What you will find on this page: new ways to measure growth; new look at limits of growth; downsides of growth (video); “enough is enough” (video); what is a “steady State economy”; myths & reality; myth: shopping our way out of climate change (video); economic organisations promoting economic sustainability; professional societies, scientific working groups; organisations for critical parts of puzzle; activist organisations; sign onto the Stead State position; Universal Basic Income; UBI website links; UBI articles & latest news; also refer to the following “Downsizing Plan B” page topics – new economics; journey to downsizing; how we got ourselves into this mess; the story of stuff; degrowth to steady state economy; degrowth how to get there
When Perpetual Growth No Longer Works
The following information and resources are primarily sourced from CASSE (Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy) website – CASSE was founded as a U.S.-based nonprofit organization by Brian Czech in 2004 to refute the dangerous rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” Working with colleagues in several professional scientific societies, Brian crafted a scientifically sound position on economic growth that can be signed by individuals and endorsed by organizations. CASSE has become the leading organization promoting the transition from unsustainable growth to a steady state economy.
4 January 2017, The Conversation, How and why we are moving beyond GDP as a measure of human progress. How we track our economy influences everything from government spending and taxes to home lending and business investment. In our series The Way We Measure, we’re taking a close look at economic indicators to better understand what’s going on. Ever since 1944, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been a primary measure of economic growth. It’s in the news regularly and, even though few can define what it means, there is general acceptance that when GDP is growing, things are good. There are problems with this simplistic formulation. GDP measures production only. It does not capture collapsing fish stocks, increasing obesity and diabetes, or new types of synthetic drugs. When people choose to work part-time to have a better work-life balance, GDP actually goes down. This narrow focus distorts our perception of progress. It guides our representatives to focus only on certain things – what is measured – and allows them to ignore what isn’t quantified and regularly reported. But a new set of measures is slowly being established, which aims to capture a wider range of human experiences and reset our idea of “success”. Called the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), these aim to include all the main pillars of a progressive society, from physical safety through to economic opportunity and good health. SDGs will force action by highlighting what is currently covered up by the narrow measures of how our economy and society are faring. A new way of framing progress The SDGs arose out of the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 (which focused primarily on poverty reduction). Out of a growing awareness of the ecological limits of the planet, and a desire to ensure that progress is fair and accessible to all people, attempts were made at creating a comprehensive set of national goals for all nations. Read More here also Read More here
April 2016 GrowthBusters: Great news about progress in questioning the worship of perpetual economic growth! The UK Parliament has officially convened an “All-Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth.” This collection of members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords will “create the space for cross-party dialogue on environmental and social limits to growth; assess the evidence for such limits, identify the risks and build support for appropriate responses; and contribute to the international debate on redefining prosperity.” This should be headline news around the world. I’ve always said elected officials will be the last to adopt 21st century thinking about true sustainability – especially the unsustainability of economic growth; it appears they are finally getting on the bus. This is a truly significant step. Be sure to check out the new publication prepared for this launch, Limits Revisited: A Review of the Limits to Growth Debate.
There Is a conflict between economic growth and:
(1) Environmental Protection
A growing economy consumes natural resources and produces wastes. It results in biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, climate destabilization, and other major environmental threats.
(2) Economic Sustainability
A healthy environment is the foundation of a healthy economy. We need healthy soils for agriculture, healthy forests for timber, and healthy oceans for fisheries. Along with clean air for breathing and clean water for drinking, these are the building blocks of a prosperous economy and a good life.
(3) National Security and International Stability
When economic growth threatens the environment and economic sustainability, social unrest is the result, and national security is compromised. Economic growth was once used for building military power, but in an overgrown global economy, economic sustainability is more conducive to diplomacy and stability among nations.
It’s time for a new kind of economy: We’re overusing the earth’s finite resources, and yet excessive consumption is failing to improve our lives. In Enough Is Enough, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill lay out a visionary but realistic alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth—an economy where the goal is enough, not more. They explore specific strategies to conserve natural resources, stabilize population, reduce inequality, fix the financial system, create jobs, and more—all with the aim of maximizing long-term well-being instead of short-term profits. Filled with fresh ideas and surprising optimism, Enough Is Enough is the primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all. “A lucid, informed, and highly constructive book.” —Noam Chomsky. Read More here
A steady state economy features relatively stable size. It is ideally established at a size that leaves room for nature and provides high levels of human wellbeing. The term typically refers to a national economy, but it can also be applied to the economy of a city, region, or the entire planet. The size of an economy is generally determined by multiplying population by the amount that each person consumes. This quantity in a steady state economy neither grows nor contracts from year to year.
Herman Daly, the dean of ecological economics, defines a steady state economy as… “an economy with constant stocks of people and artifacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance throughput, that is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy from the first stage of production to the last stage of consumption.”
