My attitude regarding “growth” obsession is pretty clear. I would argue that my points on the subject should be universally acknowledged and applied to human activity. It ought to be a no-brainer that you simply cannot avoid degrading vital resources with perpetual growth ideologies. The two are simply inconsistent.
It is fair to then ask, how can we otherwise prosper? Here’s a couple thoughts on that.
As discussed in my post on Wednesday, growth and resources in no way are compatible unless both are perpetually growing at the same rate with infinite spatial range. This, of course, is not reality. Limiting resource extraction to a certain upper threshold is the only way that we can manage to utilise renewable resources indefinitely. That a person requires a certain amount of resources to persist, thus demands that a maximum population much also be fixed.
I have argued in the past that, by maintaining a population far below this maximum subsistence value, populations would enjoy overall wealth in having more disposable resources allocations per capita.
Moreover, limitations provide motivation for innovation.
First and foremost, one can ask how best to obtain economic wealth from material resources. Two simple principles are efficiency (ie. more from less) and cyclic processing (ie. the waste from one process provides input for the following process). Yet, these measures can only go so far, being limited to limited resources and ingenuity.
A more radical approach comes from non-material resources. Our species produces an immense amount of it. This covers knowledge and arts. There are no limits to how many forms of art we can create or how much design we can add to the human environment. Coupled with knowledge, we can explore new ways of living as well (I would note, biophilia, which too, promotes resource resilience and abundance as well as access to ecological services).
Such non-material resources provide the greatest room for wealth creation and, in both cases, tend to be the hardest hit as luxuries when we have economic downturns, in favour of material resource extraction (think stimulus packages). This is something that is obviously counterproductive.
A booming, busy economy can enjoy greater activity, job prospects and overall prosperity where people have the time (ie. limited working hours) and money (ie. reduction of personal debt) to enjoy live shows, a dinner out with friends or an afternoon with the family are a fair, market or something similar (of course, such events can be heavily dependent upon material resources, but this is where ingenuity plays a role). Having a new wide screen TV that dies every other year is a sloppy substitute for economic growth.
Of course, this would also rely upon the following.
I do harp on about Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level and the Equality Trust for the points they raise are valuable.
Material growth depends largely on inequality. If the social divide was small and people did not distinguish themselves are very different from one another by what they have or don’t have, then the urge to have would not be so strong. That is to say, without Arnie in his Hummer and Oprah with her gold plated toilet, or more locally, Fred two houses down with the newest SUV, we would not feel as inclined to keep up with the Jones.
Status seeking means that we are never really happy with what we have (because someone else has more) and thus cannot be good for us. Status seeking drives resource degradation and so will not be good for the futures of our children and their own. It also requires downsizing overheads (replacing local workers for cheap foreign labour and robots) and provides profits largely to the top jobs and shareholders; all of which increases local loss of prosperity.
This is all contrary to the avenue for non-material resource processes discussed above.
For instance, the movement of money happens more freely and rapidly when more people have money to dispose with and others are locally accessible to entertain, provide a meal or coordinate activities than the current system. Where the social mobility is increased, thus social equality favoured, you provide fertilisation for the establishment of a community which is active and thriving. That most of the activities are non-material resource dependent, such prosperity is less hinged on resource acquisition. It also reduces the potential for debt creation.
We are on a road that none of us would vote for. We are creating a future that none of us would like to be provided to us. We are undertaking such behaviours because it favours a few and most of us want to be one of those few, “…so f’en bad.”
Of course, it is a situation that only exists if the minority remain the minority. We cannot all be billionaires without inflation working its magic, returning us to normality. All the while this behaviour is a sideshow, behind which the climate changes, oceans acidify and are stripped of life, forest come down and we start to contemplate doing things the hard (and expensive) way – think de-salination. We are going nowhere desirable and for the most part, we are ignorant to the fact.