Can economic growth be managed to save the planet?
Nations worldwide continue to push for economic growth, despite many signs that the planet’s resources needed to sustain human life have a limited capacity to withstand greater economic activity. With the future of the planet at risk, can humankind develop adequate governance structures in time to deal with the misalignment between the pursuit of economic growth and ecological welfare?
According to Sprott professors Michael McIntyre, Steven Murphy, and Bernard Funston of Northern Canada Consulting, the answer is maybe, but it requires a fundamental shift in how we view economic success, productivity and happiness. Collective action must start now.
Politically, economic growth equals prosperity. It’s associated with benefits such as jobs, material consumption, high quality of life and, ultimately, personal happiness. Slow- or no-growth economies are not acceptable. With short political life cycles and environmental and governance issues that clearly transcend national boundaries, is it reasonable to expect that established or growing nations have the will or ability to effectively act on issues relating to our planet’s welfare?
At the current levels of growth, the planet’s natural systems are in jeopardy. The rising global population, increasing levels of consumption and catch up among poor nations continue to stress the earth’s life sustaining ecosystems. Climate change, desertification and ocean acidification are a few examples of the obvious consequences of economic growth on nature.
Politics and policy development tend to operate through negotiation among stakeholders; the key message being that a little progress is better than none. McIntyre, Murphy and Funston point out that policy alone is the sincerest form of inaction. Further, unlike other transnational policy partners, nature cannot compromise. Adding to the complexity, local actions often can and do have global effects.
They have identified three suggestions for immediate, collective action towards preventing environmental Armageddon:
• Thinkers and politicians must give greater attention to what can be done to successfully manage slow- or no-growth economies; in particular, how to spread economic effects of small downturns more evenly over a population.
• Equalize welfare among countries, in terms of GDP per capita, by improved sharing.
• Shift social views of happiness by linking personal happiness to consumption of ideas over materials.
The full analysis of their research has been published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics.