“Six years on from the financial crash that brought the world to its knees, red warning lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy.”
That was UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s take on the situation as 26 world leaders wrapped up their G-20 economic summit in Australia.
The solution, according to the leaders of all these countries and to most economists, is, as always, more “growth”. But what exactly are we going to grow, and how and where are we going to grow it?
Most of all, how is yet more of this “growth” going to affect the millions of animals whose homes and lives we’ve already appropriated and who are now threatened with extinction?
Europe, Cameron said, is on the brink of a third recession, and there is “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty.”
To add to the cheery picture, the governor of the UK’s central bank warned of a “specter of stagnation” haunting Europe, and the director of the International Monetary Fund warned that this could become “the new normal.” Japan is also on the edge of yet another recession and the Chinese economy is beset with problems. How is yet more “growth” going to affect the millions of animals whose homes and lives we’ve already appropriated and who are now threatened with extinction?
As the human world lurches from one meltdown to the next, the prescription is always the same: more growth. But it’s precisely this “growth” – more mining and drilling and ransacking of forests and oceans, one after the other – that’s already brought us to the edge of collapse.
In his 2011 book The Great Disruption, Paul Gilding, the former CEO of Greenpeace International, calls “growth” a dangerous addiction that’s destroying the planet and leading to economic collapse:
The problem we face is that we’ve conveniently ignored both the desirability and the inevitability of the end of growth, and as a result we haven’t planned for it. So not only do we have an addiction to the drug of material consumption, we have also entwined our lives, our culture, our political systems, and our economic structures in such a complex web with the growth monster that separation is going to be complex and traumatic.
… The system in the end feeds upon itself and, like many addictions, creates its own cycle of dependency.
… [Governments] borrow to stimulate the economy, with the resulting massive debt putting the economy further at risk, while hoping growth will sufficiently increase government revenues to pay back the debt. Thus the system locks itself in to further addiction.
We’re all part of the problem, Gilding explains, because we’ve become addicted to more “stuff”: the shiny new phone, the ultra HD 3D big-screen whatever, the new fall fashions, the best sushi (Bluefin tuna now almost extinct), and all the other kinds of food we consume during the holiday season.
(And what we can’t consume, we just toss in the garbage. Americans currently throw away 133 billion pounds of food each year. That’s 66.5 million tons, 141 trillion calories, and 31 percent of the total food supply, worth about $161.6 billion a year – equivalent to a sizable chunk of the annual financial deficit.)
But the growth monster must be fed. So we fish out more oceans, cut down more forests, dig out more oil and gas fields, mine out more quarries, and build more highways and pipelines in order to access those forests, fields, quarries and mines.
(And there’s barely a mention of the impact of all this destruction on all the animals for whom these places are their homes.)
The Earth cannot sustain a human population that’s already topped seven billion and is escalating toward nine. So every time the economy starts to collapse, as it did in 2008 and is now already doing again, it has to have another shot of “stimulus” to get it back on its feet.
As a result, we will see growth return and then we’ll argue, ‘See, we can still grow!’ Then we’ll hit the wall again because of the ecological damage and resource constraints that growth creates, and we’ll bounce off the growth limits and shrink again.
Each time we’ll argue it was some other cause and we can fix it with a narrowly focused solution. We will stay in this cycle of denial for a while, denying the reality that we have a system design problem.
… We will basically keep trying to treat our drug addiction with the provision of more drugs. We will do this until we’re in the gutter.
Most countries have already hit another wall. Europe and Japan are collapsing into another recession, China is slowing down dangerously, and even though the U.S. economy has staggered back onto its feet thanks to six years of massive financial stimulus, Wall Street’s fantasy-land stock market is just another bubble waiting to pop.
But no worries, more stores than ever will be open all Thanksgiving Day this year to help us addicts launch into another season of Holiday spending that will help keep our pushers, those anxious merchants of stuff, afloat for just a little bit longer.
Gilding quotes a radio talk show caller:
“So we have this crisis caused by people using money they don’t have, to buy stuff they don’t need, and in doing so helping to drive the planet to the edge of collapse. Now the best our government can do in response is to give us more money that they haven’t got, so we can do more of the same.
“Is that really the best we can do? Is that how far we’ve come?”
Meanwhile, governments in thrall to financial special interests just keep telling us that more growth and more consumption are the solution to all that ails us.
Sooner or later the various growth bubbles – the carbon bubble, the groundwater bubble that’s keeping California afloat as reservoirs dry up, the giant financial bubble – all of these and many more will collapse. We’re already seeing a Middle East sinking into chaos fueled by drought. What will life be like in this country, too, as more aquifers fail, agriculture dries up, climate become ever more violent, and the economy crumbles?
Sooner or later, we’re going to have to quit our addiction. Either we take control of the Growth Monster ourselves, or it will transform before our very eyes into the nightmare specter that’s waiting in the wings, just offstage.