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Why “Green Growth” is a have your cake and eat it philosophy

September 26, 2019 - 4:58pm

I believe Greta is correct when she speaks of “fairy tales of economic growth”. Here she echoes that well-known observation of David Attenborough:

We have a finite environment—the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.
- David Attenborough

But the very people that applaud her for her radicalism are still wedded to the language that Greta so passionately decries. The above screenshot is taken from a Labour Party broadcast from earlier this year.

The same language of growth is there in the Labour Manifesto:

The growth created by our national investment plan, underpinned by the responsible economic management embodied in our Fiscal Credibility Rule, will create good jobs, drive up living standards and improve the public finances
- Labour Party Manifesto

Similarly, a “no deal Brexit” will cut 3% off the UK’s economic growth, The Guardian lamented recently.

The get out for those who wish to maintain the language of economic growth alongside a concern for what we are doing to the planet is the idea of so-called Green Growth. It’s a have your cake and eat it philosophy. But a recent report from the European Environmental Bureau casts serious doubt on this strategy.

Fixing the climate crisis without having to compromise on economic growth sounds appealing. But the Decoupling Debunked report echoes work by prominent academics in finding that there is no evidence that societies have ever managed to decouple economic growth from emissions at this scale in the past, and little evidence they have the capacity to achieve it in the future
- Christine Corlet Walker, The Conversation

If this is correct, it will take a complete re-think of economic policy for both the Left and the Right in order to meet the challenge posed by climate catastrophe. Not least, it will involve our political leaders having to persuade voters that it is in everybody’s interests that rich countries like ours will have to learn to make do with having less.

Unless we start to address such issues, the applause that the Left has for Greta will only ever be a cheap ‘for show’ radicalism.

Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.


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