So a steady state economy aims for stability or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and materials. To get a feel for how this works, consider a mature forest. It does not grow in size, but it is a living system with a complex web of parts. Remarkably diverse species cooperate and compete within the forest, and new species and ecosystem functions develop over time. Just like in the forest, stability in a steady state economy is very different from stagnation. Ecological economists actually call this kind of stability a dynamic equilibrium. This fancy term means that a steady state economy is dynamic – it changes and develops over time, but it remains balanced with the natural environment. The idea is to right-size the economy, to find the Goldilocks size that’s not too small and not too big, but just right. Maturing Instead of Growing Without End.
Rules for a Steady State Economy Good economic policies strive to achieve societal goals like sustainability and fairness with the least amount of impingement on individual freedoms. Following this principle, achieving a steady state economy requires adherence to only four basic rules or system principles that are hard to argue with:
(1) Maintain the health of ecosystems and the life-support services they provide.
(2) Extract renewable resources like fish and timber at a rate no faster than they can be regenerated.
(3) Consume non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and minerals at a rate no faster than they can be replaced by the discovery of renewable substitutes.
(4) Deposit wastes in the environment at a rate no faster than they can be safely assimilated.
Benefits of a Steady State Economy A steady state economy is the only type of economy that is sustainable over the long term. It is an economy that meets people’s needs without undermining the life-support services of the planet. It represents the ultimate social movement toward a better world for all. Life is downshifted as over consumption, congestion, sprawl, and unfair trade practices fade away. People instead focus on community, relationships, sufficient consumption, and the things that really matter in life.
Myths are interesting stories, and sometimes they even have a basis in fact. But when it comes to the economy, we can’t afford to make decisions based on “truthiness” and unexplored assumptions. Myths often contribute heavily to our perceptions of how the world works, so it’s necessary to debunk the myths swirling around economic growth and the steady state economy.Myth: Economic growth is always desirable
Reality: To determine whether economic growth is desirable requires us to examine its value objectively, without blindly assuming that all growth is worth pursuing. Growth comes with both benefits and costs. The goal is to grow the economy when the benefits are higher than the costs, and to have the wisdom to stop growing when the costs catch up. The economic laws of diminishing marginal utility and increasing marginal costs tell us that, over time, costs do catch up with benefits.
Myth: A steady state economy is the same thing as a depression or recession (the result of a failed growth economy)
Reality: A steady state economy is not a failed growth economy. An airplane is designed for forward motion. If it tries to hover, it crashes. It is not fruitful to conceive of a helicopter as an airplane that fails to move forward. It is a different thing designed to hover. Likewise a steady state economy is not designed to grow. Stability in a steady state economy is a healthy condition, a condition that allows people to meet their needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet.
Myth: Technology and progress will grind to a halt in a steady state economy
Reality: A strong incentive for technological progress exists in a steady state economy because of the drive for better goods and services. With stabilized material and energy inputs (as would occur in a steady state economy), technological progress becomes the main source of higher quality outputs.
Myth: Failure to grow causes economic turmoil and unemployment
Reality: This myth is true for an economy structured for growth. When consumption slows in a growth economy, recession ensues. But a steady state economy is precisely and intentionally structured for stability. It’s the stability that provides a good life for citizens and eliminates turbulent boom and bust cycles.
Myth: A steady state economy means government by a harsh communist regime
Reality: A steady state economy can exist in a constitutional democracy with a common-sense mixture of markets and market regulations. Market structures are employed to allocate resources efficiently, but some vital decisions (e.g., how big to grow) are kept outside the market. A steady state economy features a mix of private and public ownership of economic resources.
Myth: A steady state economy means widespread poverty
Reality: Economic growth has not eradicated poverty. The condition of having a stable and sustainable population in a steady state economy allows more resources per person. The design of institutions to ensure fair distribution of wealth also provides an income/wealth floor below which no one can fall.
Myth: A steady state economy means fewer choices and less freedom
Reality: In a steady state economy, citizens exercise as much freedom as possible without impinging on the freedom of others. Stable numbers of people consuming sustainable levels of resources means that each person has more freedom to pursue desired activities. Economic institutions are designed to respect ecological limits, but personal choice is maximized within that institutional framework.
Myth: We can grow the economy continuously because we can decouple growth from resource use and waste production
Reality: We can achieve relative decoupling by reducing the ecological intensity per unit of economic output. But to have a sustainable economy, we would need to achieve absolute decoupling, a situation in which resource impacts decline overall. Even if we make great gains in relative decoupling, which we have over the last several decades, these gains can be entirely swamped by economic growth. For example, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of economic output have decreased. But growth in economic output has led to higher absolute emissions of carbon dioxide, despite increasing efficiency.
