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Growth without economic growth, to minimise the environmental impact

The European Environment Agency (EEA) published its briefing Growth without economic growth, that explores alternative ways of thinking about growth and progress. It presents an overview of the various ideas about progress beyond economic growth.

It is confirmed that economic growth is attached to increasing production, consumption and use of resources, which has negative effects on nature, climate and human health. Furthermore, according to current researches, it is improbable that economic growth can be completely separated from its environmental impacts.

The briefing highlights that economic growth is higher in interaction with indicators for human well-being, just like life expectancy and education. On the other hand, Europe’s fundamental values, for example, human dignity, freedom, democracy, are not materialistic and maintaining high social, health and environmental standards do not have to depend on economic growth, what means growth without economic growth.

The key messages of the briefing include the acknowledgement that the ongoing great acceleration in loss of biodiversity, climate change, pollution and loss of natural capital is tightly coupled to economic activities and economic growth. If a full decoupling of economic growth and resource consumption is not possible, doughnut economics, post-growth and degrowth are alternatives to mainstream conceptions of economic growth. Finally, the European Green Deal and other political initiatives for a sustainable future require not only technological change but also changes in consumption and social practices.

The future saving task is to create lifestyles that consume less but are attractive to individuals without an environmental, spiritual or ideological interest because human civilisation is currently profoundly unsustainable.

As the matter stands, the world-wide problem is that growth has not been decoupled from resource consumption and environmental pressures and is not likely to become so. The global material footprint, GDP and greenhouse gases emissions have increased rapidly over time and strongly correlate.

Even the leading cause of increasing consumption has changed. From 1970 to 2000 it was the growth of populations, now it is the emergence of a global affluent middle class. Moreover, technological development has so far been associated with increased consumption rather than the reverse.

“While the planet is finite in its biophysical sense, infinite growth in human existential values, such as beauty, love and kindness, as well as in ethics, may be possible,” read the briefing. “Society is currently experiencing limits to growth because it is locked into defining growth in terms of economic activities and material consumption.”

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