Addicted to Growth? Fenner Conference videos now available

In October 2014 the NSW Chapter of the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy organised the 2014 Fenner Conference on the environment  for the Australian Academy of Science “Addicted to Growth? How to move to a Steady State Economy in Australia’. Its proceedings are now available on Youtube. Links to the videos are provided below.

Keynote address Dr Brian Czech, President of CASSE international, author of ‘Supply Shock’ -‘A steady state economy – the time is now’

Topic 1: ‘Why the growth economy is broken: the environmental science of endless growth’

Robert Costanza

Ian Lowe

Dr Haydn Washington

Panel Discussion –  Chair Prof Gary Luck

Topic 2: ‘Capitalism and the steady state economy – uneasy bedfellows?’

Dr Joshua Farley

Dr Geoff Mosley

Dick Smith

Panel Discussion Dr Brian Czech and Dr Kerryn Higgs joining – Chair Dr Haydn Washington

Topic 3: “Key aspects of a steady state economy”

Molly Scott Cato

Peter Victor

Dr Graham Turner

Panel Discussion Dr Brian Czech, Prof Ian Lowe – Chair A/Prof Mark Diesendorf

Topic 4: Throughput and consumerism – a key elephant in the room

Erik Assadourian -‘Reengineering Cultures to Survive the Turbulent Centuries Ahead’

Richard Wilkinson – ‘A convenient Truth: a sustainable society better for all of us’

Dr Simon Michaux – ‘Society transition through peak industrialisation’

Panel Discussion A/Prof. Mark Diesendorf, Dr Haydn Washington – Chair Dr Anna Schlunke

Topic 5: Ethics, equity and equality

Dr Carmen Lawrence

Dr Graeme Maxton

Panel Discussion including Dr Richard Denniss

Topic 6: Policy and political process towards a steady state economy

Dr Richard Denniss

Jennifer Hinton

Steven Dovers – ‘Policy instruments for a steady-state economy’

A/Prof Mark Diesendorf

Panel Discussion Dr Brian Czech and Prof. Robert Costanza joining – Chair Dr Paul Twomey


Book launch: Demystifying Sustainability by Haydn Washington


You are cordially invited to the launch of

Demystifying Sustainability: Towards Real Solutions

By Dr Haydn Washington

Where: Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

When: Sunday March 15th, 3.30 for 4 pm

RSVP to or

‘Demystifying Sustainability’ will be launched by:

Professor Stuart Hill

Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney

Followed by a conversation on ‘sustainability’ between the author and A/Prof Mark Diesendorf, Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW

‘Sustainability’ may be the most important word in our language, and also the most misused.  This brilliant, deep, accurate, well-referenced book should do wonders to rectify that. It should be required reading for every high-school student, CEO, and politician.

Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Stanford University, USA

Get 20% off your copy of the book using this voucher: Demystifying SustainabilityFlyer

Andrew Leigh on Growth

From: Phil Jones
To: Leigh, Andrew (MP)
Subject: Infinite economic growth and the Steady State Economy question at the McKell Institute

Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP

Parliament House

Canberra ACT

Dear Mr Leigh,

Last night I attended your presentation on tax at the McKell Institute.

I am very pleased that you and the Labor Party are supporting the international efforts to combat tax avoidance and evasion. I particularly hope that you support assistance to developing countries to enable them to get up to speed with these new initiatives.

Like yourself I am concerned for the poor and the vulnerable. That is the reason why I asked the question about unlimited growth on a planet of finite resources and our need to plan for the Steady State Economy, rather than have it result from a collapse of our present system.

Others in the social justice and environment networks with which I am associated would be interested in the response you gave to my question.

Would you have any objection to me publishing the question and your reply on the internet?

I certainly do not want to misrepresent your views in any way. If there is any way you would like me to add to, delete from or change the text to reflect your views more accurately, I would be perfectly willing to do that.