Myth: Technological progress will allow unlimited economic growth
Reality: The laws of thermodynamics rule the economic production process, and they tell us that, regardless of technology, all production requires high-quality inputs and generates lower-quality outputs. Thermodynamic laws also tell us that we cannot achieve 100% efficiency. When the limits to efficiency have been reached, the only remaining way to grow the economy is by using more natural capital (including energy), which is limited in quantity. The application (or misapplication) of technology also plays a role – if technology isn’t aimed specifically at reducing the overall use of materials and energy, it won’t make any headway on that front.
A part of the myth: Concerned about global environmental breakdown? Worry no more! Now we can $hop against climate change!
Steady State articles of interest
October, Daly News, Appropriate Scarcity, By Robert A. Herendeen
“… appealing to people to restrain themselves [by] self-enforced abstinence alone is a waste of time. By and large, we consume as much as our incomes allow…. changes… cannot take place without constraints that apply to everyone rather than everyone else. Manmade global warming cannot be restrained unless we persuade the government to force us to change the way we live.” —George Monbiot, Heat (2006/2009)
“The results indicate that the likelihood of paying a positive amount for supporting renewable energy is higher under a mandatory scheme compared to a voluntary payment option in the UK.” —Elcin Akcura, “Mandatory vs. voluntary payment for green electricity,” Ecological Economics (2015)
I believe Monbiot says it true. And Akcura (who knew?) provides research-based confirmation. I envision fulfilling, challenging, joyful lives within environmental constraints, but I can’t imagine that happening without societal signals to reinforce consistent behavior. If level of consumption is a problem, then scarcity is a necessary part of the solution. In the least disruptive and potentially fairest sense, this means using prices to determine demand. To cut to the conclusion: my favorite example is a carbon tax. Monbiot’s statement is frightening, Draconian, and an apparent non-starter politically… almost. But the consequence of denying it leads to several futile proposals and viewpoints which permeate the literature, both scholarly and public. They are futile because they do not produce results that are big enough and fast enough to beat back anthropogenic climate change. Hearing them repeatedly frustrates me. These are:
1. We citizens are being sold the idea that economic growth (especially GDP) is good by government bureaucracies that need it to stay alive, and by corporations that want it because they are greedy (e.g., “the 1%”).
2. We are personally acquisitive because of intensive advertising. Otherwise, we would readily embrace “enough is plenty.”
3. A steady state economy will only be achieved when a new human consciousness emerges. That is not exactly imminent, but it’s in sight.
4. Peer pressure will solve the classic (game theoretic?) problems of free riders, defection, and over-riding competitive ambition in general. Read more here
Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3 Network): This network of economists develops and applies economic arguments for active protection of human health and the natural environment. Economists in the E3 Network believe: a clean and safe environment is a birthright of every person; safeguarding the natural environment is inseparable from promoting social justice; and without a fair distribution of wealth and power, neither the free market nor government regulation will guarantee environmental quality and human well-being.
New Economics Foundation (NEF): NEF is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. The aim is to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues.
New Economy Coalition (NEC): The New Economy Coalition (NEC) works to convene and support all those who might contribute to an economy that is restorative to people, place, and planet, and that operates according to principles of democracy, justice and appropriate scale.
Feasta: Feasta aims to identify the economic, cultural and environmental characteristics of a truly sustainable society. The organization articulates how the necessary transition can be achieved and promotes the implementation of appropriate measures and economic policies.
Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI): SERI is a Pan-European think tank exploring sustainable development options for European societies. SERI promotes ecological economics and seeks ways to rearrange economic institutions to manage throughput of energy and material resources.
Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE): GDAE is a center of expertise in economics, policy, science and technology at Tufts University. The Institute produces numerous books, articles, policy documents, and discussion papers on topics at the crossroads of economics and the environment.
Solutions Journal: Solutions is a nonprofit online and print publication, a hybrid between a peer-reviewed journal and popular magazine. Solutions aims to encourage and promote integrative solutions to solve the mounting environmental, social and economic problems of our time. While there is an abundance of isolated and technical solutions, Solutions provides a much-needed forum devoted to systemic solutions and the design of a sustainable and desirable future.
Gaian Economics: Gaian Economics is an internet showcase for a group of researchers who agree that the major problems facing humanity have their root in the economic system and recognize the need to develop a new kind of economics, much like ecological economics. The website provides references on money, work, trade and other critical topics.
Earth Economics: Earth Economics is devoted to promoting ecosystem health and ecological economics and to halting the globalization of unsustainable economic policies. Focusing on the vital areas of toxics, forests, fisheries and global trade policy, Earth Economics achieves its goals through organization, education and advocacy.
Reliable Prosperity: This project of Ecotrust seeks to redesign economic arrangements over time so that they restore, rather than deplete, natural and social capital. The project has developed an annotated pattern map that provides a detailed framework for developing a reliable and prosperous economy.
