Voice Messages from Friends: Kaninik on Unlimited GDP Growth

In the series ‘Voice Messages from Friends’, I type down and edit for clarity (with permission) the voice messages friends have sent me explaining topics they are passionate about.

Kaninik works as a teacher at IIT Gandhinagar in Gujarat. Because of his background in Construction Technology and Urban Systems, he has worked to implement government projects and thus has insider knowledge of how ideology shapes reality. For further reading on economic systems and their origins Kaninik recommends Debt, the First 5000 Years

The Paris Climate Change Agreement, as I read it, is all about market-linked growth. During the negotiations, especially Germany, the USA and the UK were strongly those countries that took a position where they basically said ‘Yeah, we are not going to compromise on our existing consumption or on our existing growth trajectory to meet climate emission goals. We are going to attempt to get as green as possible while maintaining the current growth trajectory.’ This is why carbon credit transfers and so on came in, because that’s something that could actually work. Nowhere, in any of the major climate change agreements has any country on this planet fundamentally agreed with the notion that we need to reduce consumption. This is problematic.

For example, the ‘Green New Deal’ in the United States is a market-driven solution. But when you talk in the logic of the market, you are still working within the constraints of a broken system. It’s like you’re living in the world of the Hunger Games, and you are a person from District 12 trying to negotiate with the Capitol, saying ‘Oh you know, if District 12 wins the Hunger Games five years in a row, then you’ll give us 5% better living conditions.’ It’s that kind of ridiculous. The fundamental nature of modern nation states and modern capitalism is broken. A market-driven solution such as ‘green capitalism’ will never work – because capitalism is an economic system that rests upon the idea that growth is infinite. That you can just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and that companies can just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and exploit more resources, and consume more and get more things. There is a limit on that rate of growth. The idea of even a 3% sustained GDP growth rate is absurd if you’re looking 200 years into the future.

Even if you say ‘Oh, we are going to figure out a way to sustainably strip-mine this planet, and if all things fail, we are going to be able to travel into space and colonize other planets’ – there’s a time limit on that. We’re not going to be able to colonize other planets in human scales of time. With a ‘Green New Deal’ that says that ‘We’re going to hold climate change at 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels’,  you need to think about what that means in practice. 2 to 2.5 degrees about pre-industrial levels means that 150 years from now, Mumbai will have completely drowned. And in 15 years, Mumbai will be drowning.

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