Chapter 1: From growth to sustainability
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In this introductory chapter we, the editors, provide an overview of the Handbook on Growth and Sustainability. We begin by clarifying the purpose of this handbook: to contribute to the debate over whether economic growth is compatible with sustainability, and, if it is not, to recommend what can be done to achieve sustainability. We then outline the logic of the handbook structure. The handbook contains 22 chapters (not including ours) divided into five parts. In the first part, entitled ‘What is growth? What is sustainability’, contributors clarify terms and explore some of the history of the growth and sustainability debate. In the second part, ‘Can growth be sustainable?’, contributors present a range of perspectives on this important question. Some contributors answer yes, some answer no, and some say we focus too much on this question and should adopt an agnostic perspective. The third part, ‘Is the end of growth nigh? Sustainability constraints on growth’, features contributors writing about the serious issues that threaten to constrain growth. These include issues such as energy scarcity, food system environmental impacts, and uncertain technological development. Contributors in Part IV, ‘Are there imperatives for growth?’, outline the difficulty of moving away from a growth-based economic system. Growth promises to alleviate unemployment and inequality. Our contributors explore whether these can be alleviated without growth. Our debt-based monetary system appears to depend on growth. Contributors explore whether debt-based money creates a monetary imperative for growth. In the final part, ‘Is it possible to move beyond growth culture?’, our contributors ask what it would take for us to move away from a growth-based economic system. How would employment change? How would culture change? Would we make more of the products we use? Is it possible for humanity to plot a new course, or are we hamstrung by our biological inheritance and incapable of changing quickly enough to avoid calamity? We hope that in the end, whether you read the book in sequence, following the line of argument we set out in this introductory chapter, or use this introduction to select which chapters to read first, the handbook will challenge and clarify your thinking on the growth and sustainability debate.