Note — Sep 23, 2018

Why Growth Can’t Be Green

Comparing the idea of green growth with three studies, all of them showing that, even using optimistic numbers for transition, it’s impossible to switch to a sustainable economy (i.e. within planetary limits) and keep growing it at the same time.

Finally, last year the U.N. Environment Program—once one of the main cheerleaders of green growth theory—weighed in on the debate. It tested a scenario with carbon priced at a whopping $573 per metric ton, slapped on a resource extraction tax, and assumed rapid technological innovation spurred by strong government support. The result? We hit 132 billion metric tons by 2050. [Ed.:We need to get to 50 billion tons.]

Ending growth doesn’t mean shutting down economic activity—it simply means that next year we can’t produce and consume more than we are doing this year. It might also mean shrinking certain sectors that are particularly damaging to our ecology and that are unnecessary for human flourishing, such as advertising, commuting, and single-use products.

Related: Sustainable intensification is no longer an oxymoron.