The Monitor, July/August 2022

The Future of Growth
July 5, 2022
4.32 MB

Issue highlights:

  • The benefits of an inclusive infrastructure model: Part of a trilogy: 1) Trish Hennessy examines promising inclusive economy approaches in Cleveland, Ohio, Preston, UK, and London, Ontario as part of a broader analysis looking at inclusive infrastructure models for Canada; 2) Lindsay McLaren explains the concept of well-being economics; 3) Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood looks at just transition strategies to tackle the climate crisis.
  • Inclusion by design: Sonja Macdonald and Paul Shaker examine models of infrastructure planning that centre inclusion in Canada.
  • Barriers and opportunities: how Canadian activists see degrowth. Claire O’Manique, James Rowe, Karena Shaw interviewed Canadian activists to gain insights into the degrowth movement and learn more about barriers and openings to degrowth action in Canada.
  • Could decolonizing policy redress environmental injustice and racism? The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is the matriarch of environmental legislation in Canada. But it’s been over 20 years since it’s been revised. And environmental advocacy groups have a lot to say about what changes could advance environmental justice and equity in Canada via Bill S-5. There’s also a new kid on the policy block: Bill C-226, also known as the environmental racism bill. Anna-Liza Badaloo talks to key activists in environmental justice and asks them what they think about these policy developments.


What’s so bad about growth?

Randy Robinson, CCPA Ontario director.

All of us are trained from an early age to be big fans of growth. We want children to grow. We want flowers to grow. We want gardens and trees and crops to grow. Growth is good, that’s the idea.

We’re also trained to think of economic growth as unfailingly positive. When we hear on the news that the economy is growing, it’s hard not to feel that things are getting better, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Economic growth provides things people like. Houses. Indoor plumbing. Refrigerators. Your cell phone. And let’s not forget how many pop songs have been written about cars (and trucks, if you like country music).

These things are all products of capitalism, an economic system that is tied up with the idea of growth by its very nature. But growth is not all good. There’s trouble in paradise.

Economic growth as we currently practise it is not specifically designed to lift people up. It is invariably uneven, and under capitalism the benefits of growth accrue to the owners of capital first and then, to varying degrees, to those who trade their labour to live. (State-provided public services and meagre income transfers, a.k.a. the “social wage,” are part of the negotiation.)

Part of the deal is that wages, or most of them, are spent on the goods and services that fuel growth, keeping the whole machine running. But it’s not a virtuous circle by any means. It’s more like a spiral. Or maybe a giant screw—a screw drilling its way into the Earth.

Perpetual growth demands perpetually more resources. 

Under colonial notions of land and who it belongs to—or who belongs to it—the extraction of those resources has come at a high cost to Indigenous Peoples, and the waste from those operations and the products they produce, toxic and less toxic, have been more likely to be dumped in and around racialized communities for a long, long time.

When it comes to resources, no resource drives growth more than energy. “Energy,” writes Thomas Homer-Dixon, scholar and former oil patch roughneck, “is our master resource,” and right now the energy that underpins life as we know it is fossil fuel energy.

Oil grows our food, it builds our houses, it delivers practically everything we consume. And if we don’t get really smart, really fast, it is going to destroy us.

Randy Robinson is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Follow him on Twitter at @RandyFRobinson.