Endless economic growth

Richard Heinberg, a senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, has commented that if growth comes from burning ever-growing quantities of fossil fuels in order to do economic work, shifting to renewables inevitably requires an economic redesign that will impact economic activity.⁠

As renewables are intermittent and produce electricity directly, to completely replace fossil fuels requires “a nearly complete transformation in how we use energy, and an extensive redesign of systems for generating, storing, and distributing energy. Trying to maintain endless economic growth at the same time as replacing the very energy sources enabling that growth is like redesigning and reconfiguring an airplane while it’s in flight.”⁠

Heinberg suggests that if we want to avoid a climate catastrophe, we need to look at shrinking overall economic activity, de-emphasizing GDP (the way we currently measure our economic growth across the world) in favor of quality of life indicators (aka a wellbeing economy). ⁠

“We’re headed for a crash sooner or later. Wouldn’t it be better to make the post-growth transition on our terms, rather than in crisis mode? Why not use the inevitability of the end of growth to our advantage by planning to reduce both mindless consumerism and carbon emissions, while increasing equity and quality of life?”⁠

It’s an excellent question. Growth-on-growth-on-growth isn’t sustainable. Quarterly growth reports from companies and governments that have to move in an ever upward trajectory was never going to be possible to do sustainably forever. We all know this deep down. While we seem stagnant and stuck in this system, thankfully there are now more and more models for what we can shift to so that everyone can live well (including lifting millions out of poverty) but not in the same economic system we have now. We have a guide coming out about these new ideas shortly (some of which are currently being implemented across the world). Do you have any questions you’d love us to answer?