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Who would kill children to save the planet? A new eco-movement would sacrifice millions of lives

I wouldn't rule it out (Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I wouldn't rule it out (Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)


August 13, 2021   6 mins

Two things. First, economic growth saves children’s lives. That is one of the most basic, starkest facts about the modern world.

Second, there is a thing called the “degrowth movement”, which wants to stop economic growth. And, yes, this would lead almost inevitably to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of children a day.

Let’s deal with that first point first. For most of history, somewhere around a third of children died before their fifth birthday. That awful number has dropped enormously, but even now, it’s nearly one child in 25.

As child mortality has gone down, so has global poverty — while global economic output has increased. Correlation is not causation, of course – but this isn’t just true at a global level, but at a country-by-country level. Nowadays, if your country is rich, your children are more likely to live. That is amazingly obvious on this chart. If you live in the rich Iceland, for example, your child is 60 or 70 times less likely to die before its fifth birthday than if you live in the poor Central African Republic or Democratic Republic of Congo, where about one child in every 10 dies in its first five years.

And on that second point: some people really think that that economic growth should stop, right now. Jason Hickel is an anthropologist and one of the key voices in what is known as the “degrowth” movement. He argues that — in rich countries, at least1 — we ought to stop aiming for economic growth immediately. He thinks that “green” growth, the idea that we can grow our economies while reducing carbon emissions, is a chimera, or at least that it cannot happen fast enough to avoid disastrous outcomes from climate change.

Hickel, of course, denies that economic growth saves lives. In fact, he doubly denies it. First, he denies that global poverty has gone down as a result of economic growth. In 2019, he argued that all those famous charts showing a huge decline in global poverty are false, because they focus on very extreme poverty — people living on the equivalent of $1.90 a day or less. If you look at some more reasonable threshold of “poverty”, he says, such as $15 a day, the decline disappears.

This is straightforwardly untrue, for the record. Whatever threshold you use, people are getting richer. People have generally shifted from lower incomes to higher incomes, and as a result fewer children are dying.

And secondly, Hickel denies that economic growth does save children’s lives: or, rather, that it does beyond a certain, quite low level. “Past a certain point, the relationship between GDP and social outcomes breaks down or becomes irrelevant,” he says. “After that, what matters is distribution and access to public services.”

But this doesn’t seem to be true either. If it were, you’d see that very poor countries have consistently high child mortality, but that as you reach the middle-income and rich countries, it would be much more mixed. But in fact there’s still a strong relationship, and middle-income countries like China and Brazil have much higher infant mortality than rich countries like the UK and Japan. If you live in Brazil, there’s about a one in 60 chance that your child will die before its fifth birthday. In China, one in 100. In the UK, it’s way down at one in 250-ish.

You could look at the reduction in child mortality over time, as the world has become richer, as one of the great success stories of our time. In a way you’d be right to do so, but it is a hugely unfinished story. Children are still dying at an awful, unacceptable rate of about 14,000 a day — Max Roser of Our World In Data describes it as “equivalent to a crash of a jumbo jet with only children on board, every hour of every day of the year”.

Nonetheless, it is true that economic growth appears to have saved millions of children’s lives. That 14,000 a day would be something more like 100,000 a day, if children were dying at the rate they used to.

Also note that “economic growth” doesn’t necessarily mean “free-market capitalism”. As Noah Smith points out, a lot of the reduction in global poverty has been about smart government action (especially in Latin America), or China’s complicated industrial and economic reform, not simply free-market policies – although at the very least it’s fair to say that global capitalism hasn’t got in the way.

But this broadly positive story is a closed book to Hickel and the degrowth movement. It’s instinctively difficult to understand why anyone would want to deny it, but I have two theories.

One is that it’s very hard to acknowledge that things can get better without being good. It’s a common problem. It is, for instance, almost certainly true that the UK is much less racist and sexist than it used to be. But it’s also clearly true that there are real problems that continue to exist. It is extremely hard to say “the UK has become better with regards to racism and sexism” without people hearing “the UK is not racist or sexist”.

If you’re Jason Hickel, you might see people arguing that poverty has decreased, and assume that they mean “and therefore global poverty is no longer a problem”. That is, of course, absolutely not the case.

The second hypothesis is a more complicated one — and has to do with something called “prevalence-induced concept change”. Imagine that you have dedicated your life to some problem: say, reducing littering in a local park. You work really hard. You set up a charity and solicit donations; you put together a workforce. And, bit by bit, you successfully reduce the problem. The park becomes a bit less litter-filled. What do you do? Do you say to your charity’s staff, “The park is doing a bit better now, we probably don’t need so many of you. And we should probably reduce our demands for donations, as well”?

Human nature being what it is, probably not. More likely (and as happens in laboratory settings), you will simply start focusing on smaller and smaller things. Before, you had shopping trolleys in the pond and a dead sheep in the playground, and you focused on them. But now that they’ve gone, your attention will focus on the crisp packets and fag butts. Partly that’s because you now have the attention to spare, because the bigger problems have been solved; but it’s also partly because, if you start saying “actually the situation is a bit better now”, it will be harder to rally support for your cause.

I think this is a really important driver of human behaviour. It is very hard to ever admit things are getting better along any axis, because if you do, it feels like you’re saying: “So you can stop working hard to fix this problem.”

Similarly, if you’re Jason Hickel and you’ve dedicated your life to fighting global poverty (and to saying that global poverty is all because of capitalism and colonialism and that economic growth is bad), then it will be really inconvenient if someone says: “Actually, global poverty has decreased significantly, that reduction seems to be correlated with economic growth, and it has had amazing positive outcomes such as a huge reduction in child mortality.” It will be very tempting to find ways of ignoring that reality.

