Does Improving the Planet REALLY Require Ending Economic Growth?

Are we too rich for our own good? A new movement argues that “degrowth” is the only way forward for humanity and the planet. But the evidence suggests it may backfire.

Poverty was the norm for most of history. But over the past few centuries we’ve had an eruption of unprecedented prosperity. In 1820, 76% of the world lived in extreme poverty; by 2018, only 9% did.

Today, however, many critics argue that the consequences of that prosperity — whether environmental damage, excessive consumption, or global inequality — are too high a price to pay for higher living standards. That’s why people in the “Degrowth Movement” argue that the only way to save the planet and create a just society is to start shrinking the economy and focus more on distributing resources.

Research suggests however, that this plan may backfire. It’s estimated, for example, that an attempt to equalize resources across countries would leave all nations at an income level of about $17,000 per person annually. And experts point out that many other efforts to curb consumption in the wealthiest countries would actually end up hurting people in the developing world.

The biggest irony: The evidence suggests that some of the problems degrowthers are especially concerned about — such as carbon emissions, resource consumption, and global inequality — are actually most effectively addressed through … economic growth.

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