The Case for Slowing Down Our Economic Growth

In part one of a three-part series, Andrea Grainger discusses the link between the climate and the economy and the radical policy changes needed to save the environment. 

Many political pundits at the last election described it as a ‘climate election’ [1] [2]. Driven by the extinction rebellion protests, and the dire warnings of the international community, the voting public wanted serious change.

They did not get it.

Boris Johnson was able to win power for the conservative party, condemning us to another five years of climate neglect, and sharply narrowing the window that we have left to prevent catastrophe.

Before the election, at our party conference, the Labour party endorsed their ‘Green New Deal’ Policy, an ambitious programme of public spending meant to protect the planet, protect jobs, and grow the economy.

The Green New Deal was praised by many environments, but criticized by others. Criticism was particularly leveled at Labour’s plans to grow the economy. Growing the economy and reducing environmental damage are contradictory aims.

Everything we consume in our economy has an environmental impact. Solar panels for example require the mining of lithium which destroys ecosystems in Tibet, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and China. The more our economy grows, the more we consume, and the more environmental impact we have.

Labours Green New Deal was thus embedded with inherent contradictions, which made it much less effective.

Since we are now not getting into power until 2024, it is worth reviewing whether a ‘green growth’ plan is fast enough to respond to the crisis, and what the alternative might look like.

Numerous studies address this topic. Here I will highlight just two from last year; Professors Jason Hickel & Giorgos Kallis published a study [3] on this topic in April, and the European Environmental Bureau published a report [4] on the topic in July.

Both came to the same conclusion; a green growth strategy implemented at the time of publishing (2019) would not be fast enough to prevent an ecological catastrophe. As a result both advise politicians to abandon green growth as a policy aim.

Abandoning green growth does not mean abandoning the Green New Deal. Investment in green jobs and green technology are still essential. But removing growth as a policy goal allows us to implement much stricter environmental protections, like serious rationing, and heavy eco-taxes. Policies that could slow down the growth of british companies, or stop it altogether.

There are substantial economic impacts of slowing down economic growth. Of course it is worth paying a very high economic cost if we can prevent an ecological catastrophe, but with good planning we can minimize any negative impacts. Some of these impacts will be described in article #2 in the series.

Economic growth does not need to be stopped altogether, only until we have created a sustainable economy. Then controlled growth can be resumed. Though as will be explained in article #3, rich countries like the UK do not gain much from further economic growth, and other factors are much more important for determining the happiness and wellbeing of our citizenry.

Andrea Grainger is a researcher and community activist based in the South-East. Her research focuses on Post-Capitalist economics and Environmental Limits to Growth, while her activism focuses on building a socialist economy in her hometown. She helps to run the labour party network; Red Green Labour, which works to connect together labour party members working on radical environment campaigns

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