Is a green transition (in)compatible with economic growth?
Recently the young activist Greta Thunberg spoke to the UN and made a reference to “fairytales of eternal economic growth.“ One viewpoint that doesn’t get a lot of attention in discussions of the green transition is the idea that it is incompatible with continued economic growth.
This is distinct from the idea that our ethical duties imply that we shouldn’t fly, shouldn’t have children, or shouldn’t eat meat. Rather, this is the idea that because of the relative energy densities of fossil fuels versus cleaner alternatives, and the amount of work it takes to exploit each, physical laws suggest that a green transition implies no growth or slower growth.
Our conversation with Carey King discusses this issue ( https://www.energytradeoffs.com/2019/05/25/carey-king/ ), as does Vaclav Smil in this recent Guardian article — https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/sep/21/vaclav-smil-interview-growth-must-end-economists .
This seems an ominous idea to some. In thinking about the green transition, I don’t quite know what to make of it. Do physical laws imply that a greener future is a low- or no-growth future?