Is Economic Growth Environmentally Sustainable?


Economic growth is a question of much political interest these days. Slow growth is a major reason why Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.  The main justification for the Republican tax reform plan now moving through Congress is that it will speed up economic growth.
There are many people who say that humanity must learn to live with slower growth because our planet can no longer support the high rate of growth we have enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution.  But consider:

  • World Population is likely to peak at about 9.2 billion in approximately 2075 and then start to decline. (See the Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley, page 206.)   In country after country around the world, economic progress has already led to lower mortality rates which in turn have led to lower birth rates. This demographic process is likely to continue.
  • Pollution is rapidly declining in the developed world (see above, page 279). Yes, greenhouse gas emissions (and global warming) are still increasing worldwide but the use of renewable energy is also increasing. Furthermore, the U.S. and China, working together, easily have enough clout to enact a carbon tax, which would provide an economic incentive for industry to get carbon emissions under control.

  • Natural Resources aren’t running out.  Take phosphorous for example, which is vital to agricultural fertility. When the richest mines are depleted, there are extensive lower grade deposits still available. The fracking revolution means that oil and natural gas will be available for hundreds of years to come. The earth is finite, of course, but it is also a vast storehouse of resources.

Conclusion. The economic growth that is needed to create more jobs and better paying jobs is compatible with maintaining a clean and stable environment on earth.

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