We've all heard the expression 'growth is good'; and given the impending economic slow-down we're told is heading our way, we may wish for uninterrupted growth for a long time to come. But The Toronto Star's David Olive has other ideas.
There are better ways of measuring human progress than growth." he says in his column this weekend.
A wise American corporate CEO, wary of unrestrained growth, said years ago, "Growth for its own sake is the logic of the cancer cell."
In his piece, Olive examines the origins of growth, the psychology of growth and, perhaps more importantly, the dangers of unchecked growth, quoting Jean-Marc Jancovici, an environmentalist and adviser to French governments and corporations:
The growth rate of the consumption of natural resources...slowed down because of the oil shocks of 1974 and 1979, which delayed the ultimate exhaustion, but it does not change the essence of the problem, because we still look for perpetual growth. For the fossil fuels, for example, diminishing the annual growth rate of consumption from three percent to 1.8 percent delays the final outcome (of total depletion) by 20 years only.
Olive goes on to observe:
Projections of world population growing to 9.1 billion by 2050 from 6.5 today aren't in themselves the real worry. Some experts assert there's room on the planet for as many as 15 billion of us. The concern is the exponential nature of demand growth.
For instance, as the U.S. population tripled in the 20th century, its consumption of raw materials increased 17-fold – a pattern that will play out among the far larger population of the developing world in decades to come.
One simply has to hope that any species that could overcome the Black Death and (so far) the threat of mutual assured nuclear destruction can sustain its craving for growth by, as in post-World War II Europe, redirecting it. Has to hope that today's nascent eco-industry start-ups will someday populate the Fortune 500. Growth can and should be a liberating force, unleashing innovations that improve standards of living. But in too many places, at home and abroad, growth abets intolerable social inequality.
Sadly, we are already seeing the effects of our 'grow at all costs' mentality: The Alberta Premier walking out of the Premiers Summit because he didn't want to reign in the Oil Sands Industry; or Premier Dalton McGuinty telling us to buy more fridges to keep the economy humming.
What seems to be missing from our current economic equation is the understanding that most industries are still unsustainable - that is, they consume more than they produce. There is a net loss to the planet. If we carry on growing the way we are there won't be much planet left to consume.
Here's hoping Richard Branson gets that space rocket finished very soon...
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