Many people are concerned by the current dominant global socio-economic paradigm in which economic growth is expected to continue forever.
I’ve commented at a previous thread that the associated issues, including resource depletion, may become “somewhat redundant” once global population starts to decline which many predict will happen before the end of this century.
A regular reader and commentator at this blog, Pinxi, disagrees. She writes:
“In my worldview, economic growth and resource depletion will remain relevant issues for the foreseeable future. These issues are not about to become redundant, regardless of whether we will achieve a declining (or stable) global population or decreased resource intensity.
I formed this opinion considering:
1) the large gaps in living standards (within & between countries) between the minority ‘haves’ & the majority ‘have nots’
2) the pressures and desires for continually rising living standards
3) that we haven’t decoupled living standards from resource throughput; we haven’t decoupled quality of life from materials
4) that looking at the rich countries with declining (& stable!) populations there is no evidence that economic growth or resource depletion has become redundant
5) MNCs see the huge populations in third and second world economies as massive untapped market opportunities – more sales needs more products & distribution needs more resources
6) more consumption means more resource use, and methods to reduce the linear nature of resource throughput require more energy for reuse, recycling, repurposing etc so there’s more entropy, less exergy
If global population is declining, you could have longterm negative economic growth but that doesn’t make economic growth redundant. Without a paradigm shift, economic growth is still relevant to our socioeconomic mechanics.
Industrialised societies are organised with economic growth at core and now expect continual improvements in living standards (and we get scared of potential threats to our way of life, such as global warming, peak oil, China, and cheap immigrant labour).
The paradigm will still persist unless we have a paradigm shift. What would bring on a paradigm shift (far-reaching disasters aside)? How would such a paradigm shift manifest?
We haven’t managed to decouple economic growth or maintenance of living standards from resource and energy throughputs yet. Until we do so, economic growth and associated resource throughput will remain an ongoing concern.
All those ‘other demanding people’ in ‘the other countries’ though want better living standards & cars, houses, coca cola & Maccas just like us. Meanwhile we still want to get one up on the Joneses, and marketers flog more must have items at us. All this requires resource throughputs.
A decline in birth rates in the third world is linked with education, health, food and women’s rights (self-determination, property, jobs etc) and while in some areas of the Millenium Development Goals we’re making percentile progress, we have huge improvements to make if we want real declines in the number of people living in poverty and dire inequality.
Basic human rights, and reduced risk and uncertainty in livelihoods and survivial, reduce population pressures. But that doesn’t by itself bring people up to speed with our first world standard of living. It simply means meeting bare minimum conditions for life for most people.
So even when/if population growth steadies, there’ll still be massive differences in quality of life and material standards, and bigger markets for marketing more unnecessary stuff that we all simply must have.
That attempt to catch up, and the never ending consumptive drive, will demand more resources.
Thankfully I still have my resource shares!”
This is a slightly edited version of a comment originally posted here: http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/001779.html at 3.22pm on 11th December.