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Growth criticism and Growth - Unlimited growth destroys limited systems


Growth criticism and Growth - Unlimited growth destroys limited systems


How large a percentage of economic growth


would you prefer? Direct your inquiry to a politician of CDU, FDP, SPD and you will be hard pressed to find anybody who would not aim at long-term growth exceeding 5%. It is said that at least 3% economic growth would be necessary to lower unemployment figures. Even many politicians of the green party and the democratic left will claim full employment can be achieved only at an annual growth rate of at least 5%.

However, behind such statements,
election campaign slogans, economic interests, desires and approaches to problem solving are unquestioned myths as well as the lasting, but destructive misbelieve that ulimited growth is possible on a permanent basis.

At continuing growth
of 3% the gross national product doubles every 23 years, and at 5% GNP doubles in only 14 years. A quantity growing exponentially will be multiplied by thousand each time after it has reached tenfold duplication. Thus exponential economic growth is not possible and will inevitably lead to self destruction. Therefore economic growth cannot serve as a global long-term solution to current problems. Previously in the course of history a period of strong economic growth has always been cut off by periodic wars. It would be a good idea to aspire to manage the problems currently facing mankind without resolving to yet another great and probably last war.

In the course of public debate
countries with a stronger more exemplary growth are named to sustain the argument. Until 1990 it was Japan which was presented as the „big example“. Idealizing the booming Japanese economy, the media along with policy makers requested that German employees adopt the Japanese model at last. Then, in 1990, when, as a consequence of exponential growth, the Japanese real estate bubble burst and the stock market collapsed, German headlines had certainly finished hailing the Japanese model. This media fiasco was however, never properly dealt with. The media today does not mention the public dept accumulated by some of the countries, which are to serve as examples of good practice today.

Our economic growth
is still intrinsically linked to rising energy and resources consumption. However, the end of the oil and uranium era is foreseeable and might even be hurried along by the export of our system of wasteful over consumption to China and India. Evidence is among others the recognisable shortage of fossil raw materials and the resulting increase of gasoline prices. This global decrease in oil supply triggers classical symptoms of addiction; instead of decreasing energy consumption and supporting alternatives, politicians call for intensified oil production and for a much tougher energy drug, called nuclear energy.

The environmental movement in Germany
has already achieved a great deal. Air and water pollution levels have dropped severely and there have been many other successes too. This however, signifies no more or less than that global destruction is developing slower in this part of the world. Us people in Germany are still part of the small rich proportion of humanity, who is wasting the larger part of energy and raw materials and is hence responsible for global environmental pollution.

Parts of the developing world,
especially China and India, are currently in the process of emulating our destructive economic model of overexploitation and is becoming industrial competition to be taken seriously.

Out media still uncritically hails this commencing automobile boom in these countries; although the results of this boom for ecology and world climate are no longer a subject for discussion. And people in Asia cannot really be blamed for their wish to follow our bad example.

Hundred and fifty years of industrialisation
have led to the worldwide depletion of energy reserves and raw material supplies, which took millions of years to be created. At the same time we produced hazardous and nuclear waste, which needs to be stored safely for over a million years. During these 150 years regulative oppositions, like trade unions and the environmental movement have emerged in the western world, to attenuate this cancerous growth. The metastases of this industrial system however, continue to proliferate unhampered in China, India and the so-called Asian tigers with adverse effects for the environment, the social welfare systems and humanity at large.

The Club of Rome forecast
of 1972 about the limits of growth has so far only partially become true. However, at the time of prediction the growing economies of India, China and South-East-Asia were still in their infantry. Only now, as these growing markets consume an increasing amount of energy and raw materials, the accuracy of the theses of the Club of Rome will show.

