• What is a post-growth economy, and why is it necessary?

  • Post-growth Economics

    Post growth is about building on the existing aspects of our world that are sustainable in order to create resilient futures. This includes strengthening ecologically and socially sustainable practices, while recognizing the physical limits of the earth.

    For the last few decades the world economy has focused incessantly on growth: growth in national production, growth in profits, growth in a dizzying array of consumer items, growth in financial markets, growth in population. Across political parties and ideologies (capitalism, socialism, communism) many have come to accept the story that “all economic growth is good”. This growth orientation has led to massive changes in terms of the relationship between humans and the earth and our relationships with each other. The growth story tells us that these changes are good, and that this is the way we will, and must, continue into the future.

    Yet, other perspectives are emerging. Around the globe, in many different ways, people are coming to believe a different story. We see that, in some cases and up to a certain point, this focus on growth has led to a growth in well-being. We also see that it has come at the expense of other people as well as the planet, leading to growth in inequality, growth in the use of non-renewable natural resources, growth in pollution, growth in stress, growth in the extinction of plants and animals, growth in insecurity, growth in loneliness and loss of community, and so on – to the point that we are threatening the earth’s ability to sustain us. As a result, we ask, ‘what are we capable of without economic growth?’

     

    Post growth is an umbrella term for this emerging perspective: for a way of seeing and being in the world that comes after the growth story. Just as there are many ways of living now in a growth-oriented society, a multitude of post growth futures are possible and many ways of living post growth already exist today. What these futures hold in common is a desire to separate good growth from bad, and to develop human potential and happiness within, and in relation to, a physically finite earth. A post growth economy puts life and everything needed to maintain it at the center of economic and social activity as opposed to the never-ending accumulation of money, and the pursuit of growth of all kinds without regard for its consequences.

     

    Post-growth economics is a global futures approach to the limits-to-growth dilemma[1] — the perception that, on a planet of finite resources, economies and populations cannot grow infinitely.[2][3] The term "post-growth" acknowledges that economic growth can generate beneficial effects up to a point, but beyond that point (cited as $25,000 GDP/capita by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book The Spirit Level) it is necessary to look for other indicators and techniques to increase human wellbeing.[2][3][4]

     

    Post-growth can be distinguished from similar concepts and movements (such as degrowth and steady state economics) in that it seeks to identify and build on what is already working, rather than focusing on what is not.[5] Post-growth advocates try to encourage, connect and further develop already existing ideas, concepts, technologies, systems, initiatives, and actions. In this way, "post-growth" does not specify the answer to the limits-to-growth challenge, as "steady state economics" and "degrowth" attempt to do, but rather, seeks to understand and address this challenge from an evolving complex systems perspective. With this perspective, post-growth deals with all aspects of self and society (such as psychology, human nature, human evolution, cultures, social systems and economies) and the interrelation of all of these aspects. Accordingly, the post-growth concept also advocates solutions that are appropriate with regards to place, time, resource and cultural factors. Therefore, post-growth initiatives take shape in very different ways under different circumstances.[6]

     

    Post-growth can be considered an asset-based approach to community development — applied not only to community development but across a wide range of categories — in response to limits-to-growth challenges, as it seeks to identify and build on cultural and technological assets to facilitate the emergence of post-growth futures.[6] In his landmark work Prosperity Without Growth (Routledge, 2017), the economist Tim Jackson demonstrates that building a ‘post-growth’ economy is indeed a "precise, definable and meaningful task". Starting from clear first principles, he sets out the dimensions of that task: the nature of enterprise; the quality of our working lives; the structure of investment; and the role of the money supply.[7][8][9]

  • Starting Positions

    1

    All people can live one-planet lifestyles in ways that bring increased peace and prosperity from the personal to the global scale

    There are a myriad of inspiring and empowering initiatives occurring worldwide that serve as examples of what our world can look like if we move beyond current trends that focus on personal gain, private profit, materialism and economic growth. By highlighting, connecting and supporting these initiatives we can help accelerate our global transition towards sustainable and resilient prosperity.

    2

    One-planet lifestyles acknowledge physical limits to economic growth on a planet with finite resources

    Economies exist within the physical environment. Their existence relies upon the continued use of natural resources like water, forests and agricultural land. These natural resources are either non-renewable (limited in total amount) or are produced at a rate that is limited by the environment’s ability to regenerate them. The other side of this is nature’s ability to absorb the wastes that we produce. If economies produce waste faster than nature can absorb that waste, we undermine the planet’s ability to sustain human existence.

     

    We are already using natural resources at a rate higher than that at which they are naturally renewed and creating wastes faster than nature can absorb them (known as ecological overshoot). Continued economic growth will only worsen this predicament. One-planet living acknowledges that we can, and must, mould our economies to fit within the limits imposed by our physical environment.

    3

    One-planet lifestyles acknowledge the pressures a growing human population, with highly inequitable patterns of production and consumption, place on a planet with finite physical resources.

