Growth Without End or World Without End

Author: | Date: 11 November, 2014 | Category: Economics Energy Transport | Comments: 0

One of Green Christian’s keenest policy analysts, Phil Kingston, has looked at the New Climate Economy Report, and has sent in these notes which are recommended reading.


The New Climate Economy Report (September 2014) was produced by The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, set up by 7 governments (including the UK) as an independent (sic) body to consider ‘whether it is possible to achieve lasting economic growth while also tackling the risks of climate change’. Its membership consists of retired heads of governments, retired finance ministers, leading figures in business and an advisory panel of economists (who appear solidly to be exponents of the neo-liberal model).

Unsurprisingly, their answer is that both are possible; and equally unsurprising is that the report was backed by the IMF, World Bank and the IEA at the time of its publication. It is exactly what governments and business want to hear.

A co-chair of the Commission is Lord Stern and when I heard his TED talk about this I hadn’t seen the report; and I regret that I was ‘carried away’ (a) by the positives which he was describing (which are real, especially in bringing into the mainstream many of the issues we are facing), and (b) by his calling his daughter and 2-week old grandchild onto the stage and proclaiming our responsibility to up-coming generations. Hence, my recommendation of the TED talk for the Green Christian website.

A little bit of my defence is that the Guardian also was ‘carried away’ to the extent that it proclaimed that ‘The world can still act in time to stave off the worst effects of climate change, and enjoy the fruits of continued economic growth’.

I have come across some valuable critiques of the report. One of them is from the Manchester Steady State Collective http://steadystatemanchester.net/tag/new-climate-economy/ which includes the sources for a number of other critiques. Amongst these are:

– The Post Carbon Economy led by Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth http://www.postcarbon.org/blog-post/2362632-paul-krugman-s-errors-and-omissions

– Make Wealth History (a site set up by Christians) http://makewealthhistory.org/2014/09/22/better-growth-better-climate-but-not-better-enough/

– Some valuable blogs.

The main criticisms of the Report in these sources are:

a) Its assumption that there is only one economic model. So never-ending growth on a finite planet remains its basis. And although there is some recognition that GDP as a measure is insufficient to include many qualitative aspects of life, this still remains the measure used throughout the report.

b) Its limited aims, which are in fact acknowledged in the report: “On their own, these measures would not be sufficient to achieve the full range of emissions reductions likely to be needed by 2030 to prevent dangerous climate change”. In fact, the report’s authors make clear “The question the project has sought to explore is not ‘how can greenhouse gas emissions be reduced?’ … but ‘how can economic decision-makers achieve their principal goals while also reducing their impact on the climate?'” (Note the word ‘reducing’).

c) The absence of an advisory body of climate scientists alongside the advisory body of economists.

d) The Make Wealth History statement notes that until production processes and carbon emissions are disconnected from each other, ‘more growth means more carbon. If the economy is growing, then it is constantly clawing back any progress on cutting emissions’. And the Manchester statement includes the comment that ‘Our expenditure on imports goes into the GDP growth figure, but the emissions created in making and distributing those goods do not enter into the GHG calculations. So the claim in the report that some …. economies have produced an absolute decoupling of GDP growth from GHG emissions, evaporates into….. the air’.

e) The assumption in the report that the many uses of oil, particularly in transport, can be substituted by electricity, at least in the time available for reducing GHG emissions.

f) The enormous infrastructure needed for worldwide renewable electricity generation can only be done by extensive use of fossil fuels. These are already more difficult and expensive to access so doing this at the same time as growing the overall economy will enormously increase emissions; and will also raise the cost of energy, which will limit both developments.

g) Climate change as Heinberg points out, is not the only worldwide ecological problem: ‘The world faces a suite of ecological problems related to water, soil, and biodiversity, all stemming from past growth, and all seemingly requiring reduction in human consumption levels for their solution.

h) This subject of increasing consumption is developed by The Make Wealth History statement which quotes Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth: “Beyond 2050, of course, if growth is to continue so must efficiency improvements. With growth at 2% a year from 2050 to the end of the century, the economy in 2100 is 40 times the size of today’s economy. And to all intents and purposes, nothing less than complete decarbonisation of every single dollar will do to achieve carbon targets.”

And a comment of my own: Growth without end (to 40 times as much in a mere 90 years) inevitably means more and more consumption of what the Earth contains. And the evidence we have from the present economy is that as long as primary drivers of the overall system are the maximisation of financial profit and the unrestrained accumulation of assets, the continued overuse of what the Earth contains will continue to levels which are almost unimaginable.

Phil Kingston 10/11/14


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