Monday, November 9, 2009

The twin evils of GDP and global population growth

Global population growth is predicted to peak by around 2050, which is less than two generations away. If we look at growth rates by region, we see that affluent areas are growing more slowly than poor, with, in 2005, Europe reported as having 0%, North America 1%, Oceania 1.1%, Asia 1.2%, Latin America and the Caribbean 1.4% and Africa 2.2% population growth. This increase in population growth rate across the regions is almost the perfect inverse of the regions' relative affluence. Going forward, population growth does not appear to be our major problem, at least not in terms of space for living and feeding the billions. Indeed, the "cure" for unbridled population growth seems obvious: global affluence and a decent education for all, something we seem presently unable to afford.

Our socioeconomic models, on the other hand, suffer from terminal problems. They have evolved around the assumption of perpetual GDP growth, and cannot function without it. Perpetual GDP growth may prove very hard to sustain once global population starts falling, even before considering the exponential function and impact on the ecosystem we are blindly devouring to the bone. Coupled with what I see as steadily declining demand for human labour due to technological developments (aka technological unemployment), it seems our current economic model needs to be looked at with a very fresh set of priorities as well as bold thinking. Were we to think long term more readily, say over a generation forwards, surely we would clearly recognise a pressing need to examine all reasonable proposals to deal with the real and urgent problems I briefly mention above. Proposals, that is, that can reasonably address all of these issues!

I always say a resource-based economy will take a few generations to introduce. When we think in that kind of time scale, we expose both how pressing the challenges we face are, and also that the idea of a resource-based economy, initially so alien and loony, suddenly makes more sense, seems even pragmatic, wise and doable. But just because it is a distant prospect in terms of becoming an up and running system, does not mean we shouldn't start early tests now. We can, and The Venus Project have worked out how.

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