It might sound like a contrarian view, at least as far as most environmentalists are concerned. Initially it just sounds wrong, after all scarce resources are mostly at the root of the world’s environmental problems and growing populations are never going to help that situation. The world after all has a finite number of these resources and when demand is growing all the time, there seems to be only one outcome.
However to just blame our woes on ‘growth’ is actually a little too simplistic. After all growth has also created better and more efficient food production, technology has impacted all areas of our world – mostly improving it. Even in areas like energy, their has been a huge growth in the way we use energy and even the amount we use per head.
In medicine, there have been huge improvements with treatments for many diseases and conditions now available for the first time. Everything here can be linked to economic growth and the majority have not impacted on the use of natural resources at all and in some instance efficiency savings have been positive.
When we replace an inefficient car for travelling to work, use a more fuel efficient jet engine in our planes or even insulate our home and install a newer boiler – all these will benefit the environment despite the resource costs of the new production.
Growth doesn’t need to be a ‘bad word’ in the context of the environment. After all the growth in solar and clean technologies brings both a net reduction in greenhouse gasses plus all the benefits to living standards and employment for people who work in these industries. However it does demonstrate that although growth isn’t actually the problem, it’s more the direction with which we pursue this growth.
Developing technologies and pushing areas like fracking is exactly how we shouldn’t pursue economic growth. Sure there are obvious advantages in the short term which will always look attractive particularly in democratic nations where governments are not rewarded for long term strategies. There is a growing awareness though that we do need to take these long term views – the media in the UK is increasingly siding on the environmental stage. Take a look at the British media and TV stations – this is how you watch British TV abroad if you want to access the BBC or other UK stations.
The essence of the argument is that growth is not necessarily bad, in fact in many areas it does produce positive benefits. However in order to solve our environmental problems then a growth strategy is the important factor. We can produce more jobs and wealth by focussing on areas that benefit our environment not harm it.