The all-you-can-eat economy: How never-ending economic growth affects our happiness and our chances for a sustainable future




Wilson, Eric
Mukhopadhyaya, Phalguni

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This paper explores the relationship between energy consumption, economic growth, and life satisfaction and makes the case that economic growth as usual is no longer a desirable or sustainable policy goal. Historically, economic and social development go along with energy sector transformation and total energy use. As a country develops, its use of energy increases, resource consumption increases, population booms, life expectancy rises, and overall socio-economic outcomes are improved. One might deduce then, that life satisfaction is also tightly correlated to economic development and energy consumption, but is this the case? To answer this question, current academic literature and data on the relationship between energy consumption, GDP, and quality of life were explored. The review showed a weak relationship between GDP and quality of life, a saturation relationship between energy use and social returns (social returns increase with increasing energy use to a point), and a strong relationship between GDP and energy use. There have been high hopes that improvements in energy-efficient technology will reduce global aggregate resource consumption, however, there is a growing body of research to suggest the opposite is likely to occur due to ”rebound effects”. The major environmental issues of our time have been seen predominantly as issues to be solved through advancements in technology; however, it is the argument of this paper that they cannot be addressed from a purely technological standpoint. Of course, improving energy efficiency is an important factor, but we must not forget the equally important subject of human behavior and our addiction to continual economic growth. We must first address the human desire to consume resources in the pursuit of happiness and socio-economic status, and shift towards a mentality of sufficiency. Future research must demonstrate concrete examples of sustainable development and consumption, advance the discourse on how the individual can be part of the solution, and empower the implementation of sustainable government policy.



planet, consumption, socio-economic, energy, sufficiency, sustainability, climate


Wilson, E. & Mukhopadhyaya, P. (2020). “The all-you-can-eat economy: How never-ending economic growth affects our happiness and our chances for a sustainable future.” World, 1(3), 216-226.