Economic growth: help or hinder for sustainability? : an investigation of perspectives on economic growth and sustainability within the Swedish environmental movement

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: There is a longstanding debate between environmentalists and economists regarding the possibility to combine economic growth and sustainability. So far, the neoliberal economists’ argumentation for a capitalist economic system with everlasting economic growth has been the dominating paradigm. In Sweden, one group of environmentalists able to influence policymaking without being actual decision-makers is the environmental movement. Therefore, the aim of my thesis was to identify and contrast meanings and beliefs within the Swedish environmental movement regarding the role of economic growth in achieving sustainability. Additionally, I reviewed the environmental movement’s perception of their interaction with the state, to explain possible implications of the identified perspectives on policymaking in Sweden. In my thesis, four environmental NGOs and three green think-tanks represent the Swedish environmental movement. By conducting a Q-study based on five theoretical discourses on economics and sustainability (neoclassical growth theory, Green Growth, Sustainable Degrowth, Steady-state Economy and A-growth), I identified two perspectives on economic growth and sustainability among 16 representatives of the Swedish environmental movement. The majority of the participants identified with a growth critical perspective which represents a mixture between viewpoints from the Sustainable Degrowth and Steady-state Economy discourses. Following this, the environmental movement wishes for an alternative economic system where environmental values are prioritised over economic interests. The second perspective, which only two Q-participants identified with, is similar to the Green Growth discourse, and sees economic growth as a prerequisite for sustainability. In Sweden, the environmental movement has a peculiar relation with the state, which allows them to influence policymaking in several ways. The most important opportunity for the environmental movement to have an impact is through personal meetings with policymakers. Through the interaction with the state, the environmental movement has the possibility to affect the formation of the guiding-principles of the meta-governance process in Sweden. The major perspective, that economic growth is a hinder for sustainability, is likely to form the values and norms that the movement will add to the meta-governance’s ethical base for decision-making. However, regarding the specific question of economic growth, the environmental movement’s possibilities to have an impact is limited. The environmental movement influence on policymaking is restricted to environmental issues, since they mainly have access to policymakers at the Ministry of Energy and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency, and not the Ministry of Finance. To increase the environmental movement’s influence on questions regarding economic growth relations with economic policymakers needs to be established.

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