The concept of a continuously growing economy does not seem compatible with the creation of a sustainable society. It is not possible to carry on producing more and more in a world that has finite resources, see my post on an ‘Open-world Mind-set’ on 4th January 2013.
Eventually, engineers and scientists will solve the problems of providing a sustainable and high quality of life to the global population. However, one likely consequence is a world economy that does not grow, at least not as currently measured. Modern Western-style democracy is based ‘on the ability of competing parties to offer voters a better material future (more stuff) year by year’ [Andrew Marr, A History of the World, MacMillan, 2012]. What is going to happen when voters acknowledge this vision is unrealizable?
Perhaps it is happening already in the US and Europe. The turnout in elections is low – between 30 and 40% in local elections in the UK last week. The PR industry is playing a bigger role in politics and selling a brand rather than policies. Economic growth has all but stopped, and is proving difficult to re-start.
I suspect that sustainable engineering is going to be easy to achieve compared to eliminating the dependence of our democracies on growth. Let’s hope the patient does not die before being cured of the addiction!