The Nature of Growth

Whenever candidates from both political parties in the televised presidential debates make reference to economic growth, they treat it as a sacred cow. But no moderator asks or any presidential aspirant talks about the nature of our economic growth and whether we are on the right track.

It is a glaring omission. A dialogue is needed to focus the spotlight on the unsustainability of our current economic growth and what it would take to put us on the path to sustainability. Public awareness is required if we don't want to drastically deplete the earth's natural resources and severely degrade the environment for future generations.

Growth for growth's sake is not an automatic virtue. Much of our current economic growth is predicated on conspicuous consumption of finite materials routinely used for relatively brief periods of time and then disposed of in landfills. It is wasteful behavior abetted by the business community's ubiquitous integration of planned obsolescence into the goods they market.

Renewable natural resources, fresh water aquifers being a case in point, are exploited at a faster pace than they can regenerate, turning an infinite source of supply into a finite one. The crucial transition from a national dependency on polluting fossil fuels to primary reliance on clean renewable energy has yet to gather a full head of steam in the economy. Nor has wholesale carbon emission reduction despite increasing pressure from the global warming threat.

You are unlikely to hear any verbal exchanges on these matters in the debates. Give-and-take on the status of sustainability in our economy just doesn't seem to be in the cards.

It is unfortunate that no candidate is promoting an economy in which quality takes precedence over quantity and recycling and reuse replace single use whenever possible.

We need political leaders willing to advance the idea of an economic paradigm in which greater value is attached to the cultivation of knowledge and high quality individual relationships than to ownership of a closet full of designer clothes.

What candidate is publicly championing that utilities across the board be required to supply at least a significant percentage of their power in the form of renewables to jumpstart the move towards carbon emission reduction? What about emphasizing that the renewable energy industry is more labor intensive than its fossil fuel rival? The same endorsement applies to the service industries when compared to the highly automated manufacturing field.

The Worldwatch Institute points out in its 2015 State of the World report that sustainable economic growth is jeopardized unless the external costs (e.g. energy use, pollution impacts) of producing manufactured goods are incorporated into the final price, an addition that should discourage profligate overconsumption.

Are any of the presidential hopefuls mindful of what sustainable economic growth is all about? If so, do they have the courage to challenge current cultural mores by publicly taking the position that conservation and moderation are not synonymous with deprivation?

We probably won't find out prior to the November election unless some bold enlightened citizen at a town hall meeting is able to put the candidates on the spot.