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Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet

Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet challenges us to imaging a world where growth and unmitigated consumption do not equal development. In fact, as clearly described throughout, countries with unmitigated consumption are the underdeveloped countries of the 21st Century expanding our global ecological debt at the expense of countries who are more sophisticated in their development practices with similar prosperity levels while incurring less “national” ecological debt.

The development of natural capital by enhancing ecological value and then describing an economic value to this enhancement—or delta—is the challenge of the 21st Century. By expanding upon payments for ecosystem services (PES) systems allowing us to pay for improved water quality, biodiversity enhancement, and biogenic carbon sequestration, we are challenging traditional economics that often viewed natural capital as an unlimited resource base.

21st Century development is not unconstrained economic expansion.

21st Century development is bounded economic efficiency focusing on first minimizing negative ecological impact and second enhancing positive ecological impact.

As repeatedly demonstrated in throughout the book, if we do not engage in a 21st Century development pattern leading to a biodiversity, ecological, and carbon positive economy, we shall tremendous economic collapse globally. Our current labyrinth of ecological debt is already causing substantial economic harm to our economies. We only have to consider the concepts eloquently described by Tim Jackson in the framework of the devastating flooding in the Mississippi River Valley this spring in the United States. As the great American author and river man Mark Twain said:

“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…” – Mark Twain in Eruption

Yet today our channelized, corrupted Mississippi River is so polluted that at the mouth of the river in the Gulf of Mexico is an area of roughly the size of New Jersey that is called the Gulf Dead Zone because nothing can live there anymore due to the pollution and the effects of the pollution from the Mississippi River. In the Gulf Dead Zone, there is no fishing and there is no wildlife—this area of Gulf of Mexico is simply dead. Imagine the cost of this ecological debt in US$!

Mark Twain would not recognize our Mississippi River of today nor would Mark Twain recognize our relationship with our Mississippi River today.

Because in 2050 our future carbon intensity per US$ must be 130 smaller than it is today, the only path forward is for us to follow the lead as demonstrated throughout this book and develop a prosperous bounded economy based on maintaining and enhancing natural capital. Otherwise, we will continue to experience profound economic and ecological disruptions.

How to order
Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
Authors: By Tim Jackson with forewords by Herman Daly, Bill McKibben, Mary Robinson and Pavan Sukhdev

Paperback: 264 Pages, £9.99
Publisher: Earthscan, 2011 (paperback)

Gabriel Thoumi frequently contributes to

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