Thursday , April 15 2021
Home / Real-World Economics Review / The biophysical resource limits of the planet

The biophysical resource limits of the planet

Summary:
From Ted Trainer and current RWER issue It is remarkable that the development literature has given so little attention to the “limits to growth” analysis of the global predicament. No other set of considerations has such profound implications for development in rich and poor worlds. Over the last fifty years there has accumulated an extensive and overwhelmingly convincing case that global resource consumption and ecological impacts are far beyond sustainable levels. This rules out any possibility of all the world’s people rising to the present material “living standards” presently enjoyed by the one-fifth who live in rich countries, let alone to the levels of consumption growth would lead them to (TSW, 2019). The magnitude of the overshoot needs to be stressed.  The World Wildlife

Topics:
Editor considers the following as important:

This could be interesting, too:

Ken Melvin writes What the Future Holds

Dan Crawford writes Open thread April 13, 2021

Dan Crawford writes Open thread April 9, 2019

Editor writes The “trickle down” assumption

from Ted Trainer and current RWER issue

It is remarkable that the development literature has given so little attention to the “limits to growth” analysis of the global predicament. No other set of considerations has such profound implications for development in rich and poor worlds. Over the last fifty years there has accumulated an extensive and overwhelmingly convincing case that global resource consumption and ecological impacts are far beyond sustainable levels. This rules out any possibility of all the world’s people rising to the present material “living standards” presently enjoyed by the one-fifth who live in rich countries, let alone to the levels of consumption growth would lead them to (TSW, 2019).

The magnitude of the overshoot needs to be stressed.  The World Wildlife Fund’s Footprint index (WWF, 2019) shows that to provide one Australian with the amount of food, water, energy and settlement area now used, about 7 ha of productive land are required. Therefore if the possibly 10 billion people expected to be on earth by 2050 were to live as Australians live now around 70 billion ha would be required. However there are only about 8 billion ha of productive land available on the planet.  This indicates that Australians are consuming natural resources at close to 10 times the rate all people in the world could rise to.

Other measures indicate worse multiples. For instance the top ten iron and aluminium ore consumers have per capita average rates of consumption 80 times greater than all the rest (Wiedmann, et al., 2014).

But the implications of growth must be added to this analysis. If the 10 billion people expected to be on earth by 2050 were to rise to the “living standards” Australians would have then given 3% p.a. economic growth, the amount of producing and consuming going on in the world would be 20 times as great as it is now, and by 2073 the multiple would be 40.

The common response to this case is to claim that technical advance will make multiples of this order possible. It is not difficult to point out the extreme implausibility of this “tech-fix” faith. However, many studies of this thesis have found that despite decades of constant effort to improve productivity, recycling and efficiency, growth of GDP continues to be accompanied by growth of impacts and demands. That is, no absolute decoupling is taking place. Recent lengthy reviews of hundreds of studies by Hickel and Kalis (2019), Parrique et al., (2019) and Haberl, et al. (2020) confirm this finding and state that no reversal of it is likely.

Why should the analysis be in terms of the possibility of generalising rich world practices to all people? The answer is that this is the taken-for-granted goal of development and it is built into the foundations of the present global economic system, so it is important to consider the likely consequences.

This focus on the biophysical resource limits of the planet shows that appropriate development must be conceived in terms of large scale descent to a zero-growth or steady-state economy, operating at levels of GDP that are a small fraction of those in rich countries today. There is now a significant Degrowth movement based on this recognition.

http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue95/Trainer95.pdf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *