Canadian Forest Service Publications

Frontiers of the biosphere inhibit perpetual economic growth: exploring pathways to genuine sustainable development. 2016. Ghebremichael, A. Journal of Environmental and Social Sciences 3(2):125.

Year: 2016

Available from: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 38034

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Abstract

The neoliberal doctrine of perpetual economic growth (PEG), often referred to as sustainable economic growth, is disputed critically. Genuine sustainable development (GSD) is advanced as the best alternative. PEG means unfettered expansion of an economy’s productive capacity under laissez-faire to boost gross domestic product (GDP) at an inevitable risk of breaching “planetary boundaries”. Laissez-faire is a neoliberal free-market economic doctrine that promotes activities of multinational corporations to free-ride in the marketplace, enabled by their respective governments’ institutions. By contrast, GSD is a dynamic process by which human well-being is improved in an inclusive, a just, and an environmentally safe operating space. It can be achieved through inventions, innovations, diffusion, and adoption of appropriate technologies as well as learning-by-doing. Key features that characterize the competitive general equilibrium model of neoclassical microeconomic theory are highlighted to show the incompatibility of PEG with GSD. Diagrams, selected bioecological growth functions and basic microeconomic models are used to demonstrate that human well-being depends mainly on effective political governance system, ecological integrity, biodiversity, ecological carrying capacity, and the life sustaining multiple services of ecosystems. The consequences of destroying natural capital assets are explained; and a call is made for anthropogenic balancing act not to transgress ecological thresholds. The fact that the biosphere is an embodiment of all life on Earth and of the world’s material wealth is reiterated; selected pathways to GSD are summarized; and specific policy measures required to curtail excessive anthropocentric activities are proposed.

Plain Language Summary

Development based on the expectation that economic growth should be maximized can lead to environmental disasters and long-term devastation. This paper argues that the alternative proposed by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission, called “sustainable development,” fails to strongly explain the consequences of unfettered economic growth and is general and vague. Instead, this paper proposes a concept called “genuine sustainable development (GSD),” a dynamic process by which human well-being is improved in an inclusive, just, and environmentally safe operating space, achieved through inventions, innovations, diffusion, and adoption of appropriate technologies as well as learning-by-doing. What does this mean? The paper draws on the concept of “ecosystem services” in which the biosphere provides many essentials for human well-being. This must be taken into account in economics, which should also account for ecological integrity, biodiversity, and a high-quality natural environment. Also important are equality and justice, through an effective political governance system. The paper emphasizes that the biosphere is the home of all life on Earth, and the world's material wealth is drawn from it.

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