I worry, though, that it is counterproductive to tell people that all their hard work improving some situation has had no effect. If all those decades of buying low-energy lightbulbs and reducing flights and eating less meat have not improved the climate, then why shouldn’t I just stop bothering? If all those anti-racism campaigns and hate-speech laws and so on made no difference, what’s the point? And in the case of poverty, if economic growth doesn’t reduce global poverty, then it does indeed make sense to give up on growth altogether. But in reality, economic growth does reduce global poverty, and reduced poverty saves children’s lives.

But the degrowth movement is right, in one sense. Growth almost certainly can’t carry on forever. If the economy grows at 2% a year every year, which it roughly has for the last century or so, then it doubles in size every 35 years.

That’s not sustainable in the long term. In 8,250 years — as Holden Karnofsky of the Open Philanthropy Project points out — the economy would have grown to 3*1070 (that is, a 3 followed by 70 zeroes) times its current size. There are, for context, about one-third that many atoms in our galaxy. And 8,250 years isn’t very long: there are cities which have been around for longer.

Perhaps growth will continue into the far future. I could imagine some weird universe of simulated worlds and uploaded humans — and indeed others have. But probably, the more likely outcome is that growth slows or stops or reverses in the next few centuries.

The question, of course, is when it should stop. I, for one, would rather wait until the children stop dying so much. Hickel and the degrowth movement think it should be sooner. But if they want to make that case honestly, they should admit the reality of all the dead children.

FOOTNOTES
  1. It’s worth noting that Hickel doesn’t think we should stop aiming for growth everywhere: just in rich countries. But rich countries that buy much of the goods produced in poor countries, driving their growth, so that would be a very difficult needle to thread.

Tom Chivers is a science writer. His second book, How to Read Numbers, is out now.

TomChivers

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David Kwavnick
David Kwavnick
2 years ago

Greta frightens me. If the Eco Fascists ever take over and set up a guillotine for us reprobates she will be sitting just below the platform knitting.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  David Kwavnick

Wow, that’s just what I was thinking too.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I was thinking that too, but would have been cautious about saying it!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  David Kwavnick

You should not be frightened because you just need to be educated. To help with that, the plan is to produce a little green book containing all of the thoughts of Greta. Then, when people come and remove you from your office, beat you up and send you to work on the land you too will have a little green book to support you in hard times.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  David Kwavnick

Her autism, characterised by poor social skills, lack of empathy and neurotic preoccupations make her an absolutely perfect exemplar of the sociopathic ecofascist. If you invented someone deliberately to discredit the green movement’s manifest and wicked inhumanity by personifying it, you’d come up with someone very much like Greta.
You see her at the foot of the guillotine, but I see her more as a RavensbrĂŒck guard, whipping other women into the Gaskammer. She has a sort of misanthropic, insouciant blankness about her – an unregard for her personal cruelty you really only ever see among Greens and socialists.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Very well said

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Argue with her ideas – you have absolutely no idea that she is personally a sociopath, and actual concentration camp guards were often, frighteningly ‘normal’ people.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  David Kwavnick

Can you imagine the outcry if Greta had started banging on about immigration and replacement. Imagine school children being permitted to leave school to protest against immigration. Those in politics and the media who have pushed Greta centre stage to further their objectives would be screaming child abuse.
In fact it seems that Greta was selected by the global warming lobby because she is autistic and looks younger than she is because it makes it very difficult for anyone to challenge the claims she makes so it is child abuse.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

Without economic growth, there is no way to fund the generous salaries and pensions of anthropologists such as Jason Hickel – and the rest of the academics who advocate for “degrowth”.
For these people, “degrowth” will always be for someone else.
Otherwise, those calling for “degrowth” would be asking annually for a pay cut.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

Degrowth allows for salary increases! ‘Course it does. ‘The degrowth hypothesis is that a trajectory of social transformation with a concomitant contraction of resource THROUGHPUT[my caps] can be socially and economically desirable.’ Kallis, op cit somewhere above, p85. Let’s not argue over straw men.

Paula Williams
Paula Williams
2 years ago

Anyone who want to stop their economic growth can just work less or give their money away. Just don’t be a fascist and force it on others.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paula Williams
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

Silly. The degrowth thing is a claim that there is a sensible limit to the burden of ‘economic progress’ that the planet can stand, even under generous assumptions on future technological progress. Mostly it’s about the number of people who could enjoy a particular level of comfort in a ‘sustainable’ way, so asking for everybody to join in is essential to the model, and no more fascist than (say) asking everybody to get a measles jab. Off you go


Paula Williams
Paula Williams
2 years ago

Silly. Imposing a huge cut in standards of living for the whole world is monumentally more serious and life-changing than asking everyone to have a measels or covid jab. And the “even under generous assumptions on future technological progress” and “‘sustainable’ way” bits are pure comedy. Off you go.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paula Williams
Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

It won’t be imposed, will it? That was my point – these sorts of changes will only happen, if they do, with democratic consent – how else? I wrote ‘..asking for everybody to join in is essential to the model..’. Not sure where the ‘pure comedy’ is to be found, but then our senses of humour may differ.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

Please edit out the first word of your reply, it is insulting and unhelpful.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

It’s a mild word expressing an opinion, which is what this site is intended to provide space for. Ignore what you don’t like.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Are we cancelling words now?

Last edited 2 years ago by Allie McBeth
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

The anti-silly movement has begun

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

We will need a uniform and many, many rules of conduct.

