Growth Vs Environment

Can The Economy Grow Forever?

Milan SaRa

Our economy, our country, constantly aim for the GDP growth. People, political parties, economists, scientist all are chanting only one mantra; GROWTH! Growth is the religion of the modern society. As our nation is a developing country, people expect more growth and political parties constantly made promises to deliver it. And we vote for them. This has been continuing for last seventy years. We have developed hundreds of cities, constructed millions of kilometres of roads and railway tracks. Millions of motorized vehicles are running all the time on the roads. Big dams and power plants are standing like towers of our pride. We have more than 900 million mobile phones and almost the same number of computers.

Wow! Impressed!


Let's see what my TV news shows. Oil prices are getting all time high and Egypt, Syria is facing economic collapse, global warming is the hot topic of the day and glaciers in the Himalaya's are melting. Potable drinking water is a rare commodity in the urban centres as well as villages. Extreme weather events are common phenomena all over the world! Cities are struggling with waste management. Global scientific community has given the 'second waring' to the world leaders.

What is all this about? On one side we all are outcry for development and growth and on the other we are facing serious environmental threats. It is the high time to rethink about our growth paradigm in the view of natural resource depletion and ecological turmoil. The question of the day is : can the economy grow forever?

Let's start with concept of growth. What do the definition say:
It says,"Economic growth is defined as an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services compared from one period to another". Economic growth is a state when groups of economic actors can produce more goods and services than before. Economic growth is a state i.e increase substantially economic activity. Economic growth is a state it is manifested in more energy production, infrastructure, transportation, more jobs, etc. we measure the country's growth by Gross Domestic Product (GDP : Total value of all goods and services produced by a country in one year.) and Gross National Product (GNP : total value of all goods and services produced by a country in one year including the total income from foreign country). It does not measuring the well being of people, nor does the quality of life.

Now let's try to understand what happens to the environment when more is produced from non-renewable resources, and on whole nature is being exploited for economic purpose. We know that, all these natural resources are limited on the Earth, whether it is fossil fuel or minerals, the stock is limited.

When we use it; it is finished for ever! Now just look at the statistics given by the geologist; what they are saying is half of the fossil fuel stock has been used up globally in last two and half century. Not only fossil fuel, but also other mineral resources are diminishing at the same rate. What makes us to think is the fossil fuel is the mainstay of our economy. If the fossil fuel dries out there will be a collapse of the economy.

To keep functioning this kind of growth we need to tap more resources, which Earth can not provide because it is beyond its capacity. Till now the growth was possible because resources were available and we though they are abundant. But today we know that we will have to experience a serious crisis in the next half century, depending upon how we use resources.

Overuse of natural resources creates not only resource depletion, but also ecological degradation. It is well established that global warming, climate change, species extinction ad waste generation are very much related to economic growth. Furthermore, infinite economic growth appears to be totally unscientific with finiteĀ  resources.

There are theories which are being professed to convince us is that when the Earth losses its natural resources even then economy growth can sustain depending on the renewable resource. We will shift to green technology like Solar, Wind, Bio fuel to fulfil our current demand. Going green is a better option. But before, it we have to ask ourselves whether we would be able to afford the same resource forever? Here we have to understand one thing that green technology can only postpone the crisis for a while. The real question we have to ask ourselves is, are we ready to compromise our life style?

There are several environmental groups, small communities, scientist, social thinkers and even governments who have asking the same question. New theories and concept are coming up from such questions. Here I am trying to introduce the concept of Degrowth briefly.

Degrowth means primarily the abolition of economic growth as the social objective, this implies a new direction for the society, one in which society will use fewer natural resources and live differently from today. Ecological economist defines degowth as an equitable down scaling of production and consumption that well reduce societies from need of energy and raw material. Concept of degrowth is well defined by William Rees, an ecological economist. He says degrowth is a planned and controlled contraction of human economic activities towards a sustainable, equitable and steady state in the mean by nature. So it represents a level of economic activities that is computable with the productive capacity of the ecosystem on which we are depending upon.

There are several other movements like organic farming movements, slow food movements, transition town movements, eco-village, peace movements all over the world working towards a sustainable living environment. They believe that the economy can't grow forever. They are advocating for a society based on sustainability, equity and justice. Let's together work for it.

[Milan SaRa: Studying BSc Environmental Science @ Vivekananda College, Kolkota. <>]

Vol. 51, No. 50, Jun 16 - 22, 2019