How Economic Growth Kills Our Future
We can stop growing and still live well
“When you realize that under capitalism, a forest isn’t worth anything until it is cut down, you begin to see where the ecological crisis comes from.” -Adam Idek Hastie
“Economic growth may one day turn out to be a curse rather than a good, and under no conditions can it lead into freedom.” -Hannah Arendt
When European settlers came to America in the 16th century, forests covered about 50% of the ground. Plains, woods and wetlands were filled with all kinds of animals and plants. Now the US looks like a giant subdivision connected by freeways, and most of the species are gone.
What happened? Economic growth happened. Economists, politicians and corporations consider growth the greatest good, even the purpose of an economy. The World Bank believes global growth is the answer to poverty, inequality, overpopulation, and environmental damage.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” in the words used by Ronald Reagan. But, as ecological economist Herman Daly points out, growth past a certain point creates more costs than benefits, more damage than progress. In the rich countries, Daly says, we are far past that point. The more we grow from here on, the worse off we will be.
America’s forests tell the story. In colonial times and since, entrepreneurs saw the forests and built logging operations, sawmills and factories, to turn the trees into houses and furniture, fences and railroad ties. At the same time, farmers cut down and burned trees to make room for agriculture.
When the forests in a region were gone, the industries moved on. According to historian Michael Goldston’s book The Southern Key, the wood industry started in the Northeastern states, then moved to the South, then the North Central region, finally to the Northwest, Alaska and Canada. In addition to buildings and furnishings, millions of trees (living things that provided homes for other living things) have been killed to make paper and toilet paper. All of these products were sold on the market, creating economic growth that has enriched some humans, but has left little behind for living things, including us. Trees can grow back, if farms or freeways don’t take their place, but what usually…