Limits to growth: What is the economy for anyway?

The concept of waste and eliminating it sits within a much bigger frame of environmental and societal problems and for this reason I am constantly reading articles and books on different subjects which impact the generation of waste.

Over the past few months I have been drawing a mental web with a set of interconnected concepts and ideas around waste generation and prevention, one of the strands of the web includes the economy and the economic systems used to govern our societies. The way in which these systems are structured around growth is inextricably linked to the ecological damage that is occurring to the planet; endless growth cannot occur on a finite planet but this is what our economies are based on.

And so, when an event entitled ‘Limits to Growth’ was advertised in my research group it peaked my interest. I was really interested to hear thoughts on how our economies could be restructured without growth as the beating heart.

This event happened on Tues 19th Apr and it was held in The Houses of Commons in Westminster.

It was to be the inaugural event of the All-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Limits to Growth. For those of you that don’t know, an APPG is an informal group of Members of parliament (MP’s) who join together to pursue a particular topic or interest. It is essentially run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords, although many groups involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament in their administration and activities.

These groups provide discussions about important topics and can go on to influence future government policies and legislation.

This group was founded my the following MP’s:

Chair: Caroline Lucas (Green)
Co-Chair: George Kerevan (SNP)
Co-Chair: Daniel Zeichner (Labour)
Stuart Andrew (Conservative)
Barry Gardiner (Labour)
Baron Howarth (Labour)

And the agenda was as follows:

17.30  Registration
17.40  Caroline Lucas & Tim Jackson: Welcome and Introduction
18.10  Anders Wijkman: »Reflections on Limits«
18.50  Q&A and Audience Discussion
19.30  Close
The speakers include Tim Jackson who is the author of the book ‘Prosperity without growth’ and the other speaker Anders Wijkman is one of the founding members of the Club of Rome which wrote the book The Limits to Growth in 1972. Both are books which I am currently reading.

I have only been to London twice before and have never been inside the Houses of Parliament so I was very excited for this event and I wasn’t to be disappointed!

On arrival to the event all the delegates were told that the room had been changed and we had to move to a much smaller room, this lead to a nice coincidence in that the room was so full that we were pushing the limits of its capacity.

During the event the panel explained the intentions of the group and gave background on the work that had already been done. They then invited questions and comments from the floor and lots of interesting ideas were expressed.

My favourite take away from the event was a comment from a lady called Kate Raworth who founded Doughnut Economics . She said that:

The economy is currently structured to grow whether society and humans flourish or not.

What we need is for society and humans to flourish, whether or not the economy grows.

I thought that this was a beautiful way to express the foundations upon which to build an economy. There were several other comments calling for an economy that helps our societies to thrive and my key questions after listening to all of the debate was:

How do we define what it means to ‘thrive’?

I have a lot more reading to do before I can even begin to formulate an answer to this question. But for me this seems like the most logical place to start tackling this issue, if we cannot define what it means to ‘thrive’, then how can we possibly build an economy to support us towards a goal of ‘a thriving society’?

Overall the event left me with more questions than answers but it was an amazing experience in an amazing location. To know that these issues are being taken seriously at the highest level in our government and to be part of the conversation left me with a real sense of hope that we will figure out how to meet the needs of humanity in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.

If you want to know more then I highly recommend checking out your local library to see if you can rent a copy of Limits to Growth or Prosperity without Growth, there is also a much more extensive reading list on the website of the Limits to Growth APPG.

I would also encourage you to take a step back in your thinking about waste and look at the issues that are connected to it. Would a future economy free from the ‘growth and consumption’ mantra provide the systemic changes in attitude towards a ‘throw-away culture’? Once we are truly thriving in a society based on human well-being and happiness would this eliminate the ‘I consume therefore I am’ mentality and the waste that accompanies it? I strongly believe that it could, but there are significant challenges before we reach that point.

An image of the event below, I am sat right at the back:

 

limits to growth

 

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