    Every human on Earth must consume natural resources to live. If we are to survive and thrive into the future, we must together consume within natural boundaries and produce less waste than nature can absorb. Some of us are consuming far more than our fair share of resources and producing excessive waste, while the total population is growing. We need to address inequalities and find ways to maintain a better balance.

    4

    One-planet lifestyles also acknowledge that advances in technology do not mean we can keep growing indefinitely

    Technology cannot create something from nothing. For example, technology can’t change the fact that there is a limited amount of oil; it can only squeeze a little more use from existing reserves. In a world with more people and higher rates of consumption, increases in technological efficiency can, at best, buy us more time before such gains are cancelled out by further growth.

     

    Globally, improvements in the efficiency of technologies, or even leaps to other substitutes, have not been able to offset overall increases in resource consumption and waste. In fact, these improvements in efficiency have, in many cases, driven more wasteful attitudes and increased overall consumption (see “Jevons Paradox”). Rather than relying on technology alone, we must challenge the obsession with infinite growth on a finite planet.

  • Common Questions

    Does ‘post growth’ mean ‘no growth’?

     

    Post growth is about developing human potential, wellbeing and happiness within, and in relation to, a physically finite earth. It’s about putting life and everything needed to maintain it at the center of economic and social activity, instead of the never-ending accumulation of money, and the pursuit of growth of all kinds without regard for the consequences.

     

    In many societies, we’ve been growing things that are no longer improving our happiness or sense of wellbeing, and can benefit from turning our energies to ‘better’ instead of ‘more’.

    In a post growth world, many things would continue to grow: clean energy infrastructure, community gardens, green buildings, free time, happiness, creativity, innovative approaches to challenges. The Ecological Footprints of those whose impacts are below what is necessary to meet their needs can still grow, while staying within sustainable limits.

     

    Post growth is also about our collective security. Because the earth has biological limits, it is both physically impossible and an unacceptable risk for humanity as a whole to pursue growth indefinitely. For our own security and safety, we need to move beyond the widely accepted belief that we can continue to grow our economies, our populations and our consumption of material resources forever.

    At some point, humanity needs to work out how to run its societies so that they deliver quality of life for all, without depending on growth.

     

    Post growth is about new economic frameworks – the dominant change in a post-growth world is not merely reduced materialism, but a social contract/business structure around the goals of economic activity as a reflection of shared social aims.

  • Glossary

    Carbon Footprint

    The amount of carbon emitted by a person, organization, business, or nation. Originally measured in hectares, it referred to the amount of land required to absorb the carbon emitted, hence a ‘footprint’. It is more commonly measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), but it can also be measured in tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

     

    Climate Change

    The destabilizing of the climate through the release of greenhouse gases. Human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is changing the composition of the atmosphere. This traps heat within the atmosphere, creating a global warming effect. The term ‘climate change’ is more useful than ‘global warming’, because it reflects the broader effects of change, including floods, drought, sea level rise, etc.

     

    Contraction and Convergence

    A global solution to climate change that recognises that all people have an equal right to emit carbon and distributes a carbon quota to each country on a per capita basis. Under such a principle, which was adopted by the IPCC in 2000, industrializing countries would be allowed to grow their emissions, while others would reduce theirs.

     

    Ecological Footprint

    The Ecological Footprint is a measure in hectares of how much of the Earth’s capacity humanity requires to produce all the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates using current technology and resource management practices.

     

    Economics

    The root of the word is Greek, and means ‘the art of household management’. At its most basic it is the way that we organise the distribution of goods, resources and funds.

     

    Economic Growth

    The expansion of economic activity within a given country, or the world as a whole, usually measured by Gross Domestic Product. Since economic growth is closely tied to carbon emissions and resource use, it is a key driver of climate change and resource depletion.

     

    For-Profit Entity

    An entity in which financial surpluses may be distributed to shareholders. The primary objective of such an entity is almost always to create the greatest financial return possible (ie. perpetual growth).

     

    Gross Domestic Product

    Gross Domestic Product is the most common way of measuring the activity in an economy, and adds together investment with the value of all goods and services exchanged. It is considered a proxy measurement of standard of living by many politicians.

     

    Not for Profit Entity

    An entity without shareholders and unable to distribute any (part) of a financial surplus to its members. The primary objective of such an entity is almost always to create (a) social benefit(s) (i.e., may or may not be focussed on growing).

     

    Overshoot

    Overshoot is the situation when human demand on the Earth’s capacity exceeds the Earth’s supply, or regenerative capacity.

     

    Peak Oil

    The threshold at which remaining oil reserves become too difficult or too expensive to extract.

     

    Steady State Economy

    A way of organizing the distribution of goods, resources, and funds that does not need to grow. It is stable, rather than growing in its use of materials or accumulation of debt. A Steady State Economy would still change and evolve, but without an increase in material throughput.

     

    Wellbeing

    A general term for a life well lived, incorporating life expectancy, literacy and life satisfaction. Many reformers believe wellbeing represents a better measure of progress than economic growth.

     

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