Jean Chretien was addicted to it. He wanted to "grow" Canada's population through immigration to create new taxpayers to provide for the aging citizenry. Stephen Harper wants to grow Canada's fossil fuel industry until we become an "energy superpower."
Growth - it's the crack cocaine of economics. It's intoxicating and highly addictive but, like crack, it cannot end well. Why not? Because growth in all its manifestations is about consumption. It entails consumption of resources of all descriptions in a manner devised to then increase consumption. It's akin to keeping your foot pressed hard on the gas pedal as you accelerate toward a wall.
In some respects our civilization has already hit that wall, even if it's not apparent quite yet. Take groundwater, for example. In Asia and other parts of the world, including the US, agriculture has been built on exploitation of groundwater. Year after year we've pumped water to the surface faster than these aquifers can recharge. We want to drain the swimming pool and yet still dive into it. Do you think that's very bright?
Then there's the global warming wall. Again it's tied directly to growth and consumption. The recalcitrant, like our own Stephen Harper, want to make a token gesture in the form of activity-based greenhouse gas reductions, called "intensity" targets. An intensity based system, for example, calls for a 10% reduction in GHG emissions per barrel of oil. That reduction, however, is rendered meaningless by a 200% increase - or growth - in production. Now you have a problem that is 180% of what it was before you imposed reductions. It only works if you don't accept that we're already putting out more than our maximum limit of GHG emissions.
But wait, there's other progress to be had. Take ethanol, for example. It's renewable and somewhat cleaner than fossil fuels so let's go that way. Unfortunately we prefer to produce ethanol from corn. Why? Because those who grow corn and those beholden to them want it to be made from corn. But what does it take to grow corn? Farmland, fertilizers, pesticides, and lots and lots of water and fossil fuels. Water? You got it. So we're taking two already over exploited resources - fossil fuel and ground water - throwing in a bunch of chemical fertilizers and pesticides - and taking a renewable resource out of the global food supply. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?
For decades man has been creating a deficit balance in the world's resource inventory - renewable and non. Whether you like to hear this or not, we're going to have to find different ways of doing things and that's going to take a tide change in our values. We're going to have to see constant, accelerating growth not as an answer but for what it is - a very serious and immediate threat to our wellbeing. In other words, we're going to have to learn to live within our means environmentally just as we expect ourselves to live within our means fiscally.
This isn't just something we ought to do or something we need to do. It's something we're going to have to do and if you don't believe it, you're defying gravity. The era of trying to grow our way out of our problems is over.