Billionaire Space Race: the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s flawed obsession with growth


Tim Jackson

Ever since 1972, when a team of MIT scientists published a massively influential report on the Limits to Growth, economists have been fighting about whether it’s possible for the economy to expand forever. Those who believe it can, appeal to the power of technology to “decouple” economic activity from its effects on the planet. Those (like me) who believe it can’t point to the limited evidence for decoupling at anything like the pace that’s needed to avoid a climate emergency or prevent a catastrophic decline in biodiversity.

The growth debate often hangs on the power you attribute to technology to save us. Usually it’s the technophiles arguing for infinite growth on a finite planet – sometimes putting their hopes in speculative technologies such as direct air capture or dangerous ones like nuclear power. And usually it’s the sceptics arguing for a post-growth economy. But the simple division between technophiles and technophobes has never been particularly helpful. Very few growth sceptics reject technology completely. No one at all is asking humanity to return to the cave.

My own research teams at the University of Surrey have been exploring the vital role of sustainable technology in transforming the economy for almost three decades now. But we’ve also shown how the dynamics of capitalism – in particular its relentless pursuit of productivity growth – continually push society towards materialistic goals, and undermine those parts of the economy such as care, craft and creativity, which are essential to our quality of life.

And now suddenly, along comes a group of self-confessed technology lovers finally admitting that the planet is too small for us. Yes, you were right, they imply: the Earth cannot sustain infinite growth. That’s why we have to expand into space. Wait. What just happened? Did somebody move the goalposts? Something is wrong. Maybe it’s me. One thing I know for sure. I’m no longer the same kid I was – the one from the debating society. This house believes that humanity should grow the fuck up.

Before it spends trillions of dollars littering its techno-junk around the solar system, this house believes that humanity should pay a little more attention to what’s happening right here and now. On this planet.

For a full review of this brief, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.


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