David B
David B
2 years ago

I imagine that in earlier times, the perceived limits to growth – that which it would be impossible to supersede – were considerably less than current times demonstrate possible. For us to think we can finally and conclusively define such constraints is an arrogant shortsightedness.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  David B

I don’t think any of the Degrowthers make that claim, but you may know better.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew McDonald
Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
2 years ago

They do. You should know better, too, before asserting their claims.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

Well, we all think we know enough to comment, or we wouldn’t be here. Try ‘Degrowth’, Giorgos Kallis, Agenda 2018, last two paras of p152, for a succinct summary of what current leaders in this community see as the aims of ‘degrowth’. I’d type it in, but time, time, time. And the book is very well worth reading.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
2 years ago

No doubt it would be you, on a well-paid government committee, who would decide what the level of income should be for the rest of us. Naturally, there would be a need for a higher level of income for you experts to compensate you for your burdensome responsibilities.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

No no no, I would be in the undergrowth crunching up roots with the worn-down stumps of my elderly teeth and wishing I had been better at capital accumulation.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

I think what you’re ignoring is scientific and technological progress. In the 19th century Malthus and others thought that the world wouldn’t be able to feed itself, yet agricultural productivity as increased by leaps and bounds and more than enough food can be produced to feed everybody.
And the truth is that we have no idea what those technologies will be in 100 years times let alone a 1000 years.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Yes, fair point – but in fact we’re not (globally) feeding everybody right now, and the pig on the tracks of further technological progress catching up with the inequalities of production is the impact of existing technology/industry (or if you are a true believer, the impact of cyclical climate changes unlinked to human activities) in our ability not just to make technological progress but to distribute its benefits. So you engineer better wheat, but a 1 in 100 year drought robs you of the fields to plant it in. Perhaps we will be cleverer than we have been so far.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

Yes, and the degrowth claim is itself silly and wrong, and you are yourself silly for not understanding that.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Silly old me, then. This doesn’t really move us on though. Which part is the silly part of the degrowth proposition?

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

The problem is, climate change may force it on all of us and any of us.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Ailsa Roddie

Only if you believe climate scientists. They’re very mediocre intellects, however (you only need BBB to get into UEA to read climate science, i.e. the bottom half of the class). The academy is also solidly left-wing and hates business and agriculture, so it reasons for wanting to destroy both are clear.
COVID should have taught you not to believe scientists. They’re just leftists and their opinions tainted and devalued accordingly.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Crikey. Are all scientists left wing then, or just the climate and COVID lot? These are very sweeping statements.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

An Adam Smith Institute survey in 2017 found that 80% of UK university lecturers were left wing. So yes, it’s constructively all of them, because an 80% prevalence means that roughly nothing can be published without being vetted by a leftist.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Did they vet the political views of the people at the Adam Smith institute who did the survey, and (genuinely interested) did they define ‘left-wing’ or allow self-definition?

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

PS all scientists aren’t university lecturers, either.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

“If all those anti-racism campaigns and hate-speech laws and so on made no difference, what’s the point?”

They make a big difference, the people are much more divided and have much more antipathy now because of them. The fa* cis*s, anti – f a, BLM, CRT, and so on should not be forcing their Marxism on others, I agree, it does not help.

But the opening picture… What struck me of those demonic looking creatures is they carry the Symbol of the 7th Division, ‘Light Fighters’ (Black/red hourglass in a circle, is a double seven reversed), who also use the Black Widow as their sign. (a forward combat unit of the US infantry). So is this pure synchronicity, or is something going on (I hung with some of them in California, great guys, very fit, I have one of their hourglass patches)

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

comment image

Light Fighters

isn’t it cool – the creepy guys at the top picture should get these patches –

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Economic growth has also led to environmentalism (and falling birthrates in the richer countries)
De-growth will lead back to destruction and poverty.

The mistake is in thinking of economic growth as a physical thing, taking up finite space like hectares of solar arrays or windfarms.

What it really means is greater efficiency, better technology.
Economic Progress is perhaps a better descriptor.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Economic growth is not necessarily the same thing as population growth. But we do live on a finite planet. Buying ever increasing amounts of plastic disposable tat might help economic growth but at what cost? Fossil fuels might not be a great evil – but they do allow places like Saudi Arabia to hold us all by the balls.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cheryl Jones
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

You are correct that economic growth isn’t the same as population growth. I am also suggesting that population growth has tended to stabilise and go negative as wealth and industrialization increases.

Plastics are essential for things like reduction of food waste and also for hospital sanitation. A lot of the rest can be eliminated perhaps. Perhaps not. And next time you’re in a poor African country, notice how distribution of clean water in plastic containers improves the population’s life and health.

Thanks to USA and Canada unlocking the potential of tight oil and gas shales with fracking, “we” are now less in thrall to OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia than at anytime since the early 1970s.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

Biden shut that down. This week he is actually literally begging OPEC to open the spigots. His cheering squad doesn’t even know what to say. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-energy/2021/08/12/biden-asks-opec-what-797110

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Bizarre.
But what did they think would happen when you shut down domestic development?

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Shouldn’t want to kill kids who are here already. But stopping so many being born might be a good idea. 8 billion people is already way too many.

Justin French-Brooks
Justin French-Brooks
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Thank you for mentioning the elephant in the room – population growth. The single best thing that anyone can do for the global environment is to have one less child. And in the most-developed countries that’s an easy goal. Currently less easy in somewhere like Africa, but lots of great work is going on to empower women there to exercise their reproductive rights.

Lillian Fry
Lillian Fry
2 years ago

And the one child policy was a great success for the Chinese?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Lillian Fry

No, but those advocating climate change, should perhaps look to their own family planning.

Sarah H
Sarah H
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

No, that’s mere opinion. As with Hickel, it’s always someone else that has to take the hit.

