Growth is good. Right?

Until a few days ago, swarming was an adjective I had only ever heard applied to flying insects. It would appear however it can also be applied to vehicles.  In central London last week a series of organised swarming events took place.  Deployed by a diverse and growing collective of activists, driven by a lack of action by the powers that be to speak up for the planet.


Under the name Extinction Rebellion, these people are united in their stance – It is time for the government to take clear, decisive action on climate change. Now.


Protesters were polite, explained why they were stopping traffic for 5 minute spells, even handed out muffins. Many spoke of needing to take action for their children, nephews and nieces, grandchildren. And it would appear that at least some of the drivers and passengers caught up in it all shared the concerns of protestors.


I am heartened, but not altogether surprised. 2018 has been a year when the environment, particularly the state of the marine environment hit the mainstream agenda. A new-found awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet simply by living the lives we live.


How does this new-found awareness manifest? More people bringing their own cups to coffee shops, their own bags to the supermarket, choosing not to purchase products that contain ingredients we have been told are damaging the environment. More people doing their bit. Making changes to how they live.


We are taking small steps, making changes, in the hope that together this will make a difference.

But to truly address the catastrophe that is around the corner, even if it is simply a case of accepting the inevitable with grace, it’s going to take something far, far more fundamental. We are going to have to change belief systems. The rules of life that we have all grown up with.


I have pondered this a lot lately. And I find myself repeatedly coming back to the word expectation. And to the very basic lessons all of us are taught at school.


Expectation, that we can have anything, from anywhere, at pretty much anytime – as long as we can pay for it one way or another.


And the basic learning that growth is good. As long as we continue to accumulate, as long as the economy continues to grow and GDP continues to rise, we are in a good place.


It is clear however, despite our widely held beliefs that all our expectations can be met, that the planet can no longer sustain us ‘taking’ at the rate we have done.


George Monbiot in his blog post of 19thNovember entitled Hopeless Realism


…”continued economic growth is incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems.. While 50 billion tonnes of resources used per year is roughly the limit the Earth’s systems can tolerate, the world is already consuming 70 billion tonnes.

Business as usual, at current rates of economic growth, will ensure that this rises to 180 billion tonnes by 2050. Maximum resource efficiency, coupled with massive carbon taxes and some pretty optimistic assumptions, would reduce this to 95 billion tonnes: still way beyond environmental limits. A study taking account of the rebound effect (efficiency leads to further resource use) raises the estimate to 132 billion tonnes. Green growth, as members of the Institute appear to accept, is physically impossible”.



An economist (Kate Raworth) whose work I very much admire, is known for amongst other things, developing an alternative to the traditional growth model of economics, which just so happens to be doughnut shaped.  Through her doughnut economics theory she outlines and proposes solutions to the most pertinent challenge that humans face in the 21stCentury. To ensure that every person has the resources they need to meet their human rights, whilst at the same time ensuring we live within the ecological means of the planet.


There has never been a better time to understand what she is saying.


As she says in her TED talk, which I would recommend watching immediately:


“We intuitively understand that when something tries to grow forever within a healthy, living, thriving system, it’s a threat to the health of the whole. So why would we imagine that our economies would be the one system that could buck this trend and succeed by growing forever?”


As a species we have come to equate success with attainment of stuff. We have come to believe that a thriving economic system is contingent on consumption and growth.


It has become the widely assumed case that to be a successful human is to achieve, to build empires and to attain wealth.

But that model of success is based on the assumption that the planet can withstand the ever growing demands we are putting on it.

It is an assumption that is wholly flawed.


We need to reassess what success as a human looks like.


If it about seeing a future for the species on this planet (some would question whether it is, but that’s a whole other blog), we need to adjust our expectations and change our way of living, big time and fast.

Photo credit: David Alberto Carmona Coto