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Book review: Addicted to growth

Everard, Mark

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Mark Everard
Associate Professor in Ecosystem Services


Professor Robert Costanza is familiar to many, perhaps most, scholars and practitioners of sustainable development, particularly those with an interest in the services and values of ecosystems. His contributions are eagerly awaited for insight and guidance. Whilst we are not generally short of books expounding the problems with which the world is grappling (many also addressing sector-specific fixes) what is less in evidence are coherent, systemically framed arguments and practically applicable measures in terms readily comprehensible to non-technical decision-makers. Bob Costanza’s new book “Addicted to Growth: Societal Therapy for a Sustainable Wellbeing Future” does not disappoint in addressing this shortfall.

The addiction in question comprises the interlinked societal habits that keep us from taking sustainable pathways to avert the worst excesses of the nexus of existential climate, biodiversity, social, health and other crises that are both increasingly evident and widely acknowledged. Prime amongst these are our societal addictions to fossil fuel dependence and a myopic ‘profit at all costs’ model of economic growth. As a viable pathway to tackle this societal addiction, Costanza transfers a stepwise and proven programme of dealing with personal addictions running from understanding the addiction, through to acknowledging the addiction (and why we have not solved the problems), a vision of a better world founded on wellbeing economics, active therapy (co-creation and commitment to shared goals), co-creating a sustainable wellbeing future, and sustaining it once on track.

The journey of the book is of the engineering of a paradigm shift, from our current dominant and narrow model of economic ‘growth at all costs’ (addictive and inequitable short-term rewards, achieved by means that are detrimental and unsustainable in the long term) towards a broader vision of greater wellbeing that embraces and seeks to rebuild foundational natural, human and social capitals supporting greater and more rounded life satisfaction: the ‘sustainable wellbeing future’.

The characterisation of problems, as well as the creation of a rich vision of this aspirational sustainable wellbeing future, integrates familiar concepts and approaches – planetary boundaries, 4/5 capitals, concepts of fairness, tipping points, rebuilding trust across society, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Universal Basic Income, and more – augmented with the author’s own collaborative research on wellbeing economics (“a new vision of how the world works and how it could be better”), establishing an Atmospheric Common Asset Trust, and more. Society-wide co-creation of a vivid and compelling picture of what ‘better’ looks like is part of the ‘motivational interviewing’ approach advocated to help people collectively break from ingrained unsustainable habits, working towards a more attractive post-addiction sustainable wellbeing future. Is such a grand transition achievable? Case studies from around the world already comprise fragmented ‘jigsaw pieces’ of the greater vision, which could be out-scaled and connected to help move society towards a coherent consensual sustainable vision. Imperfect though they are, the SDGs are recognised as an integrated set of goals upon which the international community has achieved consensus, and that could form a workable strategic ‘hybrid indicator’ dashboard to audit progression towards a new shared vision of a better future, helping break down the addictions that currently lock us into habits that we (mostly) all know have bad outcomes.

There are many acknowledged hurdles, not least the ‘argument culture’ that precipitates opposition and division rather than consensual co-creation, so evident in political systems but also more widely across society. ‘Addicted to Growth’ does not present a panacea to society’s woes, but it does provide a reasoned and science-based transition pathway requiring the engagement of all of us, across all societal sectors and at intergovernmental scale.

Addicted to Growth: Societal Therapy for a Sustainable Wellbeing Future
Robert Costanza | ISBN: 9781032003368 | Published: December 2022 | Publisher: Routledge, UK


Everard, M. (in press). Book review: Addicted to growth. [Book review]

Digital Artefact Type Website Content
Acceptance Date Feb 17, 2023
Online Publication Date Feb 22, 2023
Deposit Date Feb 22, 2023
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Sustainable wellbeing future; Ecological economics; Sustainable development
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Additional Information This is a book review of the publication 'Addicted to Growth: Societal Therapy for a Sustainable Wellbeing Future
Robert Costanza, ISBN: 9781032003368, Published: December 2022 | Publisher: Routledge, UK'.


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