Also, if you would wish me not to publish the text at all, I would also respect your wishes in that regard. Of course I do think the need to plan for the Steady State Economy is a critical issue that needs public discussion.

The question and your response are outlined below.

Yours sincerely,

Phil Jones

Firstly, my question is based on 3 premises that you may or may not agree with.

  1. That infinite economic growth on a finite planet is not possible
  2. It is not possible to have absolute decoupling of resource consumption from economic growth, even though we can have relative decoupling
  3. That the Steady State Economy is inevitable perhaps within the next few decades.

So my question is:

What considerations are taking place within the Labor Party to plan for the Steady State Economy, or do you believe that it is safe just to wait and see what happens, to both the Australian economy and the world economy?


Dear Phil,

Thank you for coming to my talk, and for running the quote past me.

I’m happy for you to post it on your website, but have just corrected a few typographical errors:

I’m an unabashed pro-growth progressive and that is a position that is not always popular, so let me explain why I think growth is a good thing and is sustainable.

The physical weight of all US output is lower in 2014 than it was in the Year 1900. The United States, a century ago, was producing more “stuff” with a population living on much lower living standards and much smaller population than it is today and that’s essentially because the output of most workers has become weightless. In fact the output of everyone in this building [Grosvenor Place], is weightless output. If people in this building become twice as productive and if wages track productivity, which is something we need to keep a close eye on, then GDP can double. But we don’t need this building to be consuming twice as much stuff. Indeed, it may consume less “stuff” if we move to the “paperless office”, one of those slogans that few workplaces are yet to properly realise.

That growth is important and progressive is because it’s sluggish economies that hurt the most vulnerable the first. When you look at the 28 million people turfed out of work worldwide in the GFC they were disproportionately low skilled. They were disproportionately those that I and people in the Labor would describe as “our people”. And the people who get hurt when we cut back on Foreign Aid well they’re at the bottom of the distribution as well. And it’s hard to be generous to the poor at home and abroad without economic growth in the society.

So I do think it is possible. I do think we are able and ought to target the very real concerns that my ‘no growth’ friends have around the environment, resource use, carbon pollution, around urban air pollution through direct instruments for targeting those things rather than by stopping the engine of growth.

Also, this piece might be pertinent:


Andrew Leigh.

The C20 Fails to See.

A report on the C20 by Phil Jones from CASSE NSW.

At the “Civil Society 20” Summit in Melbourne (June 20th and 21st 2014), this conference joined with the B20 (Business), Y20 (Youth), L20 (Labour) and T20 (Think 20) endorsed Australian Government’s pushed for continued economic growth as the underlying strategy in helping manage some of the world’s ongoing social, environmental and economic problems. The recommendations of the C20 were part of the dialogue with the Australian Government leader in view of the G20 leaders meeting in November this year.

The aspirations of the C20 were certainly commendable in many ways, for example, the final communiqué states:

4. We commend the commitment of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to develop comprehensive growth strategies, outlining ambitious, realistic and concrete measures to achieve strong, sustainable and inclusive growth. The effectiveness of growth strategies should be assessed, in part, by their contribution to reducing inequality and alleviating poverty for all groups in society, especially the most disadvantaged.

5. We believe that growth should achieve long-term sustainability, and should not be at the expense of any sector of the population including women, people with disability, youth, Indigenous Peoples, children, long-term unemployed, low-skilled workers, single parents, LGBTI people and older people. Growth should occur in ways which increase employment opportunities and the self-esteem that valued work brings.

6. We recommend that country growth strategies include decisive action to alleviate poverty through the provision of effective and efficient social services, as well as protections to enable a reasonable standard of living for those outside the formal economy. We believe that balanced and inclusive growth should result in improved income distribution and be targeted consistently across different industries.

