Rhetoric of Growth


Meadows, Meadows, and Randers

Limits to Growth Meadows, Meadows, and Randers


I’ve been thinking and writing about Meadows, Meadows, and Randers’ Limits to Growth at various moments in my graduate scholarship, the most recent of which was throughout the writing of my Master’s thesis, in which the text served as the framework from which I engaged in environmental rhetoric of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s management plan. Coming full circle to now, concerning my current/continuing engagement with science, policy, and outcomes this summer, I decided that revisiting the Limits to Growth would be a wise choice, and so far it’s proven itself valuable once again. I anticipate that it will become increasingly valuable to shaping my future scholarship at least at much – if not more than – it has shaped my scholarship in the past.

In the interest of writing as brief a post as possible, I wanted to list/highlight just one of the most pertinent terms to the authors’ framework, cite the rhetorical implications of that term, and – most importantly – suggest parallels with the ways in which I’m continuing to ruminate on Cohen’s Understanding Environmental Policy. The short-term goal of this posting is to show potential ways of meshing Cohen’s work with Meadows, Meadows, and Randers’ Limits to Growth, in my continual effort to connect multi-disciplinary approaches to environmental problems in a way that, as Cohen writes, elicits deeper understandings of the potential solutions to such problems. In particular, I’ll be attempting to focus more narrowly on the environmental problem of climate change, although as Meadows, Meadows, and Randers suggest, humanity is dealing with one, large, interlinked system (74) meaning that climate change only represents one component of a variety of severe and developing changes in ecological systems’ stability; sustainability.

Growth: In “Overshoot” (ch.1) the authors clarify the terms in which they’re defining the concept of growth. I simply want to reiterate/highlight a couple of what I see as the most important components for establishing an understanding of the authors’ perspectives about growth, and the relationship of growth with limits, and ultimately with sustainability. First, though, a very brief – and admittedly simplistic – overview.

  • Historically, “growth has been the dominant behavior of the world socioeconomic system for more than 200 years” (5); it is understood to provide ever increasing welfare, as a remedy to just about every problem … for these, and other, reasons, “… growth has come to be viewed as a cause for celebration” (consider the synonyms for the word: development, progress, advance, gain, improvement, prosperity, success) (5-6).
  • Because of this historical/proliferative ideology of growth, and the subsequent ignorance of the long-term effects of unchecked growth, the concept of “throughput” isn’t widely considered
    • “Throughput” is “… the continuous flows of energy and materials needed to keep people, cars, houses, and factories functioning” …
  • The authors summarize, “The physical limits to growth are limits to the ability of planetary sources to provide materials and energy and to the ability of planetary sinks to absorb the pollution and waste” (9)
  • The authors call our attention to the prevailing rhetoric of growth as that which is all things celebratory (as they put it); meaning that this prevailing ideology ignores the longer-term implications of – most damningly – “limitless” growth (which, as the authors explain, is actually impossible).
  • I’m interested in this rhetoric of growth because of the ways such a misunderstanding of growth affects policy, which of course ultimately affects the ways in which ecosystems are managed, meaning that even the most well-intentioned environmental policies – when subject to/defined in terms of the prevailing rhetoric of growth – aren’t feasible in practice; the motivations of such policies are lost to the confusion inherent in a misunderstanding of the way growth “works”
  • Concerning the prevailing rhetoric of growth, the authors want humans to understand that “the throughput flows presently generated by the human economy cannot be maintained at their current rates for very much longer” BUT that “… current high rates of throughput are not necessary to support a decent standard of living for all the world’s people” (9)
  • Therefore, the authors are calling for fundamental changes – “… fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present [unsustainable; limitless] course will bring about” (“World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” www.ucsusa.org/ucs/about/page.cfm?pageID=1009 cited in Meadows, Meadows, and Randers 15).
  • My last point pertains to the connections I’m attempting to make between my selected readings. At this point, I certainly see many philosophical differences between Cohen and Meadows, Meadows and Randers, the primary of which I’d suggest is their perspectives on change: quite simply, the authors stand in opposition: whereas Cohen holds the perspective that change is not only unlikely but not feasible, Meadows, Meadows, and Randers emphatically advocate systemic change: in “Transitions to a Sustainable System” (ch. 7) they write: one possible way to respond to signals that resource use and pollution emissions have grown beyond their sustainable limits (235) is to “… acknowledge that the human socioeconomic system as currently structured is unmanageable, has overshot its limits, and is headed for collapse, and, therefore, seek to change the structure of the system” (236) …



About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

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