Is economic growth sustainable? Is it a goal we should even aspire to? What is going on in the global economy?
Two very interesting and radically different perspectives are personified by Richard Heinberg and Hans Rosling. Basically Heinberg sees economic growth as dependent on oil, and as oil production diminishes in a post peak oil world global economic contraction is inevitable. Hans Rosling takes a much more positive and optimistic view, seeing overcoming global poverty and ensuring sustainable prosperity for all as a very achievable goal. I’m with Rosling on this one. It is interesting that Heinberg comes from economically fragile, debt ridden, oil obsessed, end of empire USA, while Rosling comes from economically booming and renewables pioneering Sweden.
Of course many of us in the west reached material saturation years ago, and for us more money and possessions are not a sound basis for happiness. A certain degree of frugality and sharing resources is more fun than the social isolation of excessive greed. However few of us really want to live in poverty. Rosling and I, unlike Heinberg, would argue that a Swedish level of prosperity for all the people of the world is an attainable and sustainable goal.
Meanwhile, what is actually going on in the global economy? It is a very mixed picture. Some industries are in terminal decline while others, especially renewables are absolutely booming. Debt ridden Greece is contracting and the USA is only a little better.
Meanwhile many countries are booming, for all manner of reasons, some sustainable, some not. Qatar is booming through oil and gas exports, Paraguay and Argentina through beef and Ethiopia through coffee and sesame exports to China and India. The most interesting example is Singapore. It has no natural resources, except a good harbour, yet has overcome poverty and has more millionaire households per head of population than anywhere else on earth and possibly the world’s best health care system.
Watch Hans Rosling’s amazing and positive 4 minute video clip of 200 years of global economic history http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo
By contrast see Heinberg http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-07-23/review-end-growth-richard-heinberg
Note that the top 100 performing countries (judged by GDP, with all its weaknesses) are nearly all from the old ‘global south’. See List of Countries by real GDP growth rate