The consequences of our actions
can no longer be ignored. The CO2 content in the atmosphere is increasing and the global climate is changing. Because of accidents, the threat of terror and the spreading of nuclear weapons the so-called peaceful utilisation of nuclear energy is endangering our future. The massive depletion of the last remaining primeval forests and the accelerated extinction of species cannot be halted despite all environmental knowledge. The increasing disparity between nations and people is giving rise to crime and provides fertile ground for fundamentalism and terrorism. Increasingly rogue consumerism, endangered democracy due to increasing political power of multinationals, social disparity, cuts in social welfare and heightened spiritual contamination can be added to this worldwide environmental degradation in the age of globalization. Greed and egoism as favoured and promoted models of living destroy society. People are confined to immaturity by greenwash, public relations, advertisement, and through “consumerism and games”.

The mentality of large parts of the political class,
mass media and the general public is based on the following myths and illusions:

  • infinite growth would be permanently possible
  • we all could live at some point the wasteful and destructive lifestyle of the U.S.
  • the poor rest of the world could adopt our prodigal and destructive wealth model
  • unlimited consumerism would make happy and content


But if our system grows unlimited,
if we continue to globally waste energy, raw materials and societies’ wealth, the question on whether the system could collapse is being replaced by the question about when this crash will catch up. Where should raw materials and energy come from, if the American way of life is spreading worldwide? If our productivity is being emulated globally, who is to buy all the resulting products? Are the people, who now enjoy the so-called high standard of life truly happy and content or are greed and discontentedness likely to grow along with the growing wealth?

The increase of the utilization of renewable energy,
Is among the few hopeful signs of our time. Prices for nuclear and fossil energy have more than doubled between 1995 and 2005 while at the same time they have been reduced by half for renewable energy. Windpower globally expands the fastest. Every two month 1000 Megawatt of additional windenergy were generated into the grid in the EU in 2005. Measured as capacity in kilowatt this amount compares to the output of the nuclear power plant in Goesgen, Switzerland; measured in production (kilowatt hours) this output can replace a nuclear power plant the size of Beznau, Switzerland – and this every sixty days. It is exactly this kind of expansion of sustainable energy that is being attacked on a massive scale by the followers energy generation from nuclear and fossil fuels.

We have developed technologies and weapons

(nuclear energy, certain areas of genetic engineering, nuclear and biologic weapons), which threaten the future of humanity. At the same time certain advancements, not only in solar or wind power, show that technological progress can also be useful for people. Not all rationalization technology creates problems. We can live a “good” life largely free of stupid tasks with the technology available today, and the ability to produce lasting product which can be repaired easily. The current ideology of “I buy so I am” has to be countered by “live well instead of accumulating possessions”. This means a reduction in paid labour and the fair and equal distribution of the remaining work load. However, there is no chance to accommodate less work and simultaneously higher wages and consumerism. The current credo, also use by the political leftwing, to buy more short-lived crap to stimulate the economy is short-sighted, ill-conceived and destructive. Furthermore it is not possible to want to obtain high salaries and to simultaneously prefer to buy cheap goods, which were produced under near slavery conditions in poor countries.

Neoliberal globalization poses a threat to democracy
and increasingly curtails citizens’ rights. People are kept in a state of immaturity with the help of the mass media industry, public relations, advertisements, and with “play and consumerism”. Silvio Berlusconi is but one example of the unholy and dangerous alliance of economic power, mass media power and politics. Advertising agencies are preparing the wars on oil and lies justify them. In Germany too, the number of peoples’ representatives in parliament is shrinking whilst the number of industry representatives is growing. Human rights violations in other countries are not considered a problem as long as the dictatorships in question are sympathetic to capitalism. Multinationals, neoliberal elites and increasing self-censorship of mass media close to industry are endangering democracy.

Only if we succeed
in achieving to live a good life with a sharply decreased input of energy and raw materials, it will be possible for the developing countries to share in a fair and equitable way the richness of this world. Without equal access to global resources, without disarmament, democracy and the upholding of human rights, there will not be a sustainable future.

The most difficult future task of the environmental movemen
will be to show that unlimited growth will inevitably destroy limited systems. “Live well instead of possessing a lot” is the credo of the future. It is vital to induce truly sustainable development and to highlight ways of sound sustainable living. Economic obstacles and the fact that this sustainable way demands reason and massive rethinking are the biggest constraints.

Axel Mayer
Translation: Marco Fischer, Kirsten Neumann











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