Australian C20 Summit Communiqué,

However, the push made to have the C20 acknowledge that there was a limit to growth was dismissed following a straw vote taken during the final discussion on the communiqué. Earlier, in a comment on Phase 2 of the C20’s consultation process, the following recommendation was put as a proposal:

Specifically we are calling upon the C20 to:

  • Establish a standing committee of economists, employer and employee group representatives and representatives from the finance sectors (including banking and superannuation) to devise a roadmap for the transition to the Steady State Economy and the cooperation that would be needed between nations, with their varying resource attributes, in order to achieve it.
  • Ensure that the UN Sustainable Development Goals, now under discussion as a sequel to the Millennium Development Goals, envisage the transition the Steady State Economy.

– See more at:

The recommendation did not gain any support.

The failure of the C20 to provide the remotest challenge to the notion of unlimited growth is more serious that it looks. It parallels the thinking of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) which supports economic growth so long as it is within “planetary boundaries”. The SDSN is in the final stages of drawing up the UN “Sustainable Development Goals”, the SDGs, destined to follow on from the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2015. While these goals are in line with many of the strategies that are required to move to the Steady State Economy, they endorse economic growth on the basis that economic growth can be “decoupled” from resource consumption and waste production.

“An example of decoupling is the shift from fossil fuel to wind and solar energy. Another is the shift from mass fertilizer application to precision dosing. This decoupling will require deep changes to technologies, production systems, and individual behaviours in every country that must be sustained over the long term.” An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development, p.3

Certainly decoupling is necessary in the transition to the Steady State Economy, however, relying on decoupling as a foundation for endorsing continued economic growth seems highly unreliable with the strong prospect that “business as usual” is likely to continue. The UK economist, Tim Jackson refers to the “myth of decoupling” by saying:

“…simplistic assumptions that capitalism’s propensity for efficiency will allow us to stabilise the climate and protect against resource scarcity are nothing short of delusional. Those who promote decoupling as an escape route from the dilemma of growth need to take a closer look at the historical evidence – and at the basic arithmetic of growth”. “Prosperity Without Growth?”, , 2009, p.8

The United Nations Environment Program through its International Resource Panel has taken the issue of decoupling very seriously, stressing on the one hand that change is necessary but on the other, an implication that economic growth is not limited.

“It does not seem possible for a global economy based on the current unsustainable patterns of resource use to continue into the future. The economic consequences of these patterns are already apparent in three areas: increases in resource prices, increased price volatility and disruption of environmental systems. The environment impacts of resource use are also leading to potentially irreversible changes to the world’s ecosystems, often with direct effects on people and the economy – for example through damage to health, water shortages, loss of fish stocks or increased storm damage.

Many decoupling technologies and techniques that deliver resource productivity increases as high as 5 to 10-fold are already available, allowing countries to pursue their development strategies while significantly reducing their resource footprint and negative impacts on the environment.

“Decoupling 2, technologies, opportunities and policy options”, p.44

Professor Jeffrey Sachs was a presenter (via video) at the C20 and is a key figure in the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals. His leadership role in promoting economic growth is very significant. The SDGs will become a distraction from focussing on the Steady State Economy for governments and Civil Societies for many years to come unless strongly challenged. “Children should be able to learn the goals at school as a clear introduction to sustainable development”, states the Action Agenda for Sustainable Development. Professor Sachs’ initiative is certainly aiming to have a wide impact.

Unfortunately, expressions such as “sustainable development”, “inclusive development” and “sustainable economic growth” appear little more than euphemisms for unlimited economic growth as G20 leaders are called on to lift world economic growth by 2% over the next five years. The inevitability of the Steady State Economy, whether planned for or emerging from the collapse of our current economic system seems to be escaping mainstream discussion.

Our global economic ship is much larger than the Titanic and much harder to turn. While some at the helm see fog ahead, few seem to be looking at the radar enabling sight beyond the immediate surroundings. Consequently, the ship is still sailing full steam ahead. Certainly, the G20 are not seeing a call to change course. Nor does the C20 seem able to provide a appropriate guiding hand.