Philippe Roch

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Growth and globalization

Growth and Globalisation


Growth and globalisation are two close relatives, but they are not identical.

Globalisation deals with free movements of people and goods, worldwide communication, transfer of technologies, share of knowledge, ideas and cultures.

Growth deals with quantities of persons and goods.  Globalisation is about being more, growth about having more.


Globalisation is a strong driver of growth. Free trade, multinational companies, easy transportation, and rapid communications open opportunities for investments and create markets for local production. The globalisation-growth nexus creates opportunities for sustainable development, so long as it does not exhaust non renewable resources nor overuse and destroy natural ecosystems.


Growth is a paradox, because we need growth to meet the needs of people, especially the poorest among us, but a permanent global growth is impossible in a finite system[i]. This limitation to growth has been expressed in different ways by many authors and publications: the limits to growth[ii], the finite world[iii], the full world[iv], and is part of the notion of sustainable development[v].


Studies demonstrate that we already exceed the productive capacity of nature by 25% (the ecological footprint[vi]) or 30 % (the living planet index[vii]), and that 60 % of the ecosystems are overused (the millennium ecosystem assessment[viii]).


One way to decouple economic growth from an increased use of resources consists in developing efficient technologies: do more with less energy, use natural resources in a way to maintain or enhance their productive capacities, recycle materials and wastes. Many studies indicate such possibilities ( Factor 4[ix], the 2000 W society[x]), and political decisions such  as the Kyoto protocol are moving in that direction.


But we don’t know, whether it will be possible to meet the needs of a growing population only with improvement in technology. Wiser consumption patterns, a more equitable share of the available goods among all human beings and a stabilisation of human population are all part of the solution.


In Nature the rule “one birth one death” prevails[xi]. Exceptions are local, limited in time and generally followed by population collapses[xii]. Humankind as a whole infringes this rule and doubled between 1900 and 1960 and again between 1960 and 2005. With a stabilised or reduced population, and a more equitable share of production and wiser consumption, technological progress and economic growth could benefit all humankind, while reducing the pressure on nature.


Nature is a model for a globalised system that is not based on growth. Nature is:

One living system, where all elements are interdependent and based on a common genetic basis Highly diverse Very dynamic, creative and productive, producing every year 577’000 km3 of fresh water (evaporation), billions of tons of biomass (wood, fuel, medicinal plants, meat, fish) Recapturing its CO2 emissions and recycling all its products in new resources Functioning 100 % upon geothermal and solar energy.  

Lessons learned from Nature could help us to promote sustainable development.



Dr Philippe Roch, former State Secretary for the Environment , Switzerland

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