Ethical Markets: The mission of Ethical Markets is to foster the evolution of capitalism beyond current models based on materialism, maximizing self-interest and profit, competition, and fear of scarcity.
Post-Autistic Economics Network: Formed out of an international student movement, this network promotes a transition from the rigid and unrealistic neoclassical framework to a more pluralistic set of economic models. The network publishes the Real-World Economics Review.
International Society for Ecological Economics: The International Society for Ecological Economics facilitates understanding between economists and ecologists. Its mission is a sustainable world. Much of the work on the steady state economy comes from members of the ISEE.
The Wildlife Society’s Working Group for the Steady State Economy: The steady state economy is an ultimate imperative for wildlife conservation, and The Wildlife Society’s WGSSE works toward its establishment.
The Society for Conservation Biology’s Working Group for Ecological Economics and Sustainability Science: This working group is an international team of SCB members who seek the incorporation of ecological principles into economics and economic policy-making for the purpose of biodiversity conservation.
Sustainable Scale Project: The Sustainable Scale Project provides a wealth of educational resources on the concept of “sustainable scale” to assist government decision makers, non-governmental organizations, and students. This is a parallel effort to CASSE’s because “sustainable scale” refers to an economy small enough to be supported by its environment in the long run. For most purposes, “sustainable scale” is equivalent to a steady state economy.
Global Footprint Network: The mission of the Global Footprint Network is to support a sustainable economy by advancing the ecological footprint, a measurement and management tool that makes the reality of planetary limits relevant to decision-makers throughout the world.
Post Carbon Institute: Post Carbon Institute provides individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, and environmental crises that define the 21st century. The purpose is to build a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.
The Capital Institute: The Capital Institute supports harnessing the power of capital and markets to advance a just, resilient, and sustainable economic system that will improve lives and preserve the planet. The institute stimulates the interaction and action of leaders, scholars, and society to raise awareness about the capital needs of a sustainable economy.
The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions: Community Solutions is a nonprofit based in Yellow Springs, Ohio that provides education about the challenges of peak oil and climate change, offers strategies for reducing energy use in the household sector areas of food, housing, and transportation, and promotes a return to small, local community living.
The Natural Step: The Natural Step Framework is a powerful foundation for a paradigm shift to sustainable development. The framework is a proven, science-based model that helps communities and businesses better understand and integrate environmental, social, and economic considerations. Natural Step principles are in direct alignment with the foundational concepts of a steady state economy.
Center for a New American Dream: The Center for a New American Dream helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice. The center offers excellent suggestions for the conscientious consumer.
The Land Institute: The purpose of the Land Institute is to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops. The institute conducts research, publishes articles in refereed scientific journals, delivers public presentations, and hosts intellectuals and scientists as resident experts.
The Population Institute: The Population Institute seeks to promote universal access to family planning information, education, and services. Through voluntary family planning, the institute strives to achieve a world population in balance with a healthy global environment and resource base.
Optimum Population Trust: The Optimum Population Trust is an environmental charity and think tank in the UK concerned with the impact of population growth on the environment. OPT research covers population in relation to climate change, energy, resources, biodiversity, development impacts, employment and other environmental and economic issues. It campaigns for stabilization and gradual population decrease globally and in the UK.
Apply the Brakes: Apply the Brakes is a group that attempts to fill the gap left by traditional environmental organizations in addressing unsustainable population growth.
Growthbusters: Growthbusters seeks to inform citizens about the irrational addiction to economic growth. The organization’s main project is production of a documentary entitled Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity.
Faith Economy Ecology Project: The purpose of this project is to understand the various ways in which faith, ecology and the global economy intersect. Project participants develop resources to reshape the global economy to be more sustainable and equitable.
The CASSE position sets the record straight on the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution are just three powerful examples. And how will the next generation find jobs when the planet can’t support our overgrown economy? The CASSE position calls for a desirable solution – a steady state economy with stabilized population and consumption – beginning in the wealthiest nations and not with extremist tactics. Join the likes of E. O. Wilson, Jane Goodall, and David Suzuki; fill in the information to sign the position and support a healthy, sustainable economy. Access form here
The following Australian organisations have adopted their own positions on economic growth or have endorsed the CASSE position. (The PLEA Network has signed on)
- Australian Conservation Foundation
- Quest 2025
- Nature Conservation Council NSW
- Doctors for the Environment Australia
- Institute for Sustainable Futures
- Post Growth Institute
- Simplicity Institute
- Foresight International
- Australian Peace Committee, SA
- The Australia Institute
- Centre for Health Promotion & Research
- Sustainable Population Australia
- Noosa Parks Association
- Econorfolk Foundation