G20, growth, degrowth, GDP, magical thinking and climate

The assumption that the G20 goal of 2% growth in GDP is good per se has received little challenge. But what about quality of life, climate and sustainability?

Could it be that there is magical thinking even in the title of the G20 policy note “A G20 agenda for growth and resilience”?

GDP as a measure of how well we’re doing simply doesn’t work. Here’s why. It doesn’t discriminate between desirable growth and catastrophic growth. If the economy grows because we produce more nuclear weapons or dig up more coal, economists with a growth-festish applaud, because GDP is booming.

Polyp on growth

Polyp on growth

It’s way past time for some radical thinking about this. In the light of climate disruption, GDP growth and resilience can no longer be taken together in policy frameworks; they’re in opposition to each other.

Sadly our leaders are slow to learn.

“Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

This is no recent insight. It’s a quote from Robert Kennedy in 1968. Yet we still persist with magical thinking that imagines infinite growth can be sustained on a finite planet. Enough.

It’s high time that degrowth and sustainability are the cornerstones of our policy framework.

Recommended reading

Degrowth and Sustainability by Wayne Ellwood

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

The Social Progress Index by Michael Green

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