Lance Milburn
Lance Milburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

The Malthusian argument. Whose kids do you stop being born? Those pesky Third World kids? Because there does appear to be more of them being born than the First World ones. Do you go for the Chinese model where having more than one child is a criminal offence? If we go back to Victorian times in our own fair land, families had numerous children. This was mostly because many of the poor things died young. Improvements in living conditions and medicines have reduced the tendencies in child mortality and those improvements have been as a result of economic growth. Maybe if we encourage that growth in other parts of the world, they may be disinclined to have as many children.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Ironically, the argument put forward for positive birth rates is so that the younger generation can work and pay tax to support an increasingly aged population.
You can see where I’m going with this. Not only have improved living standards reduced child mortality, but also improved life expectancy, albeit latter years that now seem to be blighted by terrible ill health. I read somewhere that we can all expect the last 5 to 10 years of life to be blighted by illness, pain, dementia, disability etc.
On that cheerful note, I’ll keep drinking more than is recommended, pass me my packet of Capstan Full Strength and if I start to look a bit poorly, tuck me into bed and keep those pesky medics away from me.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

I agree. Everybody seems to be thinking of individual rights, the right to have children. But there is also the right of the multitude (read planet) where having children can indeed be selfish.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

It’s amazing how people can become Malthusians without ever reading Malthus. It’s like the deep thought everyone has after a bong hit. It’s almost as if anyone could arrive at such an idea, or rather, anyone could be persuaded to do a little “population control” in the name of the greater good. Comments like ya’ll’s scare the s*** out of me.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Mikey Mike

It seems to be entirely ignored that Malthusian logic underpins natural selection and Malthus’s works were a major influence to Darwin’s thinking. Outside of humanity which is a special case (for now) it obtains in nature like a great vice squeezing animal populations.

Matthew Baker
Matthew Baker
2 years ago

The ending point of this article confuses me. The premises of the overall argument are true and clearly well-supported; economic growth has led to a marked reduction in child mortality, globally and on a case by case basis. Therefore advocates of ending economic growth must grapple with the likely outcome of increased child mortality. Also, endless growth is literally unsustainable and cannot project endlessly into the future.

Given these premises, the main point of the article is hardly controversial, that advocates of ending economic growth now have not honestly addressed the increased child mortality that would result. But given the third premise (endless economic growth is impossible), is it not also dishonest to kick the can down the road without acknowledging future child mortality increases? After all, once growth slows, stops, or reverses within the next several centuries, the poor and vulnerable (i.e. children) will again suffer as they did in previous centuries. If the moral argument is that “degrowing” advocates must address resultant child mortality, surely growth advocates must address it as well?

To be clear, I’m not advocating for “degrowth,” just trying to understand the moral argument of the author better. To me it seems the benefits of the modern economy were built unsustainably, and any path forward will likely involve managing different bad outcomes. Whatever path forward one proposes, it seems dishonest for anyone not to address that fact.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Baker

Is there not an imaginable future point where everyone is rich enough to avoid child mortality almost completely, but we have not yet turned every atom in the galaxy into Bitcoin?

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

I would have thought your point is a far more likely outcome than one where children die just because the rate of growth slows.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

George Soros and Henry Kissinger need their blood and stem cells. So child mortality will always be with us.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Baker

We don’t know at what point economic growth will cease being sustainable. We don’t what problem(s) we might be addressing at that point. We don’t even really know if – given imaginable future innovation – we will even require economic growth for the world to be fed and shod. In other words, I’m all for addressing problems that exist today or are foreseeable in the near future but I’m passionately opposed to dedicating resources to solving problems that we can’t yet identify.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Baker

It is Chivers. He occasionally tries to say something outside of orthodox mainstream thinking but always brings it back in. He is part of the “in” crowd trying to rope a few outcasts back into the herd. Don’t take him seriously.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dennis Boylon
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“But the degrowth movement is right, in one sense. Growth almost certainly can’t carry on forever. If the economy grows at 2% a year every year, which it roughly has for the last century or so, then it doubles in size every 35 years.
That’s not sustainable in the long term. In 8,250 years — as Holden Karnofsky of the Open Philanthropy Project points out — the economy would have grown to 3*1070 (that is, a 3 followed by 70 zeroes) times its current size. There are, for context, about one-third that many atoms in our galaxy. And 8,250 years isn’t very long: there are cities which have been around for longer.”

Actually, it is sustainable – well, sort of. The reason why is actually pretty simple: future growth depends less and less upon physical constraints of any kind, including resources. This is not some abstract argument, it is evident in economic history generally: for instance a Victorian steam train was approximately 2% efficient, while the faster and cleaner modern diesel trains are twenty times so: we are getting far more value out of a much smaller use of the resources in question. And this applies to everything we’re doing, pretty much.

I am not saying of course that in 8250 years we will inhabit an economy that is 3×1070 times as large as now. What is instead possible is that the growth rate declines over time but never completely stops, so that in, say, a thousand years, a 0.1% growth rate is applied to an economy that is many thousands of times larger than today and hence the actual addition of value is larger than the 2% we experience now, but depends upon the expenditure of almost no physical resources at all. If this seems odd, recall that nowadays we do not really experience falling living standards in terms of reduced access to physical resources, but in terms of reduced access to services. Occasionally this is still serious, for instance being unable to get medical help when required etc. But in most other respects, the difference between rich and poor in modern western life has almost nothing to do with physical consumption: it’s all about the differential value we place on the when, how, where and who with of that consumption.

In short, the common claim that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible is a fallacy: it miscategorises what economic growth actually is, and makes the basic mathematical error of assuming that an infinite series cannot fit into a finite scope. Even without this aspect of the debate however, we are not in any case at a point in our infinite growth journey where we can ethically conclude that we can stop where we are and go backwards. This is both absurd and sadistic: it would be quite indefensible, and as the author above argues so well, nobody should get away with proposing such a thing without challenge.

