Material Footprint, GDP Growth and Ecological Destruction

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= "growth is an inefficient and ecologically destructive way of achieving our social goals".[1]


Jason Hickel:

"The more we grow the economy, the more pressure we put on planetary boundaries.

One of the ways that scientists track this relationship is by looking at an indicator called Material Footprint, which tallies up all the material stuff that nations extract and consume each year – everything from plastic to fish, timber to metal – all of which has an impact on living ecosystems. When we plot Material Footprint over time, we see that it rises steadily in lockstep with GDP.

This puts us in a bit of a bind. We know that GDP growth is driving ecological breakdown; indeed, the data on this is so clear that scientists are now calling for governments to abandon growth as an economic objective. But for decades, we’ve been told that we need more growth in order to improve people’s lives. How are we supposed to reconcile these two?

The first step is to recognise that, when it comes to human wellbeing, it’s not growth that matters – it’s how income and resources are distributed. And right now they are distributed very, very unequally. The richest 1% alone capture $19tn in income every year, which represents nearly a quarter of global GDP. That adds up to more than the GDP of 169 countries combined – a list that includes Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina, all of the Middle East and the entire continent of Africa. The rich lay claim to an almost unimaginable share of the income from global GDP growth.

And in case you think that the rest of the GDP is distributed more evenly, it’s not. The richest 5% (whose average income is $100,000 per year) capture no less than 46% of global income. In other words, half of all our economic activity – all the mines, all the factories, all the power stations, all the shipping, and all of the ecological impact that’s associated with these things – is done to make rich people richer. The next time someone tells you that we need economic growth in order to improve people’s lives, it’s worth remembering whose lives are really being improved.

Once we grasp this fact, it becomes clear that growth is an inefficient and ecologically destructive way of achieving our social goals." (