Moving Away From the Pro-Growth Economy | MAHB

GR:  Here’s an annotated bibliography that explores alternatives to perpetual growth. Perpetual growth is the idea that economies will fail without continuous growth. It assumes that there are unlimited resources for growth. The idea guides our business enterprises and spills over into our social beliefs including our definition of well-being. The bibliography is part of the effort at MAHB to avoid global catastrophe.

Economy by spDuchamp | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

“The current economic system being utilized and internalized relies on perpetual growth. It has long operated counter to the reality that we are confined to a finite planet with finite resources. Yet, this system continues to be practiced and promoted globally. As the environmental and social repercussions of disbelief in limits become increasingly clear, so does our need for a new economic system —one that is not wedded to growth. Neither growth in the number of consumers nor growth in the amount consumed.

“But what would an alternative to the pro-growth economy look like? There are multiple thinkers and organizations taking on exactly this question. However, these efforts can be disparate and focused on their differences rather than their common agreement that an alternative to pro-growth economics is not only possible but required.” –Erika Gavenus (Continue reading: Moving Away From the Pro-Growth Economy | MAHB

Here’s a sample of annotations from the bibliography section on “Limits to Growth.”

Meadows, D. H., D. L. Meadows, J. Randers and W. W. Behrens (1972) The limits to growth. New York: Universe. (

This seminal work on the analysis of limits to economic growth was published in 1972. The team used the innovative model World 3 to consider. World 3 “is based in system dynamic—a method for studying the world that deals with understanding how complex systems change over time. Internal feedback loops within the structure of the system influence the entire system behavior.” Among the analysis’s conclusions:

Meadows, D., Randers, J., and Meadows, D. (2004) Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Three of the authors of The Limits to Growth (1972) revisit the original report’s findings and consider if and how the situation has changed over the 30 years since the original publication. They find:

“While the past 30 years has shown some progress, including new technologies, new institutions, and a new awareness of environmental problems, the authors are far more pessimistic than they were in 1972. Humanity has squandered the opportunity to correct our current course over the last 30 years, they conclude, and much must change if the world is to avoid the serious consequences of overshoot in the 21st century.”

Ackerman, F., Stanton, E.A., DeCanio, S.J., Goodstein, E., Howarth, R.B., Norgaard, R.B., Norman, C.S., Sheeran, K.A., 2009. The economics of 350: the benefits and costs of climate stabilization. Economics for Equity and Environment.

Stopping global warming and protecting the earth’s climate is a daunting challenge. To prevent a climate crisis we have to move quickly to transform the ways in which we create and use energy, develop petroleum-free transportation, and much more. These changes will not be free; there is already resistance to paying for the first steps along this road. Some think that reaching for more ambitious mitigation targets, and quicker reductions in emissions, would mean economic disaster. Some economists have become known for advocating only slow and modest responses to climate change, lest the costs of mitigation become too large. This report demonstrates that the ‘go slow’ recommendations are unjustified. A number of economic analyses, informed by recent scientific findings and using reasonable assumptions, suggest that more ambitious targets and quicker action make good economic sense. The warnings about climate change are growing steadily more ominous — but it has not, as a consequence, become impossibly expensive to save the planet. We can still afford a sustainable future. The bad news about climate change relates mostly to the costs of inaction. As greenhouse gas emissions grow, it is the cost of doing nothing that is becoming unbearable, not the cost of taking action. If there is reason for optimism amidst the dire warnings it is this: the costs of insuring the planet against climate disaster are not prohibitive. The best estimates of the costs of a vigorous, immediate effort to rebuild the world economy around carbon-free technologies are still in the range of one to three percent of world output (GDP) per year, even with the more stringent emissions reduction goals we are supporting. Scientific research continues to yield evidence that climate change is occurring faster, and its consequences could be more severe, than previously expected: the costs of climate inaction, or even of delay in mounting a large-scale response to the climate crisis, are getting worse and worse. We cannot afford a little climate policy, half-measures that would leave us all vulnerable to the immense risks of an increasingly destructive climate. We need a big initiative, a comprehensive global deal on protecting the earth’s climate by rapidly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Because the status quo is not sustainable, the most economical choice is to change, as quickly, cost-effectively, and comprehensively as possible. This study looks at both sides of the equation, beginning with the worsening news about climate risks (i.e., the costs of inaction), then turning to the costs of an adequate response.

Hall, C. and J. Day (2009) ‘Revisiting the limits to growth after peak oil’. American Scientist 97(3): 230-237.

