Unravelling the growth-environment paradox: Sustainability discourses for the Anthropocene

Ryan Katz-Rosene









Description of Research Project: 

The primary objective of this project is to provide new insights on a longstanding debate about the nature of the relationship between economic growth and the environment. It does so primarily by identifying and analyzing the leading ‘sustainability discourses’ of our present era. Since at the very least the publication of the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth study (Meadows et al. 1972), scholars have argued about the possible trajectory and implications of the political prioritization of growth, with some warning that ‘business as usual’ growth trajectories will result in global-scale “collapse” at some point during this century, due to the steady erosion of the natural capital which provides a foundation for life (Oreskes and Conway 2014; Ehrlich and Ehrlich 2013). Others have responded that economic growth can and must be “decoupled” from its environmental impacts, thereby allowing humanity to avert ill fate while continuing to benefit from growing prosperity and development (Ekins 2002; Asafu-Adjaye et al. 2015; The World Bank 2012). A new class of commentators in this debate has taken a more agnostic position on growth, having found particular spaces in which growth can be “greened” and other instances where such reforms are limited, at least within the near term (van den Bergh 2011; Hayden 2014; Raworth 2017). There simply is no scholarly consensus on the ‘true’ relationship between growth and the environment, and if the pitch and fervour of the present debate is any measure of its future trajectory (Kallis and Bliss 2019; Phillips 2019), we are unlikely to see any resolution on this issue any time soon. As such, this proposed four-year Insight project aims to take up the challenge of providing some clarity to the issue, contributing to the advancement of knowledge, and producing benefit for society – by developing new understandings of the debate, its complexities, and broader implications.