Growing pains

So, it’s Green GB Week. It’s a landmark week of action, or at least that how the Government describes it. It also goes on to claim that it celebrates ‘clean growth’. Read on and you find that the Clean Growth Strategy represents “an ambitious blueprint for Britain’s low carbon future”, setting out proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy through the next decade. Great stuff, you’d think.

 Investment in renewables is a critical part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy

Investment in renewables is a critical part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy


Forgive my slight cynicism here. This week has seen the start of fracking operations by Quadrilla, after a lengthy legal battle. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this is about squeezing out further fossil fuel reserves and, as the company’s own Chief Executive admitted in a BBCRadio 4 interview, if “we don’t do it, someone else will”.

Remember that only one week ago, the IPCC issued it’s latest and perhaps most challenging climate change report. We need to keep no less than 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to stand any chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.


 Fracking resumes after 7 years in the UK, after a legal battle that has done little for public confidence over safety fears and the impact on climate change of extracting and burning shale gas

Fracking resumes after 7 years in the UK, after a legal battle that has done little for public confidence over safety fears and the impact on climate change of extracting and burning shale gas

There’s an awful lot of stuff going on here, not much of it logical. However, my biggest gripe is with the constant use of the term ‘growth’. Isn’t it growth that’s got us here? You know, in this mess? It’s been the obsession with economic growth that has led to the over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the resultant ecosystem degradation.

As chance would have it, I’m reading Kate Raworth’s excellent ‘Doughnut Economics’, and so forgive me if I’m a little obsessed myself. I’m obsessed with the idea of growth (mind you, I always have been; it’s just that I’ve found out that I’m not alone). Every politician, it seems, feels obliged to protect people from the uncomfortable truth, continuing instead to peddle the line that we can have GDP growth. We can’t. It has to end somewhere (even with clean, green, sustainable, balanced, long-term or all the other catchphrase versions they like to come up with).

 ‘Doughnut Economics’, the sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. But, can we stop obsessing over growth at all costs?

‘Doughnut Economics’, the sweet spot that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet. But, can we stop obsessing over growth at all costs?

But, rather than argue about the suitability of one definition over another, I’d prefer to look at the alternatives to growth in economic terms. What about growth as measured through health & wellbeing, access to food, housing, education and the development of skills, or social justice more generally? Besides, shouldn’t we be thinking about post-growth instead?

Don’t get me wrong. Anything that leads to big business genuinely stepping up action on climate change is to be welcomed. Investment in innovation is laudable, of course, and it’s right that we should be nurturing low carbon technologies, processes and systems. It’s just that there are always caveats (for example, the Government is clear that steps to decarbonising need to be '“as cheap as possible”); caveats that, in my view, rather ignore this bigger question about growth.

 Investment in innovation must not be done on the cheap, and success must be measured in more than purely economic terms

Investment in innovation must not be done on the cheap, and success must be measured in more than purely economic terms

Isn’t it about time we stopped the ‘window dressing’, the rebranding of economic growth, and at least began an open, honest conversation about the need to make a radical shift towards a post-growth world, where we identify and work towards other forms of value? We might even stand a chance of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals if we did. It’s not an easy message to share, and certainly won’t be popular at the ballot box in the short-term. But, we need to get through these growing pains, to emerge on the other side in a world that can be sustainable.