Note — Jul 05, 2020

The Myth of America’s Green Growth

Jason Hickel looks at the claims of green growth, from Andrew McAfee in particular, and shows that globally it’s not even close. Yes, GDP in the US is rising faster than consumption of resources but he forgets to include all the extraction which takes place in countries where stuff is actually built. When looking at the United Nations’ “raw material consumption” numbers, we can see that resource usage has been accelerating since 2000. We can’t have capitalism, growth, and a livable planet that hasn’t been stripped bare.

One solution would be legally binding caps on resource use, which should make even green growth fans happy since it could (but won’t) prove their theories; they think resource extraction is falling anyway. He closes by reminding us that we don’t need growth in rich countries, we simply need to be farer. “Equity is the antidote to growth—and a much saner way to achieve our social goals.”

In other words, what looks like “green growth” is really just an artifact of globalization. Given how much the U.S. economy relies on offshored production, McAfee’s data cannot be legitimately compared to U.S. GDP, and cannot be used to make claims about dematerialization. […]

Rich countries consume a staggering 28 tons of material stuff per person per year, nearly four times more than the sustainable per-capita boundary. In the United States it’s up to 35 tons. […]

The United States has had extraordinary GDP growth over the past four decades. But, oddly, enough, real wages are lower today than they were in the 1970s, and poverty rates are higher. Why? Because virtually all of the gains from growth have gone to those who are already rich. […]

South Korea also beats the United States with 50 percent less GDP per capita. Portugal, too, with 65 percent less GDP per capita. Costa Ricans live longer, healthier lives than Americans, with 80 percent less GDP per capita.