Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.
Economics are primarily concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth. A nation’s economy is then measured on the values, including but not limited to, population, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, demand, consumption, exports, imports, and employment rate. Thus, a growing economy includes all of these categories that are increasing. The fact that Earth is a fixed system with no outside inputs or outputs (other than solar energy) raises the question of how economies, a subset of Earth, can actually grow. Consistent growth based on the consumption of natural resources poses a significant risk for future generations’ development. An economy without consistent growth must downsize itself by seeking a steady-state and focus on improving the happiness of its citizens with a “less-is-more” ideology.
The United States currently has the largest economy in the world, based on high levels of production and consumerism. China’s economy is a close second, due to a 10 percent annual growth since the late 1970s, although slowing in recent years. Both of these extremely large economies have significantly grown at an equally significant ecological, moral, and social cost. Although these economies are very successful in creating wealth, advanced economies must also focus on ecological, moral, and social growth to be successful. The United Kingdom is now moving away from mere economic growth and toward “equitable and sustainable well-being.” Successful economies must now focus on the development of its citizens’ lives. A truly successful economy not only excels at production and consumption, but also at providing a healthy culture to its citizens.
Economies cannot continue with unprecedented growth at unprecedented external costs. The focus of economies must be on the protection of the environment and its natural resources for future generations. The growth that economies may achieve is at an unjustifiable cost to the ecological and social aspects of Earth and humanity. Consumerism must consciously be reduced while simultaneously progressing toward a “less-is-more” culture. A steady-state economy needs to be the goal, which means that economic activity must be consistent with the Earth’s carrying capacity. However, the reality is that economies rely on scarce resources. The Earth has a carrying capacity that can be exceeded and must be understood. Therefore, a shift away from consistent growth and toward stabilizing a certain economic size is imperative.
A key ingredient in implementing a steady-state economy is to reduce demand on natural resources, which therefore will reduce environmentally harmful waste. This requires the current state of technological innovation, especially in the energy sector. The American car manufacturer Tesla is a great example of aiding the development of a steady-state economy. Tesla offers cars that entirely run on electricity, with charging ports all around the United States. This company exemplifies a focus on consumer awareness, leading to a decrease in the demand for natural resources, such as gas. Tesla also has recently released solar panels that are installed on homes to source renewable energy from the sun. Objectives such as these are great examples of approaching a steady-state economy. Furthermore, companies like Lyft and Uber demonstrate the “less is more” proposition by offering great car sharing services (e.g., Uber Pool). Tesla and Uber need to be idolized to achieve a successful economy without growth because they promote noble objectives of re-use and recycling energy. These types of companies also excel in the United States because they embody the reduction in consumerism by offering more effective products and services. In order to add value to the economy, all companies in the United States need to exemplify the more intelligent design of production. However, intelligently designed products and consumption are not enough to achieve a steady-state economy. A population cap is also necessary to slow down the consumption of natural resources. This will put a stop to the scarce limits of food to many of the world’s civilizations. By offering contraceptives to assist in controlling the population, it will create better world with less demand on scarce resources in impoverished areas of the world. This will also foster happier people, which aid to a more successful economy. Finally, adding policies to de-incentivize production that harms the environment with pollution is key to achieving a successful economy without continuous growth. Policies such as limiting fossil fuels and taxing both pollution and depletion of natural resources will improve the rate of change to cut excessive production for a successful steady-state economy.
A complete implementation of steady-state economies can only be accomplished at when the objective is sought and implemented at local and global levels. Economies across different nations must work collaboratively to successfully reduce the overall consumption of natural resources, which achieves the successful economy without continuous growth.
In order for an economy to be successful, it must focus on increasing citizens’ well-being in a sustainable manner. Technological advancements are at an all-time high, but social advancements are slow. Economies in all nations should mirror the United Kingdom’s new focus on equitable and sustainable well-being of its citizens. The result of a more prosperous citizen culture of equality and justice will result in significant improvements in the overall happiness of the nation while also maintaining a steady-state economy. This improves the current economy without any unnecessary growth in production or consumption.
Excessive consumerism will fade into the past once a more stable civilization, which fosters in the “less-is-more” ideology, exists within a steady-state economy. As a result, the demand for consistent growth and simply “more” will slowly retreat. This further supports the sustainable development that economies must practice, ultimately leading to a steady-state economy that is successful with content citizens and sustainable methods of satisfying the demand for goods and services.
Given these facts, the only way to achieve a successful economy without continuous growth is having the leaders of economies advocate for change to a steady-state economy with decreasing excessive production and consumption. The solutions of implementing changes to economies to prohibit external costs are viable, so they need action by both local and global economic leaders.