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Social Democratic Reflections on "Economic Growth or Quality of Life?" (April 11, 1972)

Speaking at a conference of the metalworkers’ union, the social democratic thinker Erhard Eppler pleads for a move away from unlimited economic growth – and its deleterious environmental effects – and argues for greater attention to quality-of-life issues as a political goal.

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Erhard Eppler at the IG Metal International Conference in Oberhausen on April 11, 1972

1. From quantity to quality

Today we speak of quality of life, although we don’t know exactly what that is – much less how we can achieve it. We speak of quality because we have lost our faith in quantity. At the root of this, too, stands doubt, not knowledge. We doubt whether all of this is good for humanity:

– wider and wider streets for more and more cars
– bigger and bigger power plants to consume more and more energy
– increasingly elaborate packaging for increasingly questionable consumer goods
– bigger and bigger airports for faster and faster airplanes
– more and more pesticides for larger and larger harvests
– and not to forget: more and more people on an increasingly overcrowded planet

Because we have learned in recent years that this also means:

– increasingly polluted air
– increasingly disgusting garbage heaps
– increasingly intolerable noise
– less and less clean water
– increasingly angry people
– more and more toxins in the organism
– and more and more dead in the streets

We are noting this without being able to say precisely how economic growth is related to quality of life. All that is certain is that it seems as though the same economic growth that made our lives more pleasant in many ways over the last 100 years can also make them intolerable.

What we, on the basis of our country, are gradually becoming aware of (the younger generation more quickly than the older), the Club of Rome computers have calculated for the entire world.

[ . . . ]

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