By Pamela Haines, Quaker social justice educator with a concern for economics and the environment
While growth is generally seen as a good thing, it’s not always true that if something is good, more of it must be better. We don’t want our children to be seven or eight feet tall. Living things will grow, for the most part, until they are at their mature size, and then they’ll stop. Some mysterious internal mechanism knows when more growth would actually hinder their long-term ability to survive.
But with our human-made institutions we have no such internal regulator, and economic growth has become enshrined as a central, unquestionable, quasi-religious belief. Yet this economic system is looking less and less like a little child that needs to grow, and more and more like a seven foot person who’s having trouble fitting into ordinary spaces and showing no signs of slowing down. The idea of continuous growth inevitably runs into the limits of the system that contains it, in this case a finite planet. A few cancer cells in a big body are not a problem. It’s when they keep growing that they overwhelm, and finally kill, their host.
Luckily there are other ways to think about growth. We can trade in this outmoded model centered on bigger for one centered on smarter, cut out the cancerous growth, and start learning all the joys as well as the challenges of finding our place within the constraints of a finite planet.