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Sustainable Growth = Protective Stupidity

The first and simplest stage in the discipline, which can be taught even to young children, is called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

George Orwell, 1984

A New Zealand group calling themselves the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) issued a press release this week arguing that business that brings sustainable economic and social growth is good business. “We think business can be cool” SBN say “only if it’s practiced on our terms”. (Link to

Scattered with oxymoronic clichés such as “eco-economy” and “sustainable growth” the SBN’s literature clearly indicate they wish they were still living in the golden age of the 1990s.

Economic growth is an anathema to sustainability. An impossibility theorem, economic growth is the imagined perpetual motion machine of business. The SBN expect it seems that we might economically grow our way out of resource depletion, poverty and environmental degradation.

The problem with their formula is that it ignores the finite nature of the eco-system within which we must exist and of which the economy is a subset of. The term “sustainable growth” and its pitiable cousin “sustainable development” are nothing more than incoherent delusions informed by contemporary free market dogma that says that endless substitution and growth holds some ultimate high moral goodness and is unlimited.

Of course the questioning of such dogma by groups like the SBN engages the protective stupidity organ. There is no opportunity to logically examine their own incongruity, SBN stop short of asking themselves the necessary questions.

The irony that SBN (amongst others) have missed is that it is precisely the un-sustainability of economic growth that gives rise to the term sustainable development. Economic growth ultimately relies upon increasing consumption and demand for non-renewable natural resources. Increased demand involves depleting the resource at a quicker rate. The problem of a depleting non-renewable natural resource (such as oil or natural gas) is not solved by depleting that resource at a quicker rate.

In New Zealand we have invested and continue to invest billions in a car-culture infrastructure (this includes suburban development) that has no future. World oil production in all likelihood will peak later this decade.

Once this occurs global oil production will move into the depletion arc. Forever. In a time when the cheap abundant oil literally powering our economy is about to disappear forever, building energy efficient homes, for example, an hour’s drive from the CBD is still called “sustainable development”. This represents a gross myopia by all supporters of such development.

To deceive ourselves into believing that growth is still possible by labelling it “sustainable” or “green” serves only to delay, and subsequently increase the severity of the consequences of peak oil.

We contacted the SBN (several times) for an explanation of the term “sustainable growth” and did not receive a reply.

PowerLess NZ challenge the Sustainable Business Network to unpack exactly what “sustainable economic and social growth” can be in light of the fact that we live on the precipice of permanent and irrecoverable decline of oil and natural gas reserves. We would dearly like to know how non-renewable natural resources could be exploited in a sustainable way for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Powerless NZ
16 September 2004

PowerLess NZ is a growing group of scientists, energy analysts and concerned citizens whose principle objectives are to alert both Government and the general public to New Zealand’s looming energy crisis. Our aim is to support development of renewable energy resources at both a private and public level, as well as encourage a firm move away from dependence upon fossil fuels.
More information about global peak oil and resource depletion can be found at

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