What is sustainable development growth

Future: "Sustainable growth is an illusion"

In his book "Slaves of Growth", Reiner Klingholz declares the environmental movement to have failed. And outlines a surprisingly different path to a better future

GEO: Mr. Klingholz, in your new book you predict that our descendants will live in a paradise of sustainability in 300 years. But before that there will be crises and conflicts over resources, despite scientific progress and international crisis management. Why creates homo sapiens is it not to secure his future well-being?

Klingholz: Our brain is not made for that. We only behave reasonably reasonably within a manageable social and temporal framework. Nobody takes responsibility for seven billion people. Only globally coordinated policy could do that. But national interests are far too different for a world climate treaty. The Russians or the Saudis would have to say: We'll leave the oil in the ground so that the Maldives won't go under. There are problems for which there is no solution in today's conditions.

At least there are approaches to reorganize the economy towards "sustainable" or "green" growth.

Sustainable growth is an illusion. Let's take the energy transition. From a purely technical point of view, we could convert the economy completely to renewable energies within 30 years. However, this initially requires considerable investments in materials and energy - and then we would be trapped in the same trap as before, as long as we would have to keep producing new growth with green energy. As the economist Niko Paech says: We would have to compost the money that we earn with green growth into garden soil so that it does not cause new harm. Growth, no matter what color, means increased consumption of resources. Green growth is a contradiction in terms.

But just as poor countries need growth to develop, we need it to maintain our social and financial systems. There is apparently no exit from growth at all.

At the moment we are still slaves to growth. But de facto we are already one foot in post-growth. All industrialized countries are recording falling growth rates, and even the booming German economy is just one percent. These nations will have fewer and fewer young consumers in the future, while the older ones will lose interest in short-term product cycles. If then the population shrinks, the growth inevitably falls to zero and deeper. But instead of developing concepts for well-being without growth, we are desperately trying to force growth - with scrapping bonuses, economic stimulus programs and subsidies, at high ecological and economic costs.

If reason does not lead us into post-growth, what then?

Post growth is a consequence of socio-economic development. It has brought us prosperity and a decline in the number of children. So far so good. But to rethink, you need crises and disasters. Then politics reacts. It was only when the forest was becoming apparent that desulphurisation and denitrification systems became mandatory. It was only when the ozone hole could no longer be denied that chlorofluorocarbons were banned. The albeit timid regulation of the financial markets would not have come about without the crisis, and the energy transition would not have come about without Fukushima.

And when are the crises big enough to change course?

It's unpredictable. Even small events can trigger a political rethink. And people are also able and willing to live more modestly in emergency situations. But only in emergency situations. You can't say beforehand: Make do with half of it, even if that would work for many.

But not only external coercion, but also the environmental movement has led to a rethink.

The environmental movement has failed. What did she warn about, what developments did she want to avoid? Whether in the fight against overfishing, against climate change or the decline of species - it has not achieved its goals. Of course there are many small successes, but no trend reversal. What the green movement has achieved is that everything now bears the "sustainable" seal: the thickest BMW, the Olympic Games, new financial products. One could say very nastily: The environmental movement has given us a better conscience, an alibi, a placebo.

You are mocking the many who buy "organic", leave the car behind, go to the repair café and are already training post-growth today.

If I thought about it further, I would have to say: let's accelerate the disaster; I buy an around-the-world ticket or a new SUV as often as possible. But that would be cynical. Instead, I personally try to live as my ecological thinking tells me: consume little energy, cycle a lot, grow vegetables. Even if I know that this will not save the world. It just feels better.

Read the whole interview in GEO Magazine No. 3/2014.

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