Green House Post Growth Project
Everyone agrees that we are in the midst of a massive financial and economic crisis. We have suffered the biggest ‘crash’ since the 30s, and it may get far bigger yet. How ought this ongoing crisis to be understood, and resolved?
On the mainstream view: We have vast government deficits, and stagnant economies. We have a dire need for economic growth – and a deep-set need for austerity, bringing with it massive cuts in public services.
But what if that diagnosis, which reflects mainstream wisdom, is all wrong? What if the crisis that we are currently experiencing is one which casts into doubt the entire edifice of capitalist economics, which sets growth as the primary objective of all policy? What if the fight between those who say that without austerity first there can be no growth and those who say that we must invest and borrow more now in order to resume growth is a false dichotomy - because both sides are assuming ‘growthism’ as an unquestioned dogma?
The aim of the Green House Post-Growth project is to challenge the common-sense that assumes that it is ‘bad news’ when the economy doesn’t grow and to anatomise what it is about the structure of our economic system that means growth must always be prioritised. We need to set out an attractive, attainable vision of what one country would look like, once we deliberately gave up growth-mania – and of how to get there. And we need to find ways of communicating this to people that make sense, and that motivate change.
The starting-points from which the analysis proceeds are outlined in our Common Ground paper, which can be downloaded here.
A short report introducing the project can be found at Green House Post-Growth Project (pdf, 661 K).
All of the other reports that have emerged from the project can be found on our Publications pages. And finally the most important of these outputs have been gathered together to make the first Green House book. We believe that together they make a compelling case for a radical reappraisal of the fundamental assumptions behind UK economic and social policy. The book costs £12.99 and can be ordered from our Publications page.
‘Limits to growth’ comes to Westminster at last!
A report from the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth at the House of Commons in April 2016 by Green House Chair, Rupert Read
Growing is a dangerous business. A person over seven feet tall is at massive extra risk of having a heart attack. Imagine how it would be for them at eight feet tall. Or nine. Or…
Aren’t we always told that ‘the sky’s the limit’? That more growth is clearly better?
Consider some further examples. Some companies can be so big and interconnected that if they fail, then so does everyone else. And a population that is too big can strip the land bare and kill both it and themselves in the process. These are just two more of the problems with growing too much; the first, as is well-known, is one of the causes of the moral hazard that made the financial crisis so bad (and might well do so again, because the culture of gigantism has not changed), while the second continues to be a growing (sic) problem that we as a species are facing at the moment.
Growth provides benefits. But it also fragilises. When that fragilisation brings in its train risks of ruin, then it is utterly reckless to keep growing regardless.
But we were warned of these problems decades ago. In 1972 The Club of Rome published its landmark report, The Limits to Growth, which laid down a challenge to the world at large. It argued that we are fast depleting the Earth’s resources and polluting it severely, and that if we continue on our current path our way of life will collapse as soon as sometime during the 21st century. Of course this hasn’t happened yet, but how reassuring is that? How reassured should the turkey be, as each day it gets a little fatter?
The reasoning behind the claims of the Club of Rome is, in Green House’s view, clearly still valid (in fact, more so than ever), and some of their scenarios model alarmingly closely what the world is like, now, 44 years on. We live on a finite planet with an ever growing population some of whom are absurdly — decadently — rich and hyper-consuming, and many of the rest of whom (under the gun of advertisers) are continually demanding a better ‘standard of living’. Eventually the resources we have will run out, or we will be overwhelmed by our own ‘waste’ products, or both.
So, as I see it, the Club of Rome have rightly urged precaution. They have urged us to stave off the calamity before it happens. In my view, what they gave us was by no means a forecast. It was a schematic risk assessment. Warning us to be precautious - to head off the profoundly uncertain, potentially dire risks attendant on our current path. This point is so important that it is worth drilling down into a little further. For it reflects the need for government to take a view that is not confined to cost-benefit analyses, nor even to what the 'evidence base' tells us. Namely: the need for government to act according to the Precautionary Principle (see here some salient recent work of mine on The Precautionary Principle, co-authored with Nassim Taleb).
This Principle is (supposed to be) part of UK (and EU) law: however, it has been under sustained attack from some Parliamentary Committees in recent years (Cf. e.g. http://steps-centre.org/2014/blog/rupertreadgm/). When one considers for instance the risk of potential future pollution crises (of which we may as yet have no evidence), then arguably there is an in-principle Precautionary argument against further economic growth. Such growth fragilises us; it puts us more at risk. One can see this just by looking for instance at the things (especially on the pollution side) that the 1972 Limits to Growth report didn't see coming (because pretty much no-one did), especially catastrophic risks such as the ozone hole and dangerous climate change.
The key claim of the Club of Rome, then, as I see it, is that economic growth cannot continue indefinitely without likely hastening the collapse of society. So they aim to re-frame the debate about environmental degradation and the survival (and flourishing) of the human race to not be merely about climate change mitigation etc. (because: anthropogenic climate change is a symptom), but instead about heedless economic growth (the single biggest underlying cause). They challenge the assumption that the only way to bring true affluence (on which, see Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth), let alone greater equality (on which, see The Spirit Level), is through economic growth. However, their warnings have gone unheeded and the state of the planet has become more precarious. The rate of extraction of precious resources from the ground has increased, population has almost doubled since 1972 and inequality has grown too.
In light of all this, a group of like-minded people from the political, academic and activist worlds, including me and other colleagues from Green House, has implemented a new initiative, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Limits to Growth, with the specific aim of re-assessing the evidence for social and environmental limits to growth and contributing to the debate on redefining prosperity (APPG Limits To Growth). The APPG was launched on Tuesday, 19 April, in Parliament (APPG Launch Event). It was an important moment: the moment that the great issue of the 21st century finally, belatedly, came to the mother of all Parliaments.
Here’s a report on how the event went from me and here’s some fascinating in-depth media coverage of it. Get involved in the debate: comment on these articles, or share them.
And rest assured: Green House will keep you informed about the progress of this crucial APPG. We’re proud to have helped make it happen.