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Mark Buchanan

How Much More Economic Growth Can the Planet Sustain?

Economists and environmentalists have long debated whether Earth can support infinite economic growth. It’s time to resolve the argument.

Growth isn’t always beautiful.

Growth isn’t always beautiful.

Photographer: Jose Castanares/AFP/Getty Images

For all we depend on economic growth, there’s still a lot we don’t understand about it. Spectacular growth has brought hugely positive impacts — longer and healthier lives, millions removed from poverty, myriad life-improving innovations. But these benefits have also come with immense costs, including vast pollution, land degradation, biodiversity loss and global warming.

Some environmental scientists argue that these environmental impacts mean economic growth is now actually destabilizing society. Economists tend to fire back that the only way to keep society stable is to keep economies growing.