The reality is that the whole world wants western standards of living, they are going to have them, and nobody has any right to stop them. If you fear for the planet because of this, put down your placard, drop your political activism, and get yourself into science and research, because that’s where you’ll actually make a difference. Me personally? I am not worried at all: we will easily overcome the challenges of living richly on this planet without hurting it, and we’re doing it already and getting better at it all the time. My only problem is that I’d rather have been born later so I could have experienced myself the futures that our descendants will enjoy.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I agree with every word of this John.
It’s not wishful thinking. It’s borne out by examination of modern history.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

The part about the infinite series lost me. You realise series only converge in cases where there are terms are reducing faster than reciprocally?

Paula Williams
Paula Williams
2 years ago

No surprise. The eco movement is predominately made up of misanthropic totalitarians and watermelons.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

misanthropic totalitarians and watermelons

Spot on, and Greta even looks the part.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

That’s cruel. I’d say she looks like a Swede.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

“Watermelons” – meaning they’re green (environmentalist) on the outside and red (socialist/communist) on the inside? I’m not familiar with the term other than as the actual fruit.

Derrick Byford
Derrick Byford
2 years ago

The economy can grow indefinitely. Growth means adding value which does not necessarily require consuming more resources, or more industrialisation or a growing population. It can mean using what we have more efficiently and more effectively to improve lives. Not to mention the vast resources and energy available (eventually) in our solar system. Too many have a blinkered and despondent view of what humanity is capable of if creativity and freedom is permitted to flourish.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago
Reply to  Derrick Byford

This is true in theory but if you look at the current link between economic growth and emissions and what climate modelling shows us, we are gonna need quite the deus ex machina.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Ailsa Roddie

Climate scientists are just leftists, their “science” is pseudoscience because its conclusions never change and cannot be argued with, their data is fiddled and their predictions no better than COVID predictions.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Ailsa Roddie

Economic growth leads to lower birthrates.
Poverty leads to environment destruction and population explosion
It’s happened time and time again.
The science is settled.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Derrick Byford

Glad you made that point. Economic growth is measured as economic value – the value of goods and services in money terms – not real value to lives or human existence. Entirely possible you could have ‘good growth’ – eg. education, reproductive rights, healthcare for the poorest parts of the world and bad growth eg. Fossil fuel extraction, arms industries and Richard Branson.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
2 years ago

Perhaps all the “degrowthers”, who think that the only way to save mankind and the planet is by thinning the herd, should have the courage of their convictions and lead by example.
We’d mourn their passing for a moment, then get on with life.
Over to you chaps.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Do you really think life is getting better with 8 billion people and counting? I don’t. I don’t have any kids, I’ve done my bit.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Left to her own devices nature herself would have “thinned the herd” on the basis of survival of the fittest. What no-one ever mentions is that modern medicine, vaccines etc. may well be the most significant contributing factor in the explosion of the world population. Apart from improving the health and survival of the children, it keeps older people alive long after what would have been their “natural” life-span.
In poorer countries the number of children that they have is directly related to the number of children centuries of experience taught them would die. It is simply a survival technique long morphed into their culture but in fact, in many instances, now redundant.
I don’t know the answer and would certainly never support some kind of “child cull”, but unless we acknowledge the problem we are never going to find the solution.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Letting Nature do what she created pandemics for would have been the most sensible answer. Ironically, however, the middle class Left are the ones most in favour of lockdowns, masks and all the rest of nonsense which, if it actually worked, would thwart Nature. If you are going to thin out the herd, it’s better to start with the unproductive, such as the very old and the morbidly obese.
Have you noticed, though, that the middle class eco-fanatics often have six children and a people carrier!

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Yes, the countries with less ‘welfare’ do better at producing children. Because of first world aid payments, less child mortality – Africa alone set to quadruple its population within 30 years.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago

There are several problems with this article. First of all, it reads as an ad hominem against Jason Hickel. I’ve never heard of the guy, so maybe he is used as a strawman to smear a diverse movement. Why not argue against Herman Daly, Al Bartlett or EF Schumacher? The article would gain in depth and the author would end up humbled (which is healthy).

Second, even though towards the end there’s an admission that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, the first part reads as one big extrapolation. Economic growth did this and that, and it will just keep going and going, no matter the imperfections.

Third, the main argument rests on relative numbers. Give me the absolute numbers. I’m sure that on average the world has become richer, and that relatively, the percentage of people living under the poverty line has gone down. But what are the absolute numbers, given global population growth? What good is a 50% decline in poverty, when the number of poor people has stayed the same or gone up.

Fourth, economic growth is an arbitrary definition that is constantly adjusted to show growth, and is increasingly decoupled from the real economy. Not only because there would otherwise be very little growth, but also to gloss over the fact that at some point the costs of economic growth (pollution, population health, decline in cultural values, etc) outweigh the gains. This point has been reached and breezed past some while ago, but all the author does, is assist in hiding this fact.

Fifth, and here I agree with the author: the problem isn’t economic growth. The real problem is wealth concentration, for which the fable of neoclassical economic growth is merely an instrument.

These are my quibbles with the article, which basically lacks in depth and originality, and translates to nothing more than ecomodernist/transhumanist religious dogma. In that sense, using dead children as an argument doesn’t surprise. GMO, vaccines, geoengineering, nuclear and space travel will save the day! Limits do not exist! We don’t need God, we are Gods ourselves!

Fly on, Icarus.

Last edited 2 years ago by Neven Curlin
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

“What good is a 50% decline in poverty, when the number of poor people has stayed the same or gone up.”

Are you actually serious?

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Let’s say 100 years ago there were 2 billion people on the planet, and 50% of them were ‘poor’ (whatever the definition). That’s 1 billion.

