideologies.
  • Partly for this reason, a third position – “post-growth” – has emerged in recent years.
  • Proponents of “Post-growth economics” criticize both green growthers and degrowthers for focusing on GDP.
  • Since GDP does not measure environmental degradation or social well-being, neither growth nor degrowth of it should be a primary economic goal.
  • “Post growth” economists argue that economic policy should focus instead on society’s paramount objectives –
    • environmental sustainability.
    • improved well-being.
    • declining inequality.
    • greater economic resilience.
  • Because none of these objectives can any longer be guaranteed by economic growth, policymakers need to go “beyond growth” to target them directly. As Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics, puts it, we should be “growth-agnostic.”

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