Monday, 16 February 2009

We need a reframed discourse of growth.

As the recession hits, some of the discussion in activist circles has
been about the environmental benefits of a downturn in consumption.

I have to say I found the news of the extraordinary slump in car
purchases exciting!

But .... in terms of the campaign to save the planet ... I have a
problem with an anti-growth discourse.

Rather than blocking growth we have to reframe the nature of growth. The
common discourse, against as well as for growth, seems to be limited to
GDP measures or to the material consumption of individuals.

The issue is not NO growth, it's that that we want beneficial rather
than destructive growth.

We DO need (massive) growth in resources allocated to addressing climate
change and managing better the world's environment (I believe we now
have no choice but to embrace the role of gardener of the world. We are
not now going to simply be able to "get out of the way"; things have
gone too far.)

We DO want growth in resources allocated to the health and welfare of
the billion or so humans who do it pretty tough. That's pharmaceuticals
(maybe not big) as well as health workers, products as well as jobs.

We DO want growth in resources allocated to the development of knowledge
and understanding (essential for our gardener role).

All that will require continuing growth in spending in key segments of
our society.

(I think we also want growth in our ability to act together as sentient
beings, but perhaps that too flaky).

On the other hand we need to massively contract rather than grow in some
areas of consumption that are evidently destructive: greenhouse gas
emissions, unsustainable fishing, forms of animal husbandry that prove
destructive (noting Tim Flannery's argument that there's a constructive
role for kangaroo farming for meat), ridiculously intensive uses of
material resources, etc.

We clearly need reductions in population (I look forward to the day when
any country with a Ministry promoting birth rates, as exists in some
OECD nations, will be regarded as being hostile to the world community).

We also want reduction of growth in inequality of resources usage of the
sort that forces some societies to have less and less quality of life
while some of us get more Breville toasters.

On the other hand, do we really have any problem with growth in energy
usage - if it's 100% clean? What's wrong with an aircon unit if it's
powered by solar on the roof (putting aside for a minute whether it's
the most cost-effective option in a particular place) ... and if 100%
recycling is mandatory for white goods (as China is planning to bring in
over the next 10 years)?

The construction of a reframed discourse of growth is a key intellectual
task.

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