Now, 100 years later, there are 8 billion people and 25% of them are poor, ie 2 billion. The percentage has been halved, but the absolute numbers have doubled.

How is that improvement? Never mind the hidden costs of this ‘progress’, and how many people/children it will kill in the future.

I don’t know the numbers. I’m just saying that if your whole argument rests on relative numbers, it might be inherently weak and you are doing your readers a disservice (if not just outright providing them disinformation).

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

So 100 years ago there were 1 billion prosperous people on the planet and now there are 6 times as many, and a large number of the “poor” are prosperous by the standards of 100 years ago. How is that not improvement?
Your postulate resembles a thought experiment I invite leftists to conduct that reliably makes their heads explode. It’s simply this: if you could live in A/ a society in which everyone has ÂŁ5, or B/ one where everyone has ÂŁ100 except one guy who has ÂŁ1,000 – which would you rather live in?
Every sane person says B, but leftists’ prejudices instruct them to say A, which they can’t defend.

Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

So simple, so effective. I love it. Thanks Jon.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I’m pretty leftist and I’d pick No 2 and work on how to equal things up further. Rubbish thought experiment.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Am I the only one unhappy with including a photo of someone that the article is not about along with an emotive headline? I’m not a Greta fan, but this seems like a bad case of guilt by photo/headline/innuendo.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Don’t feel too unhappy. She is 18, doesn’t feel guilty and has won a prize of $1m.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

I’m not worried for Greta, Lesley, just the standard of UnHerd journalism. Why not use a photo of Hickel? Accusation by innuendo is a cheap shot.

ralph bell
ralph bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Greta is the figurehead of the global environmental movement

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

Greta might be the figurehead but she is being used. It was sickening to see Attenborough talking to her and giving her the credit for everything the Green movement has achieved. It is well known that he has favoured population reduction for decades but he keeps quiet on that issue. I don’t believe our growth is sustainable but I don’t support the policies that are designed to deal with this, which are always reducing the birth rate. It doesn’t work as China discovered, and we need the young to work. It is the lifespan that needs to be reduced since the elderly don’t work, need expensive healthcare and pensions. But that is never going to be accepted. Some claim that the virus and vaccines are designed to kill the elderly but that isn’t doing much. I’m still here.
Greta’s image has also been used by the World Economic Forum. She insulted all the world leaders and rich elites and they applauded her. The reason is they are making trillions from green energy policies which are not green and have horrendous recycling issues not yet addressed.
Einstein said three forces control humanity – stupidity, fear and greed. They are all in play now and not one is a positive force. He also said two things are infinite, human stupidity and the universe, but he wasn’t sure about the latter.
Attenborough claims we can live with nature, still support a slightly higher population and all enjoy a high standard of living. He also believes that walruses can climb cliffs. Einstein was right about us.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Incentivising lower birth rates is not the same as forcing them. Limiting welfare payments is a good one because we know there are people out there who just want to stay at home and have babies and can afford to do so thanks to the taxpayer.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

In short, you want to reduce population by ensuring that poor people are facing penury or starvation if they have children? Many will refrain – too bad for the children of those who do not manage. Let me make a guess: You are way to rich to ever need welfare?

G A
G A
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

One of the great frustrations of my life is that Attenborough is held up as an intellectual. He’s an anti-human pessimist who lacks vision.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Thanks for changing the photo to something more generic, UnHerd. The topic is an important subject that needs airing.

Josh Cook
Josh Cook
2 years ago

On Apollo 13 once they realised the oxygen tanks had blown- the flight controllers and crew knew they had a finite amount of power to get the astronauts back safely. They understood no miracle cure or technology was coming to make everything okay.

We are Apollo 13 we have a finite amount of energy on the planet. But there’s no flight controllers to tell us that we are running out of energy.

Most of what we consume is still fossil based, it supports our lifestyles and level of consumption. Once that runs out so will the age of abundance. De-growth is probably coming whether we like it or not.

If you think that’s going to be bad for kids wait to you see what global warming will do.

Last edited 2 years ago by Josh Cook
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Josh Cook

You may be wrong about that. If we crack nuclear fusion then we will have lots of energy. Global warming is not a problem, it is the inevitable cooling that must come if the pattern of ice ages continues and there is no reason to think it won’t.
However, I suspect you are right about de-growth, we have no control over our future.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Agreed Global warming will be controllable if people actually do something – build barriers to hold back the sea, dredge rivers create fire barriers, etc. It is cooling which will wipe out whole populations – even with fusion maybe.

Paula Williams
Paula Williams
2 years ago
Reply to  Josh Cook

There are thousands of years worth of fossil fuel reserves left. And it keeps going up as technology advances.

Josh Cook
Josh Cook
2 years ago
Reply to  Paula Williams

No we do not: https://mahb.stanford.edu/library-item/fossil-fuels-run/

Also by the time most of that had been burned a lot of the planet might not be inhabitable anyway.

We have no mission control – there’s no Houston for us.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Josh Cook

I agree. But for me it’s not about climate change per se it’s the consequences of acting like locusts.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
2 years ago
Reply to  Josh Cook

Good comment. One thing I would say is that human ingenuity solved the almost unimaginably impossible task of bringing those three men home. I believe this same force will work hard to mitigate climate change – but at what cost we have yet to find out. Neither of my children wants to have children of their own – pessimism runs in our family!

