Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth and, until recently, chief environmental advisor to the UK Prime Minister and Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, doesn’t think so.
Porritt is on a mission to challenge the conventional thinking of governments, business leaders, and economists on sustainability. Porritt takes the position that we cannot consume our way to sustainability, i.e,, as long as consumption-based economic growth is top priority, we will never achieve it. In his 2005 book, Capitalism As if the World Matters, Porritt devises a number of strategies to recalculate cost and profit. Among them are more comprehensive ways of defining “capital”, by taking into account social and human values along with ecological capital.
Porritt also takes a strong position on population growth. He recently called for a two-child limit. He told reporters in July: “I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate.” (Porritt and his wife have two daughters.)
The other side of this argument is the economic concept of “decoupling,” which posits that, with technological innovation and efficiency, economic growth can continue while environmental impacts diminish substantially. Regarding population growth, as societies prosper they have fewer children and eventually stabilize at a replacement birthrate. It’s happening in affluent societies in Europe and Asia.
I think Porritt deserves credit for bringing our ever-increasing consumption of goods and services and population growth into the discussion of sustainability.
For a more complete summary of Porritt’s ideas:
For a provocative assessment of the two perspectives, see, “Can Industrial Civilization Really Become Sustainable”:
What do you think? Can we have our cake and eat it too?