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Is Degrowth the Only Way to Save the World?

Ronald Bailey

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Introduction: Unless us folks in rich countries drastically reduce our material living standards and distribute most of what we have to people living in poor countries, the world will come to an end. Or at least that's the stark conclusion of a study published earlier this month in the journal Nature Sustainability. The researchers who wrote it, led by the Leeds University ecological economist Dan O'Neill, think the way to prevent the apocalypse is "degrowth."

Vice, pestilence, war, and "gigantic inevitable famine" were the planetary boundaries set on human population by the 18th-century economist Robert Thomas Malthus. The new study gussies up old-fashioned Malthusianism by devising a set of seven biophysical indicators of national environmental pressure, which they then link to 11 indicators of social outcomes. The aim of the exercise is to concoct a "safe and just space" for humanity.

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