Hall and Day take a critical look at some of the leading publications from the 1970s, particularly The Limits to Growth (1972),  that brought attention to the diminishing resource base for humans. Comparing values predicted by the limits-to-growth model and actual values the authors suggest that, “there is growing evidence that the original ‘Cassandras’ were right on the mark in their general assessments, if not always in the details or exact timing, about the dangers of continued growth of human population and their increasing levels of consumption in a world approaching very real material constraints.” (p230). Hall and Day argue that The Limits to Growth along with other seminal publications of this era, need to be revisited and included in contemporary conversations.

Bardi, U. (2011) The Limits to Growth Revisited. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

“The Limits to Growth” (Meadows, 1972) generated unprecedented controversy with its predictions of the eventual collapse of the world’s economies. First hailed as a great advance in science, “The Limits to Growth” was subsequently rejected and demonized. However, with many national economies now at risk and global peak oil apparently a reality, the methods, scenarios, and predictions of “The Limits to Growth” are in great need of reappraisal. In The Limits to Growth Revisited, Ugo Bardi examines both the science and the polemics surrounding this work, and in particular the reactions of economists that marginalized its methods and conclusions for more than 30 years. “The Limits to Growth” was a milestone in attempts to model the future of our society, and it is vital today for both scientists and policy makers to understand its scientific basis, current relevance, and the social and political mechanisms that led to its rejection. Bardi also addresses the all-important question of whether the methods and approaches of “The Limits to Growth” can contribute  to an understanding of what happened to the global economy in the Great Recession and where we are headed from there.

  • Shows how “The Limits to Growth” is a subject more relevant today than when the book was first published
  • Demonstrates how scenario-building using system dynamics models or other methods is an essential tool in understanding possible futures
  • Examines the factors that may lead to the rejection of good science when the conclusions are unpleasant
  • Separates the reality that the future can never be predicted with certainty from the need to prepare for it.

Turner, G. (2014) Is Global Collapse Imminent?, MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.

Turner provides another review of the Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972), this time specifically comparing that report’s modeled “standard run” or business-as-usual to forty years of economic and population data. Limits to Growth called for considerable change in social behavior and technological progress early in the advance of environmental or resource issues. Turner finds that these were not achieved, and that data collected since the publication of the Limits to Growth most closely aligns with the projected “standard run” of the Limits to Growth World3 model. This “standard run” resulted in “collapse of the economy and human population (i.e. a relatively rapid fall)… in the 21st century, reducing living conditions to levels akin to the early 20th century according to average global conditions” (p4). Turner concludes that this paper “aims to forewarn of potential global collapse–perhaps more imminent than generally recognized–in the hope that this may spur on change, or at least to prepare readers for a worst case outcome” (p5).

Ehrlich, P.R. and A. Ehrlich (2016) ‘Population, resources, and the faith-based economy: the situation in 2016’. Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality 1(3).

Paul and Anne Ehrlich summarize today’s population-resources-environment situation in comparison to the situation in 1986 when their seminal book The Population Bomb was published. In concluding that the human predicament is now much more serious than in 2016, the authors specifically discuss “faith-based macroeconomics” and the assumptions current neoclassical economics hinge on. Specifically, the authors criticize “faith in continuous economic expansion through technology, markets, and the so-called knowledge economy” and provide the example of Paul Krugman’s position that further growth is a cure for problems. (p3). The authors also question the assumption that people make rational, informed choices –an underpinning of how markets are thought to be efficient. The authors do praise the work of multiple ecological economics to push the discipline towards recognizing real-world constraints. Ultimately, the authors conclude that a profound change of society is required to “provide a slim hope of avoiding a collapse of civilization,” a change that would include moving away from myths of continued economic growth.

5 thoughts on “Moving Away From the Pro-Growth Economy | MAHB

  1. Garry, I missed the word ‘capitalism’ here. Critics say capitalism is flawed by non-sustainability. It depends on new frontiers to develop, doesn’t cover the true costs of productivity (like repairing environmental damage, or avoiding it), and creates economic inequality over time (by exploiting workers). It seems that capitalism is coming to the end of the road. (Unless the melting polar caps open a new era of development!) We sure do need a new economic system. The one we have has driven us to planetary crisis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:

    “The current economic system being utilized and internalized relies on perpetual growth. It has long operated counter to the reality that we are confined to a finite planet with finite resources. Yet, this system continues to be practiced and promoted globally. As the environmental and social repercussions of disbelief in limits become increasingly clear, so does our need for a new economic system —one that is not wedded to growth. Neither growth in the number of consumers nor growth in the amount consumed.”

    Superb article, must read.

    Liked by 2 people


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