Penny Mcwilliams
Penny Mcwilliams
2 years ago

Ignoring Greta for a moment, which is fairness this article does, I am still struck by the thought that continuing economic growth in the richer Western countries does very little to directly reduce poverty in developing ones, and furthermore, that children living in poverty in developing countries are likely to be among the first to suffer from the catastrophic consequences of climate change brought about by the drive for ever greater economic growth elsewhere. So this seems to be the starting point of argument, but not a fully thought out one.
‘Let’s all consume more to reduce global child mortality’ !? Nice try, but …. No

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
2 years ago

Economic growth is the sum of a great variety of economic activities, most of which have very little bearing on child mortality. I doubt that anyone is seriously saying that degrowth should curtail raising key living standards – nutrition, healthcare and shelter – throughout the world, up to a level that greatly reduces child mortality. So I do not see the point of the article.
When GDP grows the demand for particular things do not necessarily go up with it, at any point in time you can only wear one shirt, sleep in one bed, eat one meal, have one hospital appointment and travel in one car. Growth comes from inventing new things and an increased portion of the population enjoying them. For example electronics, travel, social media, services, music, film etc. Each invention though has a saturation point. The new inventions do not necessarily use the same proportion of (scarce or polluting) natural resources. Pressure on resources will not grow linearly with GDP. Where there is a constraint technology will come to the rescue if society gets better at identifying those constraints. A progressively increasing carbon tax introduced 25 years ago would have forced a reasonable frictionless move to new energy sources by now. Transition costs might seem huge but they can be absorbed by economic growth quite quickly. There is no need to be a luddite to protect jobs or fear your living standard will go down significantly.
A more nuanced debate is needed.

Joe Holder
Joe Holder
2 years ago

The economy can’t grow indefinitely, there are hard limits to growth set by what the planet can sustain. To pretend otherwise is just wishful thinking.
I think this is a straw man arguing that the ecological movements want to kill children when what it really wants is more balance – I recommend ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth https://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/ which puts forward an approach whereby we can have the right sort of growth within what the planet can sustain.

Last edited 2 years ago by Joe Holder
Guy Johnson
Guy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Holder

Then we won’t limit ourselves to one planet.

William Cameron
William Cameron
2 years ago

1900 world population 2bn
1960 world population 3bn
2021 world population 8bn

Good idea to stop growth rate

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago

Let’s not confuse overall growth with per capita growth. If the already unsustainable levels of population were managed downwards, then there’s no reason that overall growth should be halted, and eventually reduced, while economic growth per person increases. The fundamental problem to the shortages of water, food, shelter, to environmental degradation, the plundering of the seas, climate change itself, all the planet-wide problems we now face, is overpopulation.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

Is it? Or is the problem that the economic systems we use to extract and distribute those resources are extremely inequitable and wasteful with a primary motivation to maximise available resources for the already resource wealthy?

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

How many people do you think the world can accommodate? 10 bn? 50bn? 100bn? More?

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

The green movement is an antihuman movement. It teaches that humans are dirty, filthy, there are too many of them, and they are destroying Earth. The natural conclusion of this belief is that it would be best for the world if people just die. This is what Bill Gates, the WEF, and the royal family have wanted for decades.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Don’t forget the lizards.

Paul Grimaldi
Paul Grimaldi
2 years ago

I think to say that Global Capitalism has not ‘got in the way’ of reductions in poverty is rather inaccurate. There are numerous examples of where Western Governments, with major corporates as their backers, have plundered resources and prevented local solutions to poverty. Displacing farmers who grow locally consumed produce, in favour of a crop that a western corporate will find more profitable is just one example.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Grimaldi

Even if selling a profitable crop to a “western corporate” (more likely an Eastern one in reality) reduces their poverty?
Must they only sell local crops to local people, forever?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Whilst the aim would not be to kill children because they can be ‘re-educated’, there would of course be collateral damage.

Over the last 70 years, billions of dollars have been spent on keeping people alive for a longer time so that they could look forward to a rewarding retirement. These are the ones who have to be removed because they are too set in their ways, with their big houses and many cars and their plastic, which they introduced because they were too lazy to grow their own food. Anyway, when we return to the farmer/gatherer mode of life, these old ones will not be able to cope with the changes.

Those who spend their time eating and drinking for pleasure, those who are fat and unfit for life, and those who are not prepared to work harder for their daily sustenance will also have to go. Anyone who cannot work for ‘health’ reasons can no longer be supported.

Then we, the chosen ones, will restore the life of the planet.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I have just said the same above. It makes no sense to talk of reducing the birth rate, we need the young to work. Logically, it is the lifespan than needs to be reduced for the reasons you give and that means withdrawing healthcare, which is not going to appeal to the elderly. Although the NHS seems to be doing a good job in that area at the moment.

Paula Williams
Paula Williams
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Yes people should grow their own food. And make their own clothes and cars (oops I mean horse carts). And cure their own illnesses. That’s the way forward.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paula Williams
Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Hallelujah!

Andy Martin
Andy Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Mangle Tangle

Hallelujah indeed!
And to expand on recommendations made by two earlier commenters,
Those who spend their time eating and drinking for pleasure…”
Well let’s put a stop to this. No more costly vintages, or any boozing for pleasure?? While we’re at it, bring back rationing and recipes for cakes made from carrots along with cheery slogans such as “Don’t pine for a pud, make do with a spud.” Also, perhaps for those who are “fat and unfit for life,” a procedure can be developed for vacuuming out their fat for use in making soap while any surplus folds of skin can be also be used to make decorative home ornaments such as lampshades.
Then there is also making our own clothes, hammering those little steel ‘Blakey’s’ shoe protectors to make soles and heels last longer with the bonus of those satisfying shower of sparks when you skid along a paved road. Then there is making use of all those pooches bought during the recent lockdowns to transport us in carts and sledges, or for those with no dogs, convert your car engines for external wood burning combustion / propulsion.
Oh, wait a minute….I think similar measures were introduced a while back, but these and other similar measures are surely the way forward to a brighter future.

