CASSE Issues Enough is Enough: Ideas for a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources - A Report from the First Steady State Economy Conference
The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) held its first conference, in Leeds, UK, on June 19, 2010, with a focus on finding alternatives to current models of economic growth. Featuring members of the Capital Lab-sponsored 3rd Millennium Economy steering committee Tim Jackson and Peter Victor, the conference brought economists, scientists, business leaders, government officials and the NGO community together to help mold the vision of a steady state economy.
While most global leaders and economists extol the virtues of unfettered economic growth, conference speakers made the point that the economy is a subsystem of the earth’s ecosystem and is a human construct. Despite these known facts and the recent global financial meltdown, exponential economic growth continues to be almost universally perceived as a desirable outcome.
Speakers noted that the global economy's output has increased 24-fold, from $2 trillion to $47 trillion, over the past century, all the while consuming eleven times as much energy and eight times the weight in material use. While this growth has enabled advances in healthcare and provided greater availability of goods and services, it has come at the cost of ecological overshoot. The result has been the steady erosion in the supply of natural resources and ecological services.
This exponential growth has been associated with increased wealth and well-being for some, but not for the overwhelming majority. Today more than one billion people worldwide subsist on an income of $1 per day and another 2.7 billion on $2 per day. Unsustainable increases in natural-resource use and explosive economic growth have left the majority of the world's population behind. Given this indisputable fact, CASSE is attempting to shift the discussion from “more” to “enough.”
Moving from a mindset of “more” to “enough” requires alternative modes of thinking and as such presents a daunting challenge for humanity. However, the group that convened in Leeds is primed to lead with a four-pronged framework for a steady state economy which include a sustainable scale of output that fits within the capacity of the ecosystem, equitable distribution of wealth and income, efficient market allocation of resources to prevent ecological overshoot and the pursuit of a high quality of life that places people first.
To achieve these four goals, CASSE has defined ten areas that will require changes in the way people think and act. These include placing limits on waste production, stabilizing population growth, tackling global wealth inequality, reforming the current monetary system, securing full employment, improving global cooperation, changing consumer behavior, and engaging politicians, the media and communities at large. Beyond this, CASSE encourages a robust discussion around the development of new measures of progress beyond GDP. For instance, steady-state proponents argue for the adoption of the ecological footprint as the preeminent measure of ecological activity because it emphasizes resource use rather than the production of goods. Similarly, the economic system can be measured through income inequality, while well-being can be measured by life-expectancy and reported satisfaction. Reforming the current monetary system will also require new modes of thinking which will encourage policymaking that prevents private banks from creating money that inevitably leads to growth, inflation, instability and inequality.
CASSE invites debate and discussion of these ideas. However, Enough is Enough argues convincingly that the current trajectory of the global economy is unsustainable and that humanity must shift its focus from growth to stability. Recalling that the economy is a subsystem of a finite earth, CASSE warns us that this transition must begin now, while there’s still time.