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Post Growth Economy or Resource Efficiency Revolution – How Should We Face the Limits of Our Planet?

Post Growth Economy or Resource Efficiency Revolution – How Should We Face the Limits of Our Planet?

Economic growth is a means of producing wealth. No doubt about that. However, there are two central problems linked to this logic. First, the term “wealth” loses its meaning, when you exclusively apply it to financial abundance. Wealth, considered from a holistic viewpoint, does not only include the presence of money, but also other vital elements that help guarantee a certain quality of life, e.g., safety, health, freedom, environmental quality and successful social relations – to name the most important ones. Second, a growing GDP says nothing about wealth distribution. The lower the disparity of incomes, the better for a society. No one is disputing this any more.

Having said that, I have to admit I sympathize with the supporters of an economy that stops growing. De-growth, zero growth, post growth or steady state economy – whatever you call it, the idea has achieved considerable media coverage in recent years. To name the most famous supporters: Tim Jackson (“People can flourish without more stuff”)*, Herman Daly (“the claim that growth will cure poverty has proven false”)*, Serge Latouche (“We are in a performance car that has no driver, no reverse gear and no brakes and it is going to slam into the limitations of the planet”)* and, partly, the Occupy Wall Street movement, of course.

On the other hand, many argue that it is indeed possible to have a growing economy and sustain the planet at the same time. This requires a fundamental change in the way we do business, too, but it does not question the paradigm of unlimited economic growth. Environmental and resource economics, sustainable growth, low carbon economy, circular flow economy – these are some headlines under which an ongoing growth is said to be possible, even if a different one. Thus, a great part of the economy should shift its base from consumption to service production. The remaining consumption of goods, in addition, should comply with sustainability criteria. These criteria include consistency with ecological systems, sufficiency concerning our lifestyle, and efficiency to reduce the consumption of physical resources and energy. Prominent supporters of this viewpoint can be found all around the globe.

Even supporters of a weak sustainability approach have to admit that the manner in which we’ve been hailing economic growth over all other realities in the 20th century has to change. At the beginning of the 21st century’s second decade, it is not doubted that economic growth should no longer over-top all other political goals. Much rather, it is one goal out of many. And it is an arguable goal.

Dear readers,

What do you think? Should government around the world stick to the paradigm of economic growth? Is sustainable growth possible? What framework is needed? Who has the power to push it? Is de-growth just an academic discussion, or the only way to save the planet? What transitions are needed first? Which important book or article is missing in the following list?


*) Books:

*) Interview:

*) Articles:

Article image edited by Moritz Bühner. Earth background image by NASA, found at woodleywonderwork’s photostream.



  • I think Daly’s “Steady State Economics” is still very much worth a read. He points out that economics, too, just as any other flow of energy (which, ultimately is what economics is all about) must follow a basic rule of physics, i.e., entropy increases over time. That pretty much precludes the concept of sustainability, at least on an eternal scale. In the short term, we can only do our best to minimize how quickly entropy increases.

    But that, of course, flies in the face of ‘sustainable growth’! Even with the assumption that some sort of non-consuming service based economy is possible, there is a limit to the amount of services that any person can use, just as there is a limit to the amount of stuff they can use with any expectation that the marginal returns continue to add value. So a continuously growing service economy would need a continuously growing population to absorb the greater production of services, thus forcing ever more consumption of physical resources and energy. Back to square one.

    It seems, then, we have three options: 1, we delay the end of growth for a few years by expanding through space; 2, we collapse willy-nilly even sooner – within a century or two at the most optimistic, I’d say; or 3, we choose a controlled reduction in size while improving everyone’s lives. I’d vote for the latter option, and I think we can do it, too. And choosing 3 doesn’t preclude the best parts of 1!

  • […] “Post Growth Economy or Resource Efficiency Revolution – How Should We Face the Limits of Our Plane…” This question I asked in a blog post half a year ago. On the front of the green growth vs. post-growth dispute, an interesting publication caught my attention recently. Barbara Unmüßig and Thomas Fatheuer from the foundation associated to Germany’s Green Party, “Heinrich Böll Stiftung”, and Wolfgang Sachs, member of the club of Rome and former Wuppertal Institut researcher, published a “Critique of the Green Economy” in April, which got translated into English by June. They discuss the two most famous green economy approaches, the one by UNEP and the one by OECD, and also critically review the so-called “bio-economy”, an idea spreading in Germany and the US. […]