Will global economic growth end?

A Utah State physicist will explain why the global economy will inevitably shrink at a Wednesday talk at the Center for the Arts.
Robert Davies is a physicist by training but spends much of his time explaining science to a broader audience. (Courtesy of Robert Davies)

 

Amid a turbulent few years for the global economy, one researcher says another big change is on the horizon. Robert Davies, a Utah State University physicist, predicts that economic growth will end, and it will end soon.

The reasoning is simple, he says: The global economy has gotten too big, and — according to the laws of thermodynamics and exponential growth — that kind of growth isn’t sustainable in the long run. 

“The question is, are we going to have a hard landing or a soft landing,” Davies said in an interview with KHOL.

Davies will dive into this argument at the Center for the Arts on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in a free lecture. The talk, entitled “Energy & Growth in the Age of Humans: Finding our way to a sustainable, just, and vibrant world,” is the first in a series put on by the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a think tank which promotes collective climate action. 

According to Davies, all environmental crises are tied to economic growth. That’s why an economic decline is a good change, he says.

“We’ll do some fun, compelling calculations that everyone will be able to understand,” he said. “So, the idea is to make sure that you cannot leave that presentation with any illusion that economic growth is going to continue for long.”

This refers to aggregate economic growth globally. Davies said some sectors — such as clean energy — need to grow, while others — such as coal — need to go away entirely. The United States economy, he said, has grown too large and needs to shrink, while the economies of developing nations need to grow.

As a science communicator, Davies hopes to prepare people for these transitions he views as inevitable.

“If we just allow ourselves to crash out of growth, that’s terrible,” Davies said. “So, what we need to do is plot a trajectory, and the good news here is lots of people have been doing that. There’s so much research.”

This will be Davies’ second speaking engagement in Jackson. He previously delivered a talk at the Center in which he dove into tangible ways communities, such as Jackson, can address climate change. He was also the keynote speaker at the Wyoming Climate Summit in Lander last year. 

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's reporter and producer. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she wrote about housing and the impacts of climate change. Her work has been published in the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains. Follow Hanna on Twitter @HannaMerzbach.

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