I attended an excellent seminar at Newcastle University last Friday. Professor Tim Jackson was the keynote speaker and the reason why I was there – reading his 1996 book ‘Material Concerns’ on the problems of and solutions to unsustainable production was a turning point in my understanding of this subject. The book is now out of print, but is well worth tracking down on the second hand market.

Prof Jackson has now moved on to the consumption side of the sustainability equation. He presented ‘the economic dilemma’:

  • Economic growth in GDP is related to ecological damage, but, below a very low threshold, is not related to quality of life;
  • Falling or unstable GDP is related to a drop in quality of life.

He demonstrated that there has been no global decoupling of resource use and economic growth (any national decoupling is simply due to the offshoring of resource use). His conclusion was that we needed a new economic system of zero growth.

In the Q&A;, I asked him whether this would be more difficult than decoupling as in my view we hadn’t really tried to decouple the two. His view was that some decoupling was possible, but probably not to the degree required. I'm still not convinced that inventing a new economic system would be any easier.