Hickel: Growth Is Killing Us

Hickel: Growth Is Killing Us


Growth is killing us. It is the single greatest driver of climate breakdown
and ecological collapse. We urgently need to shift to a post-growth, post-capitalist economy. Right now, we’re trapped
in an economic system that is structurally dependent on growth – growth at an exponential
rate, year after year, with no identifiable endpoints. Capitalism requires ever-increasing
levels of extraction and production and consumption
just to stay afloat, chewing through our living
planet in the process. And virtually all of this crisis is being driven by rich countries. The science is clear. If we want to avoid
catastrophic climate breakdown and reverse ecological degradation, rich countries need to lead with radical emissions reductions: getting to zero by 2030, while dramatically scaling down resources. And to achieve this, we need to abandon our mindless march towards growth. Now my colleagues here
might say we needn’t worry. All we need to do is make growth green, switch to renewable energy, and
we can keep growing forever. But scientists firmly reject this idea. Yes, we need a Green New Deal with massive public investments in a clean energy transition. But we cannot transition quickly enough to stay within the carbon budget if we keep growing the
economy at existing rates. More growth means more energy demands, and more energy demands make
it impossible to decarbonize in the short time we have left. The only way to make it work is by actively reducing our energy use and scaling down industrial production. This will make it easier to accomplish a rapid transition to renewables,
halting climate breakdown, while allowing our planet’s
ecosystems to regenerate. So what does this look like? Well, we could legislate
for longer product lifespans and rights to repair. If our goods last twice as
long, we will use half as many without any loss to our quality of life. We can free our public
spaces from advertising, liberating all of us from the pressure to consume stuff we don’t
need or even really want. We can choose to scale down the production of destructive products like McMansions, SUVs, arms and beef. Reducing unnecessary
production means freeing people from the drudgery of needless labor. And by shortening the working week and rolling out a job
guarantee with living wages, we can ensure that everyone has access to meaningful work and dignified lives. Some say we need economic growth to achieve social progress. But that is a lie. The vast majority of income from growth gets captured at the very top, while most people see
very little benefits. Once we wake up to this madness,
the solution becomes clear. We already live in an abundant economy. We don’t need more growth. We can achieve progress right now, without any growth at all, simply by sharing what we
already have more fairly. Justice is the antidote to growth. So we can maintain our mindless devotion to the dusty dogmas of the status quo, sacrificing our future and our planet on the altar of capital. Or we can throw off the shackles
of this irrational system and build a better, more just, more ecological economy
for the 21st century. We have a choice before us: growth or life. Thank you.

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