By Gareth Vaughan
The world needs to move to a new economic system where growth is replaced as the ultimate goal by meeting human needs within ecological limits, argues Gaya Herrington.
Speaking in the Of Interest podcast Herrington explains how working at the Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank, during the Global Financial Crisis led to her realising how interconnected things were.
When subsequently studying sustainability at Harvard University, she decided to revisit the famous 1972 book by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers, The Limits to Growth, for her thesis.
As Herrington, now Vice President for ESG Research at Schneider Electric, puts it, the book; "indicated that our peak welfare levels would be around now, globally. And we would have a choice to maintain it or go down." Her research found we are most closely aligned today with The Limits to Growth authors' business as usual scenario.
"Growing forever on a finite planet is simply not an option," she says.
We don't have a lot of time but do have an opportunity to change direction, Herrington argues.
How would we do this, what will it mean and can we do it? She says a new economic system must, first and foremost, replace growth as the ultimate goal with something else.
"I think it should be meeting human needs within ecological limits. That doesn't mean you're anti-growth. If growth then contributes to human wellbeing and can do that with a low environmental impact, we'll still do it and if not we won't bother," says Herrington.
One way or another, she argues, growth will halt.
In the podcast she also talks about what she believes the "very loaded word collapse" would mean, what the world might be like if The Limits to Growth warning had been heeded in the 70s, what system dynamics is, the difference between needs and wants and how this has become muddied, what the role of technology, finance and agriculture could be in a new economic system, how vested interests including billionaires have to give things up, why she sees a significant role for credit unions, whether human nature could allow such change, and whether we will actually make the change.
"I don't know [if we'll change] because we've seen in history that it can go either way. I do think that we'll stop growing one way or another. I think what we're seeing already is a destabilisation of the system," Herrington says.
(Note, this podcast was recorded via Zoom. While Gaya comes across clearly, for some reason the start of my questions sometimes doesn't. Apologies for this, we're not sure why it happened).
*You can find all episodes of the Of Interest podcast here.