Limits to Growth

“Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with…There are now fundamental barriers to ongoing economic expansion and the world is colliding with those barriers.” – Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth

About the Discussion

There has been a fundamental rift between environmental and labor groups that is based in the future of economic growth. One segment argues that ecological limits dictate that the economic growth paradigm the US has been operating under must end. Along these lines, a “degrowth movement” in Europe is calling for significantly powering down GDP growth. However, on the other side, those pushing for more jobs and job protection have continued to pursue growth policies as they believe it is connected to job creation.

This NET session explores how we can unite these movements in a holistic campaign to stop seeking economic growth as it is currently defined and instead seek to ‘grow’ a healthier economy, in terms of both the environment and employment. In this session, presenters respond to the following questions: Is this a “messaging problem,” or a fundamental scientific and economic policy disagreement? How do we move beyond the notion that green economists are tone-deaf to equity issues? How do we move beyond the misguided aspirations of many groups excluded from economic prosperity to grow the pie so they can have a larger piece of the pie? In addressing these questions, presenters seek to find a common framework that can unify both of these movements and address both of these groups’ deep systemic concerns.

John Cavanagh, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, moderates the session and presents the opening questions. Chuck Collins, director of IPS's Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and Peter Victor, Professor in Environmental Studies at York University, begin the session with an overview of the division between different groups and the limits to growth framework. Then Ron Blackwell, a Chief Economist at UNITE and the AFL-CIO, builds off this framework to propose some political demands. Juliet Schor, Professor of Sociology at Boston College, makes important connections between inequality and this growth discussion as well as considering certain sectors of the economy. In closing, Mateo Nube, co-founder of the Justice & Ecology Project at Movement Generation, introduces a larger narrative about the economy as “management of home” and the importance of working together to build a well-coordinated and translocal movement to bring about the New Economy. 

Suggested Background Readings

“Growth Fetish: Five Reasons Why Prioritizing Growth Is Bad Policy”  by Gus Speth

“Introducing the Oppositional Economy” by Mateo Nube, Ben Roberts, Ken White and Marissa Mommaerts

"A Deeper Look at the Limits to Growth: A discussion pager" by Chuck Collins

"Exiting from the crisis: towards a model of more equitable and sustainable growth", conclusion by Ron Blackwell and David Coats

The Minutes to this NET Session

These minutes (PDF) contain not only the presentations shown in the main video above, but also question and answer sessions that took place throughout the session.

Additional Resources

Managing Without Growth by Peter Victor

The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg

The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg

Plenitude: The New Economics of Real Wealth by Juliet Schor

Prosperity without Growth?, a report by Professor Tim Jackson

Is Inequality Bad for the Environment? by James Boyce, mentioned by Juliet Schor

“Supreme Court's Tsilhqot'in First Nation ruling a game-changer for all”, an article suggested by Peter Victor related to land reform

Green Economy at Community Scale, by Tim Jackson and Peter A. Victor

"What Piketty Forgot" by Noel Ortega

A paper in a series on Ecological Economics by David Kane that focuses on the idea of decoupling throughput and output

Information on the degrowth movement and additional resources on degrowth

For questions and comments, see the forum for this NET session

                                                             Part of the NET Discussion series