10 10 14 Sustainable Growth JW

I planted my first garden this summer, so I had to learn a lot about plants in a short amount of time. One thing I’ve learned is that everything in nature has a fairly specific size limit. Natural life never stops renewing and reproducing itself, but it doesn’t grow beyond a sustainable size; if it did that, it would die. Instead, a tree recycles nutrients by dropping its leaves onto the ground, where they compost and enrich the soil so the tree can draw those nutrients out to grow fresh fruit the next year. Other plants will die each year, giving their seeds room to grow after them.

Our economy, on the other hand, doesn’t work that way. The only way for our economy to succeed in our current system is for it to continue to grow. We’ve just come through a “recession”, in which we not only stopped growing but actually had to downsize a little bit; in our system, downsizing is catastrophic. Even slow growth is seen as a bad thing. Like the line from Tommy Boy, “in [business] you’re either growing or you’re dying; there ain’t no third direction.”

How can something grow forever? We live on a planet with limited resources, and the constant growth that our economy demands is quickly using them up. Our entire economic system demands that we consume more and more, and we’re already consuming more than we’re able to sustainably produce.

In 2009 we were in the middle of the recession, which meant that we weren’t producing as many goods as usual. The answer to a recession, we are told, is to keep growing, keep producing, keep buying – even when we can’t afford it. In 2009 Canadians borrowed almost twice as much as we produced, and I’m talking about personal debt, while our government continues to take on debt from the banks to prop up big business…all so our economy can continue to grow. Personal debt and government debt are much higher than the debts of big business; we’re paying to keep them afloat.

Worldwide, natural resources are being exploited at rates that cannot be sustained. When forests are cut down, new forests don’t always grow back; often, we’re left with new deserts instead. Fossil fuels are not renewable, and we’re depleting renewable resources such as fish stocks faster than they can replenish. Most new consumer products end up in landfills within months, and we all know that landfills don’t empty themselves. And in Canada, we borrow $170 for every $100 of goods we produce. All so our economy can continue to grow.

Let’s be reasonable: nothing grows forever. If it tries, it will inevitably die. If we’re to be concerned with growth, let’s think about what we’re growing, not just how much. What is the fruit of our system? Mostly just consumer goods, and we know they don’t last long. Can these goods sustain us? How long can we keep consuming, before we end up consuming ourselves?

Jeff Wheeldon