To grow or not to grow? Print
Written by Adam Lusby (Guest Contributor)   
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 13:02

[In this article Adam tackles the oft-raised question, 'Why do we always demand growth?' - editor, Groupe Intellex] 

Economic growth is never far from media headlines.  Growth has become the mantra for politicians from both left and right.  It has been met with opposition from the environmental movement and a growing number of opponents from other professions, including economics.  The idea of promoting growth in our current economy seems foolhardy.   With rising commodity/energy prices, coupled with population growth and the diminishing future of finite resources, the planetary limits we depend upon are being severally threatened.

The antonyms of growth (failure, loss and stagnation, to name a few) do not fill you with hope.  If we do not choose growth, do we therefore choose to decline?  In our current linear economy of take, make and dispose, the best option for our children and their children would seem be a choice of declining or limiting growth.  However, in reality this would be very difficult to achieve.  No nation wants to hand competitive advantage to another.  Enforcing a reduction in throughput in the economy has the potential to send us into a free-fall recession, resulting in losses and failures.

New GrowthIf we turn to the natural world for inspiration we can view this in another way.  In natural systems growth is not an evil; it is a good.  Growth is a fundamental part of creating the complex living system we are all a part of.  Just think, without growth, evolution would not work and entropy would win out; there would be no us.  At this stage it is maybe important to recognise that at an individual level the battle against the laws of physics is always lost, resulting in death.  Entropy still wins out.  However, death is key for nature; it allows for new growth as the nutrients are fed back into the system.  This allows the system to buck the trend of entropy and it continues to grow and evolve.

The important difference between our linear economic models and natural systems is that natural systems are restorative while our linear models are depletive.  What does this mean?  The depletive model allows for resources to be squandered.  This limits the opportunities moving forward as the resources are no longer available to contribute to the future of the system.  On the other hand systems with restorative feedback loops allow for resources to be re-appropriated in turn allowing for growth and evolution/innovation to occur.   

War is one of the most obvious depletive examples.  It reduces the ability of a population to respond by drastically limiting their future resources and therefore their options, often denying them to prosper and evolve sometimes for generations.   On the other hand, teaching and permaculture farming are strong restorative actions that help feed wider systems allowing for future generations to prosper and evolve.  Next time you read an article or watch the news, ask yourself 'What type of action is the cause; is it depletive or restorative?'  You might be surprised how this soon helps you define the good and the bad, and points to the many systemic challenges we face.

The argument for a growing number of people is not 'growth' versus 'decline' but which way to grow.  The circular economy (CE) offers a comprehensive framework that has been designed with feedback to allow the restoration of the system.  A key part of the framework comes from the Cradle-to-Cradle school of thought and the separation of biological nutrients from technical material.  This step change allows for new economic models that see growth and death at the individual level as a necessary process to allow wider systems to evolve and prosper.

To meet our global challenges we must have the ability to innovate new solutions.  A restructuring of our economic systems to a restorative model will allow us, as it has done for the biosphere, to grow and evolve or, more simply put, to flourish.


Adam Lusby is founder of CE-optimal and CE-thinking and freelances as a specialist on circular economy.

For further reading on the Circular Economy see 'A Few Words about the Circular Economy' or 'Booms and Boomerangs'.




Last Updated on Friday, 13 June 2014 04:43