Shop ’til you drop

Conspiracy theories are surprisingly popular these days. Whether it’s finding ‘illuminati’ symbols in TV adverts, or thinking the American government carried out the September 11th attacks, it’s a good time for morons.

The truth is, of course, that pretty much all conspiracy theories are nonsense and based on the thoughts of internet addicts stuck in anaerobic bedrooms. But as these – probably all obese – people carefully examine videos of terrorist attacks, pictures of the moon landing and read passages of books for hidden messages, getting themselves all worked up over an invisible enemy, they’re wasting their time. They don’t have to look far for real things to get angry or worried about; the world is being plundered and destroyed at an absolutely breath-taking speed.

We live in a world where environmentally-minded journalists or bloggers are absolutely spoilt for choice for things to write about; and where writers of doomsday novels needn’t use their imagination for plotlines.

In every country and every continent there are countless environmental catastrophes taking place- from rainforests being destroyed to the permafrost starting to thaw from global warming- and they are almost all happening for, or as a result of, economic growth. These two words are unimaginably important. They form the bedrock of all modern government policies (metaphorically at least) as economic growth – whether it’s positive or ‘negative’ – effectively decides which governments stay and which governments go. Only those countries with positive growth create businesses and jobs, and only in those countries can people begin to imagine living the opulent western lifestyle all the global multinationals promote.

The global economy is absolutely obsessed and dependent on growth, which basically means, year by year literally more stuff needs to be made and more services need to be provided.

If one wasn’t accustomed to the ins and outs of the world economy, reading a magazine like The Economist or indeed the business section of most newspapers could be a very confusing endeavour indeed. An increase of oil production in Nigeria is reported as a good thing, an increase in exports from the EU to China is great for our trade deficit with them, and the commissioning of an open cast mine in China for rare metals? Brilliant news for the smartphone industry!
These examples are the sort of things that economists and politicians hope will be happening indefinitely. It’s unimaginable for anyone to wish for the world economy to shrink, or to settle for just no growth. God forbid! But of course there are good economic reasons for the constant stressing about growth levels. Without it there wouldn’t be enough new jobs for the extra two billion people expected to join us on this pillaged planet by 2050. There also wouldn’t be enough wealth creation; because being able to buy more stuff is what makes people happy, right?

Every resource on the planet that can be used directly or indirectly to produce goods or provide services is being mercilessly depleted at ever-increasing rates, from coal to aluminium. Us innovative humans are finding a use for pretty much every finite resource the planet has to offer.

At the centre of the world economy lies one crucial non-renewable resource. It is – we are – addicted to the ‘black gold’ knocking back around 87 million barrels of the stuff every day. Prices are now high enough for Oil companies to tap into what were once completely uneconomical reserves such as from tar sands in Canada. Considering peak oil is rapidly approaching – or might have passed already – the complete dependence on this viscous liquid in almost all countries of the world is staggering.

So what is the inevitable conclusion? Well, that the global economy is destined to crash, although when is anybody’s guess. And before it does, irreversible damage will be done to the Earth through the pursuit of wealth, which is happening on an epic scale.

The age of mass consumption will be short lived, so enjoy it while it lasts and ‘shop till you drop!’


  1. This is how I felt when I read the conclusion of this article:


  2. 5 Sep ’12 at 3:22 pm

    Annastasia Minty

    A real pity there appears no end to the growth in economically illiterate students.


  3. Theorem: Conspiracy theorists are not necessarily morons.
    Proof: Clearly, holocaust denial is a conspiracy theory. On the other hand, the holocaust itself is also a conspiracy theory, since the idea that a government killed millions of people in secret surely counts as a conspiracy theory. Since one of these must be true, some conspiracy theories must be true. Therefore it is not moronic in itself to be a conspiracy theorist.


  4. 5 Sep ’12 at 4:41 pm

    Morron Borron

    Let me quote Edward Heath (not something I often do): “The alternative to expansion is not, as some occasionally seem to suppose, an England of quiet market towns linked only by steam trains puffing slowly and peacefully through green meadows. The alternative is slums, dangerous roads, old factories, cramped schools, stunted lives.”

    Want to lift people out of poverty? Economic growth. Want better schools and hospitals? Economic growth. Want better living standards and longer life spans? Economic growth. Want more jobs? Economic growth.

    The author can live in his Malthusian delusion. I choose growth.


  5. Andrew is right to question our obsession with economic growth.

    What’s the point of having growth unless it improves lives?

    Histortically, economic growth has contributed to the improvement of lives. It continues to do so in developing nations. But wealth has a declining marginal utility: the more you have of it, the less of a benefit you get from having more.

    Rather than focusing on growth, we should directly focus on what improves our lives. If we worked 70 hour weeks, it would improve growth, but it would not improve our lives. Pursuit of economic growth should not come at the expense of what that growth is meant to achieve: greater well-being.

    There should be a greater focus on things such as trust within communities, and how much people feel part of their community. Economic growth can be encouraged where it contributes to these, but in certain cases it will harm these other factors that are more important to well-being once basic provisions (food+shelter) have been provided for. In many cases, slightly reducing the hours one works, and instead using this time to socialise, will have a greater impact on well-being than the pay earned from working more.

    From an environmental perspective, it is clear that current consumption is incompatible with the ecological limits of the planet, at least if we want everyone in the world to have at least a similar lifestyle to that of current developed nations. The usual argument is to ‘decouple’ growth from use of resources.

    In terms of carbon emissions, if we want to achieve the IPCC’s emission target whilst ensuring development of poorer countries, and having a 2% growth in developed countries, then we’re going to have to get ~130 times more efficient in terms of how much CO2 we produce per $ or £ of GDP (from Tim Jackson’s ‘Prosperity Without Growth’). That seems highly unlikely to happen. Material consumption still seems to be increasing despite greater technological efficiency (though there may be signs of that changing, e.g If we don’t change this, poorer countries will have far fewer resources to (literally?) fight over as they try to improve their living standards.

    Finally, the usual measure of economic growth, GDP, has loads of flaws. I’ll direct you to this speech by Robert Kennedy who points out some of them rather beautifully: