12 Dec 2011


Growth in all of its forms is one of the greatest conundrums facing humanity in the 21 century. It can improve our living standards and health and well-being. Yet as a recent global photographic competition (www.prixpictet.com) has depicted in graphic detail the dizzying growth of our cities and their dependency on scarce resources along with the relentless growth of the world’s population, all of which now threatens our very existence. We face a global environmental catastrophe in land use, food production and resource use which could undermine existing fragile economies and the sustainability of our civilisation.

And our politicians search relentlessly for solutions which will re-energise economic growth, with little evidence to date that their interventions are making any fundamental difference. So it’s not surprising that some of the worlds’ so – called sustainability experts have also found it impossible to reach any consensus on whether sustainable consumption and economic growth are compatible (http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/tss_growth/

The results, released today by international consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility in collaboration with independent organization the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), are based on the views of nearly 1,000 experts worldwide surveyed in September and October 2011 on topics relating to sustainable consumption.
London, 31 October 2011 – A strong majority of sustainability experts believe that sustainable consumption is achievable, according to the latest findings from The Sustainability Survey research program. But two in five think it is incompatible with continued economic growth. Experts overwhelmingly disagree (70%) with the statement, ‘sustainable consumption is impossible to achieve’, with strong majorities in all regions endorsing this view. But experts are divided on whether there is an ‘inherent conflict between economic growth and sustainable consumption.’ Forty percent agree that the two are incompatible while a similar number (43%) disagree.
But some recent analysis of the UK’s Material Flow Accounts for 2001-2009 suggest we are using less stuff now than the previous decade (Guardian 1/11/11- The Only way is Down http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/01/peak-stuff-consumption-data ).

It seems that the grand total of stuff we use (minerals, fuel, wood etc) in the UK amounts to roughly 2 billion tonnes per year about 30 tonnes for each and every one of us. For Boris’ benefit that’s as heavy as 4 Route Master buses!

This data is potentially good news because it implies at least as I read it that we have “decoupled “economic growth from material consumption. Genuine decoupling has been seen by many of us as unachievable. But is this really de-materialisation and hence the emergence of a Green Economy?

Steve Martin 6/12/11

1 comment:

  1. see also Tim Jackson's response to the 'Peak Stuff' article:


    Even if there's been a small decrease in the amount of stuff consumed despite economic growth, it's only a small decrease. If we want to rapidly decrease consumption in countries that are massively over-consuming in time to make a difference then there's a much better way than economic growth. It's called economic contraction, or at least a steady state economy. And we need to re-organise society so that we can thrive even if the formal economy contracts. We need to do that anyway, because we may not have the control the keep growing the economy now that oil has peaked. So creating a society that can thrive despite economic contraction seems to be a worthwhile goal for many reasons!