March 21, 2011 by David K. Sutton
Infinite Growth Is Unsustainable
Capitalism, at least as we know it, requires infinite growth. For-profit companies have to continue to grow in size and increase their profits year after year or risk losing investment money. Many people have gotten very wealthy with this economic model and the rest of us, at least in industrialized countries, have benefited greatly as well. We have many modern conveniences and most of us are quite disconnected from the natural world in a way that would have been unimaginable to people only a few centuries ago. This is certainly good from the standpoint of making our lives easier but it’s not good when you look at the long term picture.
The problem in the long term is that an economic model of infinite growth requires the use of natural resources at increasing rates. The most obvious of these natural resources is petroleum or oil. But many other resources like water and coal are being used at increasing rates to sustain growth in population. This growth in population is fueled by the continued increase in use of natural resources. It’s a cycle of infinite growth that is simply unsustainable on a planet of finite resources.
Hardly anybody in the government or the media is talking about this problem because it’s unimaginable to most people living in modern, industrialized countries that the only way of life they’ve ever known is simply unsustainable in the long term. It’s as if people have either (a) buried their heads in the sand or (b) hope that the shit doesn’t hit the fan until they are long gone. Unfortunately neither position will stop what is inevitable. It really is up to us to realize this now and attempt to build an economic model that is sustainable. This is not possible without major changes. What is apparent is that these changes are going to happen one way or another either by choice or by force as we begin to hit the peaks of supply with regard to some of our most valued natural resources.
One thing that will change regardless of one’s ideology is the very idea of capitalism. As I said, capitalism is an economic system of infinite growth which we can acknowledge (if we aren’t delusional) is not possible on one planet with finite resources. We will need an economic model built on the idea of sustainability, not infinite growth. Our society will have to embrace an idea of collectivism and shared commons. This is fully compatible with democracy but is clearly at odds with capitalism. Some people are going to have to throw away their ideology in favor of something that is sustainable in the long term and in the real world. Some might think that human ingenuity and technology will solve all of our problems. It’s true that these things will help us transition but they cannot erase the simple fact that we only have one planet with finite resources for which to sustain human civilization. No amount of human ingenuity or technology will change that reality.