Shrinking economies in the developed world could save a habitable planet



Our politicians are right when they aim to tackle the biggest problem threatening mankind – climate change. However is it consistent to also boast of Growing Economies or use this as a measure of successful government & personal wellbeing? Economic growth and the activities it involves contributes to noxious emissions and degradation of the environment and has done for many decades.

The UN IPCC (1) is expected to make strong proposals – its chair hoped governments would be shocked into drastic action though some of the involved scientists reportedly would have preferred stronger recommendations and worldwide acceptance seems unlikely. Within the UK, the Stern Review (2) lists strong measures necessary to tackle inevitable floods, droughts & hurricanes but claims that these can be made without derailing economic growth. The IPPR ‘High Stakes’ (3) makes no such claim.

There is evidence that in order to reduce the poverty of the very poorest – in the developING world – we would need an extra $166 additional production & consumption to achieve a single $1 of poverty alleviation which the planet cannot afford (Woodward & Simms (4)). Surely, if we really want to sustain a habitable planet and life support systems we should be aiming for SHRINKING ECONOMIES and localised activities in the Developed World. This should involve the localisation of economic activity (Woodin & Lucas (5)) as well as avoiding major road building and aviation expansion.

If we subscribe to the ‘Contraction & Convergence’ (C & C ) approach to development (Aubrey Meyer (6) we may avoid the catastrophy of climate change. Meyer Hillman (7) identifies a UK based arrangement for achieving this
goal and Clive Lord (8) describes a monetary system which could accommodate this. Wellbeing should be measured primarily in terms of social needs.

There may be a case for DevlopING countries to continue, for the time-being, growing their economies as long as this is done in an ecologically sustainable way.


  1. United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  2. The Stern Review – commissioned by Gordon Brown MP
  3. IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) ‘High Stakes’ ( available from 30-32 Southwark Street, London WC2E 7RA
  4. David Woodward & Andrew Simms in ‘Growth isn’t Working’, pub New Economics Foundation 2006
  5. Michael Woodin & Caroline Lucas in ‘Green Alternatives to Globalisation’ pub Pluto Press 2004
  6. Aubrey Meyer in ‘Contraction & Convergence – the global solution to climate change’ pub Green Books, Totnes
  7. Mayer Hillman in ‘How We Can Save the Planet’, pub Penguin 2004
  8. Clive Lord in ‘A Citizen’s Income’ pub Jon Carpenter, 2003

If you would like to pursue these ideas contact JANE BUCHANAN (, 38 Cavendish Road, London SW19 2EU

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