Every year since 1969 humanity’s resource consumption has exceeded earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources by an ever-greater volume. Damaging the planet’s life support systems will eventually spur the collapse of human civilization.
Despite this, the CEO of CIBC Victor Dodgig recently said Canada needs to be “obsessed with economic growth”. Published on the front of the Globe and Mail Report on Business, the banker’s statement passed with little comment.
With one of the world’s highest per capita GDP’s, Canadians also have among the largest ecological footprints. According to a recent study that looked at 160 countries’ resource consumption over the past half-century, Canada has the second-highest per capita overshoot (Australia is worst and US third worst). On average Canadians overshoot sustainable resource consumption by 25.82 tonnes annually.
So, there’s not really any just/sustainable way to grow Canada’s economy.
Part of what is troubling about Dodgig’s comment is that he’s not simply seeking to line his and shareholders pockets. Rather, he’s expressing the perspective of his class and how they view Canada’s position within the global economy. Constant growth is essential for capitalism. The system goes into crisis without it. In its insatiable quest for profit the system propels conspicuous consumption and ever more resource exploitation.
Instead of following Dodgig’s call to “obsess” about growth, we should be seeking to cut production/consumption in sectors that will lead to social improvements or have limited downsides. The arms, yacht, plastic bag and other industries must be downsized. The throwaway economy must also be curbed, and planned obsolescence outlawed. At a macro level consumerism needs to be discouraged, hours of work cut and simple leisure pleasures encouraged. (Think strolling, gardening, community theatre, art, card playing, etc.)
The truth is we can have better lives with less spending on useless, destructive consumption.
As Bianca Mugyenyi and I detail in Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay degrowth in transport/living systems usually makes cities more sustainable, healthy and pleasant. The more transport is structured to utilize shoes, bikes and rail, the fewer the resources expended getting around.
At a national level the hyper auto centric US spends about twice the share of its GDP on transport as Japan. Inter-city comparisons are also helpful. People in car-oriented Houston, Dallas and Tampa spend far more than those in New York, Boston or Portland on transport. In more walking and bike-oriented cities such as Copenhagen, Fez or Amsterdam transport expenditures are a fraction of even the least car dependent North American cities.
The private automobile also underpins the resource intensive sprawl economy. Cars facilitate big box retailers and massive houses with many couches, fridges, TVs, etc. Private automobiles enable an extra-large culture, which propels the capitalist economic system full speed ahead.
The idea that we could/should maintain the auto centric landscape and simply replace vehicles’ fuel source with a lower carbon alternative is absurd. More generally, simply transitioning from fossil fuels to lower carbon emitting fuels isn’t a path to ecological sustainability.
While we need to slash large swaths of the current economy, some low carbon, low resource, areas should grow. Childcare, eldercare, library availability, art and dance lessons and other labour-intensive social programs should expand. But these sectors offer limited opportunity for profit-making, which makes them unpopular with capitalists.
It is near impossible to adequately reverse ecological degradation under capitalism. As such it’s important to explore post-capitalist economic visions. Ecosocialism, “a society in which production is carried out by freely associated labour and with consciously ecocentric means and ends,” is one postcapitalist model that has been put forward. Another alternative is Economic Democracy, which is rooted in social-ownership, workplace democracy and human entitlement.
Capitalism is ecocidal. To save our planet and ensure human survival it needs to be stopped.
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