Wednesday 24 July 2019 4:20 am

DEBATE: Is there any merit to the ‘de-growth’ agenda championed by climate activists?

Maria Smith is founding director at Interrobang, and chief curator of the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale.
and Matthew Lesh
Matthew Lesh is head of research at the Adam Smith Institute

Is there any merit to the ‘de-growth’ agenda championed by climate activists?

Maria Smith, founding director at Interrobang and chief curator of the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale, says YES.

Our current economic system relies on growth to manage private and public debt. This means that we must grow, whether we’re healthier and happier, or damaging our natural life support systems, perhaps beyond repair.

Ever-increasing economic growth demands ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources. The response often heard is that technology will save us. But the kind of technological breakthrough that could achieve this is neither precedented nor forthcoming.

And why go to such lengths to preserve a system that doesn’t even have our collective best interests at heart?

The de-growth movement isn’t promoting a recession or reduction to quality of life. Rather, it questions the supremacy of economic growth, putting social and environmental wellbeing at the centre of policy.

Social and environmental injustice are two sides of the same coin. The dogged pursuit of economic growth undermines both, and it is this that the de-growth movement seeks to unpick.

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, says NO.

In Marx’s day, the left wanted to use industry to help the worst-off in society. The “de-growth” agenda that some now pursue would be economic and environmental self-flagellation.

Economic growth is driven by using natural resources more efficiently. Innovation and entrepreneurship have allowed us to farm and manufacture more with less use of natural resources.

This free-market magic has pulled billions of people out of poverty in recent decades. It has meant we are living longer, happier, and more connected lives. A “de-growth” agenda would threaten this progress and lock the remaining 740m people in extreme poverty there forever.

When economies develop, people and governments have more time, resources and technologies to care for the environment. This is why the UK has reduced CO2 emissions by 25 per cent since 2010 – more than any other developed country.

If anything, we need growth more than ever to enable us to innovate our way out of environmental degradation.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.