The most important value shared by all of mankind is GROWTH is good and necessary.

Consider that as humans, we are dependent on growing up. Growth is considered to be a positive, even essential aspect of life. We look around and we see growth positively valued everywhere we look. We want our gardens to grow. We want our children to grow up. We want to grow our own abilities, to learn, to be able to be more proficient, more successful. Growth is one of the values we all share in common. It is part of the environment in which we live, so much so, the values associated with growth go unnoticed, unobserved.

Growth is good! Who does not want their net worth to grow? We all look forward to the day that our financial obligations are smaller than all the assets in property and money that we claim ownership of. We abhor the idea of negative financial growth lest we find we are bankrupt. To increase the opportunity to grow financially while limiting the risks we have to endure, we form associations with others, limited partnerships, corporations. We invest assets in these corporations expecting a return, not only in dividends from the profit of the company, but also, we hope, in the increasing, growing value of the company and hence our stock investment. We are counting on economic values to grow. Our expectations of gain as well as the expectations of gain of those managing the companies imply there will be growth; growth in profits, growth in asset value. The whole of our economy, in our nation, in other nations, in the world as a whole, are dependent on growth. Hence, growth in consumers, growth in population is desired. It leads to additional needs for food, housing, clothing, entertainment, information, health care, transportation, etc., etc., etc.

In the United States, the economic need for constant, continual financial growth is running out of places to grow. Hence, we see an effort to devalue governmental services in favor of commercial enterprises. Private prisons help the financial markets grow. Private schools allow for profit, for financial growth in a previously non-profit segment of society. Parks, roads, utilities, transportation, police, fire station services, health care, military services, to name a few– all of these are game for creating new growth for the financial sectors of society. And since growth is good, even when prompted by greed, a pernicious form of growth, why not make all activities of life “grow-able.”

There is a problem with the supposedly good value of growth. It is not sustainable? It is a simple fact that the resources of this planet though enormous, are limited. Growth forever is not sustainable. The problem is the short term existence of any single individual to mostly less than a hundred years. Growth is probably sustainable during that brief horizon today, probably during the next few generations, but not indefinitely. The problem with growth is how culturally embedded and revered growth is, how acceptable as a fundamental principle of goodness it is for most people. Yes, some people see the problem of growth in limited areas, but not generally as a whole.

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution except to call attention to what seems to be generally invisible. We live in a “growth is good” milieu much as a fish lives in water, unaware of the universe that surrounds it– it just is. To be able to advocate for a sustainable world, we first must come to terms with the fact that the growth value must be recognized and ways to sustain the world explored before we pass some tipping point. WE must learn in what ways growth is positive and in what ways it exhausts the resources of our planet. We must come to terms with externalities of specific acts of growth as well as its benefits. If we don’t come to terms with this problem of the growth value, mother nature will take care of it for us or our progeny or our lack of progeny.

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The Problem with Growth (by Cecil Denney, a teacher/leader in our Biocommons Course)

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