Growth has been thought to be the automatic outcome for all the major economic ills in the modern world. Trusting in the environmental Kuznets curve, we can determine an empirical relation purporting to show that with ongoing growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Talking about pollution, we can see how at first increases but then reaches a maximum and declines. And, we can say that increase demand for goods and services by lowering interest rates on loans and stimulating investment, which leads to more jobs as well as growth. Just grow the economy—increase the production of goods and services and spur consumer spending—and watch wealth trickle down.
Just push economic growth and rely on the resulting demographic transition to reduce birth rates, as it did in the industrial nations during the 20th century. Humankind must make the transition to a sustainable economy—one that takes heed of the inherent biophysical limits of the global ecosystem. Relying on growth in this way might be fine if the global economy existed in a void, but it does not.
Rather, the economy is a subsystem of the finite biosphere that supports it. When the economy’s expansion encroaches too much on its surrounding ecosystem, we will begin to sacrifice natural capital—such as fish, minerals and fossil fuels—that is worth more than the manufactured capital; such as roads, factories and appliances, added by the growth.
We will then have what I call uneconomic growth, producing “bads” faster than goods—making us poorer, not richer. Once we pass the optimal scale, growth becomes without logic in the short run and impossible to maintain in the long run.