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Jack Hart wrote a thought-provoking piece in today’s Oregonian outlining what he identifies as our culture’s misguided commitment to the “fallacy of growth.”[1] Hart finds that, in the short term, “growth supports families, relieves social pressures . . . pays for amenities . . . [and] offers opportunities for entrepreneurs . . .” However, he asserts that growth has long-term negative consequences that outweigh the short-term benefits: “growth is also an addiction. And, like most addictions, it threatens to destroy us.”

Hart doesn’t see “sustainable growth” as a viable option, either:

    Hardly anyone, it appears, stops to think that ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron. Combine constant economic growth with a constantly growing human population, place them on a finite world with finite resources, and you have a recipe for unsustainability.

Providing alternatives to the “fallacy of growth” are “a small but growing contingent of “steady-state” economists and activists is arguing that humanity needs to find a better way.” These include:

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[1] Jack Hart, “The fallacy of growth in a finite world,”Oregonian, Aug. 1, 2010.

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This post is in response to the same student comments and questions spurred by the assignment outlined in On Sustainability, Summer 2010 (pt. 1 of 2). I found myself writing more and more in reply to this particular issue, so I opted to make a stand-alone post.

I’ve seen a pattern, both in these courses I teach and in our broader culture, that suggests to me that a great many (most?) people seem first to think of environmental issues when they hear the word “sustainability.” Members of the Brundtland Commission perceived this pattern as early as 1982, when they began their work on Our Common Future, so my relatively limited sample size seems more than anecdotal.[1]

One student’s reading response this quarter flipped on the light bulb for me. This student found that her/his definition of sustainability focused on environmental concerns, and, when comparing this definition to the Brundtland Commission’s definition, suggested that this was “mainly because that’s what everyone hears in the media or news.”

Aha!

(more…)

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