In the past decade a growing number of activists and pundits have argued that if we want to save the planet, particularly from global warming, the world can no longer afford growth. Many go further and call for degrowth: via shrinking the global gross domestic product (GDP).
But, as Rob Atkinson explains in his column for The Korea Times, the notion of getting the poor to sacrifice to save the planet suffers from three main problems. First, few people are willing to consume less to save the planet, certainly not the 3 billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day.
Second, even if the global GDP were cut in half―consigning billions of people to a much worse life―carbon emissions would be cut by only half at best, which is not enough to stop climate change. The only way to solve climate change is through cheap zero-carbon technologies, such as better batteries, cheaper renewables, carbon capture, nuclear power and more―all of which depend on technological progress, which in turn depends on investment in R&D, which depends on growth.
In other words, growth powered by innovation is the solution to climate change, as it generates cleaner technologies and enables people with higher incomes to afford more expensive clean energy alternatives, such as electric cars or carbon capture systems.
Third, when degrowth advocates claim that there are resource constraints to growth, they ignore innovation. If they point out that there are water shortages; I would counter that claim by saying that we have the oceans. Higher rates of growth, coupled with technological innovation, would enable widespread desalinization if it's needed. We are not running out of energy, and dirty energy can be produced if it is coupled with carbon capture and sequestration.