It's going to happen. We don't have any other choice. Growth, the crack cocaine of post-war industrialism in the Western World, has (pardon the pun) outgrown its social, economic and even political utility.
Now it's the EU Climate Chief picking up the refrain that growth is our problem, not our salvation, and we need a to overhaul our ideas about it.
Overconsumption of critical resources, and the rising prices of key commodities such as food, energy and natural materials as a result, risk derailing the world economy – but these problems will not be tackled unless today's economic models are overhauled, according to Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action. That is because judging economic growth purely on the basis of production and consumption, as happens now, encourages rampant overconsumption and fails to value the natural environment.
...If this year's summit is to have the far-reaching consequences of its predecessor, countries must seize the chance to sign a firm resolution to change the way growth is measured, she said.
That could involve moving away from GDP to broader measures of wellbeing, and putting a value on natural resources rather than regarding important assets such as clean water, clean air and biodiversity as free, as current economic models do.
"This is an opportunity to rethink [how we measure growth]," Hedegaard told the Guardian. "The knowledge is out there, the analysis has been done. We can take this decision in Rio."
Current models of growth prize only consumption and production, rating countries' performance according to their GDP.
However, there is a growing belief among some economists that this long-standing model has outlived its usefulness, and provides no protection for the natural world. The Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz has been one of the leading voices calling for a change, and world leaders including David Cameron, the UK prime minister, have heeded the call, promising moves towards a broader definition of economic value.
This argument is more than compelling. At some point we're going to accept it, even if begrudgingly, because we live in a world in which we just keep running into walls. The evidence is everywhere. Some aspects are visible to the naked eye from space - dust plumes sweeping out of China across the Pacific to North America; desertification of once arable farmland; deforestation; ice in retreat, lakes and rivers drying up, regions battered by sustained or cyclical floods and droughts. Others, such as the collapse of global fish stocks, are slightly harder to discern.
This reality, however, isn't going to be welcome in the Capitol Building or in the chambers of our very own Petro-Parliament. There the idea of pricing water and air is blasphemy. They need to pretend we're still in the 1970s to make their chicanery even economically viable. If we were to properly price water and air, the viability of Steve's pet Tar Sands would be dealt a fierce if not mortal blow. Steve, like his American Idols, believes in Socialism but only when it's for the rich and powerful, outfits like Big Oil.
That would include the economic value of a booming population and its effect upon the world. Population growth has to be the number one item from now on in any discussion because everything is in relation to that.
It's futile to make population growth the focus. That's not to say it's not a key factor but it's one of several that have to be addressed. The answer, if we are ever going to find it, is the one that resolves all these challenges. Only once we accept the common thread does the specific (and viable) response needed for individual problems become apparent.
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