Free Card Friday: Economic Growth & Environment- Both Ways


Today’s Free Card Friday is a two-for-one: does economic growth destroy the environment, or save it? We have evidence for both sides.


These cards will be useful for debaters in PF (for dealing with impact scenarios premised off of growth and development) and LD (they speak to the core question of the resolution), not to mention their perpetual utility for policy/CX debaters. Better yet, both of them are brand new.


Here they are:



(Yue Wang, researcher at Forbes Beijing, Forbes, “Why Economic Growth Could Be The Solution To China’s Pollution,”, 1/2/14)

China’s rapid economic growth has wreaked havoc on the country’s environment. The recent ‘airpocalypse’ speaks to the scale of the unprecedented pollution. However, the cause of China’s environmental problems could also be the solution. In fact, the way to “completely” address the issue is to let the economy grow even bigger, said Junjie Zhang, an environmental economist at UC San Diego.

According to Zhang, the number of polluting industries will be reduced as the economy grows. China has pledged to tackle overcapacity in the steel, cement, glass and shipbuilding sectors, which are responsible for discharging a good deal of the country’s pollutants. Zhang said the country will eventually get rid of the majority of those industries and shift to a growth model fueled by more innovative and high-technology products. He said at that stage, the environment will get better with economic development.

As for now, China is at a “curious” phase, Zhang said.  As the country develops, emissions of some pollutants, such as PM 2.5 and greenhouse gas, are increasing. However, others are slowly going down. According to him, sulfur dioxide and water pollution have already reached their peak. “ The relationship between the economy and the environment is shifting in China,” he said. “ Pollution in the entire country will soon reach the maximum.”

After that, all China needs is time, Zhang said.  He said China’s policies are in the right direction, but it would take a long period of time to see actual results. “ China says it won’t follow the path of ‘ grow first, clean up later.’ But there is no such way,” he said. “No country has ever developed that way. China is on the right path. As it develops, it will pursue more environmental goals.”


This card is premised on the idea that, throughout history, economies have always followed a development path that begins with fast, dirty growth, but eventually has the resources, labor base, and resiliency to sustain environmental protections. China, it says, is currently nearing the point where it can clean up its act. The majority of this card quotes environmental economist Junjie Zhang, who argues that there is no other way to do things.


This card is intended to make this argument quickly and easily, with a recent date. Its explanation is not as robust as it could be. If you want to make this argument a large part of your strategy, you will want to do further research on this concept and cut some cards that offer more in-depth warrants. Here is a decent place to start.


Here’s the other side:



(Michael Hoexter, environmental consultant & PhD from Michigan, Truthout, nonprofit information/news organization, “Malign Confusion About Growth, Economic Growth or “Degrowth”: Which Way Forward? – Parts Two and Three,”, 12/30/13)

Lately, climate scientists have stepped into the gap where economists have generally feared to tread and have suggested that intentional “de-growth” is the only hope to stop the rising emissions associated with economic development and growth.  No news to anyone who follows developments in climate science, the earth’s climate is facing tipping points beyond which a recognizable human civilization will be almost impossible to maintain due to the expansion of inhospitable or entirely uninhabitable climate zones, destruction of existing human settlements by water and weather, and the destruction of co-evolved species (including food) upon which we depend.  The target of a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature has been chosen as a difficult-to-achieve but also permissive target, which some think should be 1.5 degrees or less.  One way or the other global warming gas emissions, still on an upward trajectory, need to be reduced and the current upward trend reversed almost immediately.   Climate scientists understandably have been impatient with the response of the social sciences and policymakers to the threats they see present and emerging.

Prior to the recent interest in de-growth, the hope has been that through either a regime of carbon pricing or a massive government program of green investment or both that the developed economies would decarbonize, yielding economic growth with progressively less emissions until such time as economies would grow without adding in net to the earth’s carbon cycle.  No one has suggested that this decarbonization could happen overnight or without initial costs in emissions.  My “Pedal to the Metal” Plan involves incurring increased embedded emissions upon start-up via a program of building green infrastructure and focused incentive programs to achieve social and environmental goals, including full employment and long-term decarbonization of the developed economies.  The “market-based” approach of either cap and trade or carbon tax advocates take a more leisurely approach to decarbonization, with a highly unlikely achievement of that goal if at all.  Either way, it is assumed that growth of some sort is the mechanism by which change occurs in capitalist monetary economies, though in the P2M Plan, I posit that the growth is a transitional state to a achieving a steady-state economy.