Lance Milburn
Lance Milburn
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Wow, I hope that when you grow old you aren’t being dragged off for disposal. “Logan’s Run” anybody?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Lance Milburn

I’d be up for that as long as I got to have the pleasure of Jenny Agutter. Life might be short but it would at least be complete.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Walkabout Jenny or Call the Midwife Jenny?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Logan’s Run Jenny would be just fine:
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Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
2 years ago
Reply to  Lance Milburn

Or “Soylent Green”.

D Hockley
D Hockley
2 years ago

A finite and dwindling resource cannot sustain an ever growing population.
The one and only solution is to reduce the number of humans…..DRASTICALLY

Last edited 2 years ago by D Hockley
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  D Hockley

You first mate.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

If the economy grows at 2% a year every year, which it roughly has for the last century or so, then it doubles in size every 35 years. That’s not sustainable in the long term

One of the hallmarks of the ecofascist argument is that it’s so often an old one long discredited but retreaded anyway.
The above bit of reasoning is essentially the Malthusian one, a specious bit of 200-year-old thinking to the effect that we’d eventually outbreed the food supply.
The flaw is that technology possibility is infinite whereas Malthus’ assumption was that everything was both finite, fully optimised and already known. In Roman times net wheat yield (yield less seed corn retained) was a quarter of a tonne per acre; today it’s about four tonnes, so you could feed 16 times as many people off the same acreage now versus then. If you needed to move 500 people 400 miles as expeditiously as possible, it would be one high speed train for four hours today, versus 500 horses for a month in 1798 when Malthus was writing. Greta probably doesn’t realise that the horses would have produced 90 to 100 tonnes of CO2 on that journey, whereas the high-speed train would produce only about 16.
In any case, infant mortality isn’t lowered by growth, but by the size the economy has reached, which is a proxy measurement for the amount of perinatal and paediatric care it can afford. It doesn’t go up in a recession, obviously. The economy could stop growing, or nearly so, because eventually, as pointed out below, 0.1% of a ÂŁ100 trillion economy is a much larger per capita amount than 2% of a ÂŁ1 trillion economy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Barbara Williams
Barbara Williams
2 years ago

We are going to shrink whether we like it or not. Tipping points both ecological and climate are whizzing by. Nature needs to recoup the ecological debts we are building up daily. Unpredictable rainfall, coupled with soil degradation and droughts will increasingly challenge our ability to feed ourselves as we spiral into ecological collapse. High extinction rates and the COVID pandemic are symptoms of escalating collapse. We either aspire to shrink our ecological footprint by addressing the issues of overpopulation and overconsumption or expect to become the next species in the Sixth Mass Extinction.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
2 years ago

Reality itself is up for grabs as political activists and morons make stuff up to suit their own aims. We’ve taken logic and the scientific method for granted and social media has given voice to these subversive enemies of society. If the rot isn’t stopped we are doomed to another Dark Ages.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Here is a third hypothesis: Some people think the current growth model is leading rapidly to a terrible global disaster, and that stopping economic growth is the only realistic way to avoid that. They might be wrong, but if you want to argue with them, you really ought to start here, instead of inventing fancy hidden motivations and calling people child-killers.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Richard Hathaway
Richard Hathaway
2 years ago

By Mr. Chivers assumptions and logic, we should all consume more, even going into debt, in order save children’s lives. In America our closets are bulging, our garages are so full we can’t park our cars there, and mini-storage is still a growing industry. Isn’t there a way to reduce our consumption without “killing children”?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Consumption is not economic growth.

Innovation and productiveness are what counts.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago

“Prevalence-induced concept change”, I’ll have to try and hold on to that phrase. I mean couldn’t someone have come up with something less clunky than that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Raiment
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

What does that even mean ffs?

G A
G A
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

‘Demand [for negative thing] outstripping supply’.

Kim Hume
Kim Hume
2 years ago

I have a biblical world view, and find it interesting that one of the reasons God’s chosen people were exiled, was because they were sacrificing their children to false gods. In this secular world such a comment will be scoffed at, but then, these people were exiled to Iraq and wen Iraq was run over by Iran, they were servants there. Just food for thought.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Kim Hume

Are you referring to abortion? I have often wondered at how progressive policies are so similar to pagan practices. I, too, have a biblical world view. Many view the Bible as a set of constrictive and patriarchal laws, but it is actually a blueprint to a happy life and a functional society. Most importantly, it holds us accountable to a higher power, which is a far more humanizing and liberating experience than being a slave to your own and others desires.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

How difficult is it for us to even consider a subject that has killing children in its title?
But nevertheless, the unvarnished truth is that population growth and economic growth have negative results for our world.
Time to stop being squeamish and start to be honest. Humans are the problem.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
2 years ago

Nope, not with you this time Tom. You didn’t grapple with the real question which is can we decouple economic growth from carbon emissions fast enough to avert catastrophe? I used to think so. I don’t anymore.

Brendan Newport
Brendan Newport
2 years ago

There seems to be some unconscious connection between the degrowth movement and Westboro Baptist Church.

Sarah H
Sarah H
2 years ago

I might agree with Mr Chivers for once (i.e. when he’s not making unscientific assertions about the current global thingie), his evidence free claim that current growth is “unsustayyynbuulll” aside.

Stephen Easton
Stephen Easton
2 years ago

Modern day Malthusian doctrines.
Just brought up to date.
Malthus used science too.

Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton
2 years ago

Economic growth does in fact save lives….especially if a significant portion of those lives are aborted. Good for you if your parents cared enough for you to be born alive.

Ed Paice
Ed Paice
2 years ago

Two points. A new measure of economic growth will be adopted in time. GDP has had its day. Secondly, you are very brave taking on Jason Hickel. He would appear to be an exceptionally vicious, vindictive opponent – as Max Roser will attest.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ed Paice