In the 19th and 20th centuries, a few countries got fabulously rich. These included most of Europe, parts of East Asia, some small oil producing states and parts of the former British Empire. In recent decades, more of the world — large parts of China, portions of India, Southeast Asia and part of Latin America — have joined the rich world, thanks to an unprecedented explosion of global growth. But for large swathes of the world, life remains a grinding daily struggle. Women in poor countries spend hours every day carrying water. Hundreds of millions of people contract malaria every year. Almost a billion people still defecate outdoors.
The obvious solution to lifting these people out of poverty — without inflicting poverty on some of those who have already escaped it — is economic growth. But there is a small but vocal group of environmentalists telling us that growth is no longer possible — that unless growth ends, climate change and other environmental impacts will destroy civilization. Writing in Foreign Policy, anthropologist Jason Hickel declares: