Heated academic debates between proponents and opponents of traditional economic growth under capitalism might make for good television, but they offer little in the way of solutions. Climate change demands that we achieve both growth and degrowth, depending on the activity and economic sector in question.
NEW YORK – Everyone needs a foil, and for many who are focused on climate and sustainability, economic growth – capitalism – is a convenient target. This is understandable. Economic expansion is the quintessential capitalist imperative, but infinite material growth on a finite planet is physically impossible. Hence the rise of “degrowth,” “agrowth,” “post-growth,” and other concepts that have emerged to underpin seemingly sophisticated criticisms of the “standard” economic model.
Look beneath the surface and you will find that this clash of worldviews is more about rhetoric than actual policy. It is also a distraction.
The focus instead must be on cutting carbon and other forms of pollution. While high-carbon, low-efficiency economic activities – and some entire sectors – must shrink, low-carbon, high-efficiency activities and sectors must grow. Harnessing this natural process of “creative destruction” does not mean embracing laissez-faire, with policymakers sitting on the sidelines watching passively.