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We Can’t Grow Our Way Out of Poverty

WE CAN’T GROW OUR WAY OUT OF POVERTY

For more than half a century, economists and policymakers have focused fanatically on growth as the only feasible way to end global poverty and improve people’s lives. But in an era of planet-wide ecological breakdown, that comfortable conventional wisdom is crashing to an end. Jason Hickel lays it on the line.


Illustration by Pete Reynolds

Everything is about to change in the field of international development.

In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) grabbed the world’s attention with its report stating that to avert dangerous climate breakdown we need to cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach zero by 2050. It would be difficult to overstate how dramatic this trajectory is; the challenge is staggering in its scale.

We know it’s possible to accomplish rapid emissions reductions with co-ordinated government policy action, ratcheting down fossil fuels and rolling out renewable energy infrastructure. But there’s a problem. IPCC scientists have made it clear that it’s not feasible to transition quickly enough to stay within the carbon budget if we continue to grow the global economy at existing rates.

More growth means more energy demand, and more energy demand makes it all the more difficult to create enough renewable capacity to meet it.

Think about it this way. With business-as-usual growth, the global economy is set to roughly triple in size by the middle of the century – that’s three times more extraction, production and consumption than at present, all of which will suck up nearly three times as much energy. It will be unimaginably difficult for us to decarbonize the existing global economy; impossible to do it three times over in the short time we have left.

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