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Economic Growth Is Public Enemy No. 1

It’s conventional wisdom that economic growth is a core political objective of of this and other countries, rarely questioned by anyone. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump compete for the American Presidency, partly based on their extravagant claims as to which candidate can, and will, grow the economy faster. Yes, there are leaders like the magnificent Pope Francis who question the goal of more, more, more consumer goods; see his great encyclical Laudato Si published in 2015 and reviewed earlier in this blog. But even Pope Francis refuses to admit that increasing numbers of human beings, whether scratching for mere survival or living lives of wildly conspicuous consumption, is one of the two causes of the man-caused climate changes which are now happening. The other cause is the damage which individual consumption enjoyed by the affluent in “developed economies” – with air travel, air conditioners, and so forth – daily inflict on Earth’s natural systems.

This growth-is-good way of thinking must and will change; humanity’s rates of consumption are far greater than planet Earth can sustain. Natural systems are rebelling, and they will not continue to support our existing high-consumption societies indefinitely. As the strangling effects of too many people consuming too much, and doing that for many years, become more apparent, there will be literal and figurative sea changes. Competent leaders will by necessity adjust, and they will discard the assumption that more goods, more consumption of natural resources, is humanity’s right and its destiny. The belief, encouraged by Judeo-Christian scripture, that the Earth is both man’s limitless, free store and his free garbage dump, will die. But judging by 2016’s noisy campaign for President, that day will only come after mankind experiences huge catastrophes, such as massive famines caused by climate change.

Crises now foreseeable, and those as yet unforeseeable, will compel objective observers to acknowledge and respond to the effects of man’s centuries-old abuse of Earth’s natural systems. Every day there is more news of the stresses on the land, air and water conditions which existed before cities were born and which supported our civilization’s development since agriculture began 10,000 years ago. Those changes arguably are a necessary product of man’s success as a species, and a fulfillment of his scripture-given dominance over other animals. Adam and Eve’s fertility and smarts have produced too many people consuming too much, and that will run its course. Let’s hope for and work for a long postponement of that unhappy period of reckoning.


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