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GrowthBusters Podcast

One Thing That Will Guarantee Climate Disaster (Podcast Episode 14)

While the U.S. announced intention to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement is bad news, it seems to have inspired a lot of carbon-reducing promises at other levels across the country. And that is good news. In this episode of the GrowthBusters podcast, Dana and Dave lament the biggest hurdle in the path to a survivable climate – the fact that economic growth is the number one public policy goal around the world. In many cases it is the one thing policymakers won’t sacrifice in efforts to curb the growth of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

We seem to be putting all our eggs in the technology basket, hoping we can run an ever-growing economy on more and more solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power and use technology to shrink that mushrooming global economy’s carbon footprint. Some economists think we can do that. Many scientists do not. Ozzie Zehner, in his 2012 book Green Illusions, noted several studies that indicate we might need to change our ways beyond just switching power sources.

“Alternative energy is not a free ride, just a different ride…and there’s no reason to believe it will offset fossil fuel use in a society that has high levels of consumption and is growing exponentially.”  – Ozzie Zehner

“…many of us…have been asking the wrong questions of renewables. We’ve been demanding that they continue to power a growth-based consumer economy that is inherently unsustainable for a variety of reasons (the most obvious one being that we live on a small planet with finite resources). The fact that renewables can’t do that shouldn’t actually be surprising.” – Richard Heinberg

The most optimistic economists believe we can “decouple” economic activity from environmental impacts. A number of realities intrude into that daydream. For a more thorough exploration, see the links below.

The GrowthBusters team also wonders why few, if any, climate-focused environmental groups are pushing citizens to modify their own lives to shrink their carbon footprints. We also remind ourselves that we face limits to growth in many areas beyond our climate’s capacity as a carbon sink.

Plus, in the earth-shattering sustainability news department, did you know the cardboard core of your roll of toilet paper is recyclable? And, finally, Dana explains to Dave why she is a pescatarian.


Paris deal: a year after Trump announced US exit, a coalition fights to fill the gap

The decoupling delusion: rethinking growth and sustainability

Ozzie Zehner’s ‘Green Illusions’ Ruffles Feathers

Study suggests choice between green energy or economic growth

Our Renewable Future

Can the world thrive on 100% renewable energy?

Missed an episode (or two)? They’re all archived here.

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Comments (5)

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      Dave Gardner


      Thanks, Troy. We’re going to respond to your comment in a future episode, so stay tuned!


  • Avatar



    Great podcast. I’m wondering if you guys have run through the Global Footprint calculator[1] and what your results were. I did this recently and was surprised to find that I come in at 2.1 earths despite being a fairly frugal vegetarian that drives very little. My results are better than the typical American who comes in at roughly 4.5 earths but still, I really thought I was doing better. :/


    • Avatar

      Dave Gardner


      That’s one of the reasons we’re calling this a “journey to sustainability.” I’m not sure we’ve discussed our own results on a podcast (I thought we had, but can’t find it in our notes). So we’ll put that on our to-do list. I do recall being surprised, like you, that my footprint was still pretty massive. We’d need to live like the average Guratemalan to be using only our fair share of the world’s biocapacity (thanks to the huge current global population). Here are the nations whose average footprint are in the neighborhood of 1.7 global hectares (2013 data):

      Melanesia 1.74
      Georgia 1.73
      South Sudan 1.72
      Honduras 1.71
      Morocco 1.7
      · South-Eastern Asia 1.7
      Guatemala 1.7
      Viet Nam 1.66
      Sao Tome and Principe 2013 1.62


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