While a number of climate scientists have called for direct political action and civil disobedience over the last several years, mainstream climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows of the leading Tyndall Centre in the UK have gone further and called for governments to institute radical and immediate de-growth strategies in wealthy countries to sustain year over year reductions of 10% in carbon emissions.  A recent conference at the Tyndall Center collects a number of proposals along these lines.  Anderson and Bows arrive at the 10% annual reduction number, via a series of calculations based on a 2 degree Celsius maximum warming target and a relative permissiveness towards the developing world to increase emissions for another decade.  They come upon degrowth as the route to 10% per annum reductions via Nicholas Stern’s estimation that economic growth is conceivable only with 3-4% annual emissions reductions via in a decarbonizing economy..   The developing world would have a few years to grow using conventional means until 2025 and then it too would need to “de-grow” or develop on a path that would to zero net contributions to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.   Anderson and Bows turn to “degrowth” is substantiated by observations that certain emissions reductions were achieved when economies world-wide shrank for a period of several years either in the Great Depression or in the post-Soviet period in East Europe, where huge and inefficient industrial enterprises were stilled as governments turned to a capitalist economic structure.

The term “de-growth” is of fairly recent origin and most widely discussed in France (“decroissance”) over the past decade, though the concept or impulse has been around in various forms since the industrial revolution.  One of the early reactions to industrialization in Western Europe, were cultural and political movements that attempted to capture something of the material reality or ideals of a threatened or past agrarian or primitive society, which could be grouped together as “Romantic” reactions to industrialism.  I do not mean to suggest in using the term “Romantic” that this reaction is unrealistic in the broadest sense of the word, only that it has relied on an intuitive, aesthetic, or emotional reaction to industrial society.  The recurring Romantic reaction to industrial development has waxed and waned based in part on the aesthetic reactions of individuals to industrial and post-industrial society as well as the success or failure of various idealistic colonies based on agrarian or communitarian ideals.  The general impulse of these communities and cultural movements has been towards a smaller-scale, less rapidly-changing society.   The emergence of the ecology movement in the 1970’s throughout the industrialized world, in contrast, has found a basis at least in part in the biological and natural sciences.  There has been based on the notion that at some point there would be “limits to growth”, though a direct confrontation with the growth imperative of capitalism has been endlessly postponed.

With global warming and the climate crisis we are seeing with an ever more quantifiable basis that the growth of the economy dependent on fossil fuels is becoming tightly coupled with the degradation of the natural basis of human life and the co-evolved life-world.   The buffering capacity of the natural environment to receive, dilute, and transform, the toxic or damaging byproducts of industrial civilization has been diminished and/or its incapability to perform these “ecosystem services” is becoming more apparent.  Previously the filters of aesthetics and personal preferences for a more “natural” environment which have motivated many offshoots of the environmental movement were required to draw the link between the expansion of fossil-fueled industrial civilization and the irrevocable destruction of natural wealth and the potential for a sustainable human civilization.   These filters should become, unfortunately at a very late date, less necessary for people to come to the conclusion that they are hurting themselves or their descendants via participating in and helping propagate a society based on economic growth fueled by fossil fuels.


This card argues that growth by its very definition ensures we consume resources at an unsustainable pace, making ecosystem destruction and global warming inevitable. It concludes that this threatens human civilization and the biosphere as a whole.


LDers, be aware that this card suggests in the un-highlighted portion that the developing world should be allowed to continue to grow until 2025, at which point they too should transition away from growth. Depending on how you are structuring your case, this might be a problem for you. However, it does not conclude that this growth should come at the expense of environmental protections, so you may still want to use it. Alternatively, if you’re feeling creative, you could re-highlight it and use it to support the neg argument that less-developed nations should be allowed to “catch up” before focusing on environmental protections. Either way, if you’re not sure if this card is right for you, rest assured that there are plenty more that make the same basic argument.


Don’t forget to check out the rest of our free evidence, and submit your case for a case critique from our debate experts!


This entry was posted in Free Evidence. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Free Card Friday: Economic Growth & Environment- Both Ways

  1. Landon says:

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button!
    I’d without a doubt donate to this excellent blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to fresh updates and will share
    this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

Comments are closed.