THE LIMITS TO GROWTH PERSPECTIVE:
A SUMMARY

13.9.2019

Our society's most fundamental mistake is our commitment to affluent-industrial-consumer lifestyles and to an economy that must have constant and limitless growth in output, on a planet whose limited resources make these impossible goals.
Our way of life is grossly unsustainable. Our levels of production and consumption are far too high. We can only achieve them because we few in rich countries are grabbing most of the resources produced and therefore depriving most of the world's people of a fair share, and because we are depleting stocks faster than they can regenerate. Because we consume so much we are rapidly using up resources and causing huge ecological damage. It would be impossible for all the world's people to rise to our rich world per capita levels of consumption. But most people have no idea how far we are beyond sustainable levels.


Although present levels of production, consumption, resource use and environmental impact are unsustainable we are obsessed with economic growth, i.e., with increasing production and consumption, as much as possible and without limit!
Most of the major global problems we face, especially damage to the environment, Third World poverty, armed conflict and social breakdown are primarily due to this limits problem; i.e., to over-consumption. (This does not mean over-population is not a serious problem.)
Following are some of the main facts and arguments that illustrate the limits situation.


• Rich countries, with about one-fifth of the world's people, are consuming about three quarters of the world's resource production. Our per capita consumption is about 15-20 times that of the poorest half of the world's people.

• Recent "Footprint" analysis estimates that it takes about 7 - 8 ha of productive land to provide water, energy settlement area and food for one person living in Australia. So if 9 billion people were to live as we do in rich world cities we would need about 72 billion ha of productive land. But that is 10 times all the productive land on the planet. (Note that a number of other factors could be added to the footprint calculation, such as the land needed to absorb pollution.)

• Even though only one-fifth of the world’s people are resource-affluent, we are using resources at rate that would take 1.7 planet earths to provide sustainably, (because we are consuming stocks such as forests faster than they can reproduce.)

• The biological diversity and resilience of the planet is deteriorating alarmingly. There are serious problems of water, food scarcity, forest and soil loss, decline of fish stocks, loss or coral reefs and tropical forests and mangroves and grasslands. We are heading into an era of massive species extinction. The cause of these problems is the fact that humans are taking so much from nature and dumping so many wastes back into nature.


These are some of the many points showing that there is no possibility of all people rising to the living standards we take for granted today in rich countries. We can only live like this because we are taking and using up most of the world’s scarce resources, preventing most of the world's people from having anything like a fair share, and depleting the planet’s ecological capital. Therefore we cannot morally endorse our affluent way of life. We must accept the need to move to far simpler and less resource-expensive ways.


To this we must now add the absurdly impossible implications of our commitment to economic growth and increasing "living standards." If 9.8 billion people were to rise to the GDP per capita Australians would have in 2050 given 3% p.a. economic growth, then total world economic output would be approaching 18 times the present amount. But the present amount is grossly unsustainable: the WWF (2018) estimates that we’d need 1.7 planet Earths to meet current resource demand sustainably. That means that by 2050 total world use of productive land would have to be around 30 times the amount which the Word Wildlife Fund estimates is available.


Few people seem to grasp the magnitude of the overshoot; it is far too great for technical advance and more conservation and recycling effort to solve the problems, i.e., to reduce resource and ecological impacts to sustainable levels while we go on committed to affluent living standards and economic growth. (A detailed case against the tech-fix” faith is at TSW: http://thesimplerway.info/TECHFIX.htm.)


The fundamental conclusion is that consumer-capitalist society cannot be fixed. It cannot solve the problems its basic structures and commitments generate. It has to be largely replaced by a society that will allow us to live well on a small fraction of the present levels of consumption. The Simpler Way argument is 
that such a society must involve simpler lifestyles, mostly small and local economies under local participatory control and not determined by market forces, no economic growth, and the abandonment of competitive, individualistic and acquisitive values.


The coming era of scarcity will push us in the required direction. The Ecovillage and Transition Towns movements are more or less pioneering this emerging shift towards localism. The best way to contribute to the transition is to work in local community gardens and co-ops towards local control of communities which are working to maximise self-sufficiency. These projects are the best way to increase general awareness of the need for transition to the required new social arrangements. The main task is to increase understanding that there must be radical system change to a zero-growth economy that is not driven by profit or the market but is run by us to maximise the quality of life of all people. (See TSW: http;//thesimplerway.info/THEALTSOC.Long.htm)





Hansen, J., (2008), “Tipping point” in E. Fearn and K. H. Redford, Eds., The State of the Wild Island Press, Washington.

Meinshausen, M, N. Meinschausen, W. Hare, S. C. B. Raper, K. Frieler, R. Knuitti, D. J. Frame, and M. R. Allen, (2009), “Greenhouse gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 degrees C”, Nature, 458, 30th April, 1158 -1162.

Can everything run on renewable energy? jn outline of the negative case? http://thesimplerway.info/RE3p.htm