Helm Talks Podcast
Helm Talks Podcast
Mar 29, 2021
Net zero - is economic growth possible?
Play • 8 min
Is economic growth possible? Is it even desirable? Lots of environmentalists think we have to get off the growth conveyor belt, seeing it as a road to environmental ruin. They see limited natural resources coming up against unbridled consumption, and think it will all end badly.

They have a point: consumption is unsustainably high, and we are living beyond our environmental means. But two different questions are getting conflated here: whether more consumption is a good idea; and whether progressive growth is possible. Because of the costs of environmental damage, including biodiversity loss and carbon emissions, consumption is unsustainably high. We have to get back onto a sustainable consumption path. But once we are on that path, there is and will be progress in ideas and technology, and this is if anything speeding up.

Think of the generic technologies that made sequencing the coronavirus and then developing the vaccine possible. Think of the new materials that renewable energy needs. Think of the power of AI, ICT and big data to manage energy demand and supplies. Sustainable economic growth is possible, but only once the true environmental costs of our spending have been taken fully into account. We are living beyond our means but, once we have rebased, are capable of gradually becoming better off.
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