I'm not convinced that an economy with a growing numerical size (as measured by some currency) necessarily has to have a growing ecological footprint.
Agreed in principle. But probably hard to find counter-examples in practice.
Basically, if the *numbers* are growing, but the "consumption" isn't, then that's just *inflation*. And governments are already concerned to keep inflation low, meaning to keep the growth of the money in sync. with the growth of consumption.
But then Fractional Reserve Banking specifies that money *has to* grow, so to avoid either catastrophic failure or inflation, the only thing governments can do is try to *increase* "consumption".
That's the big issue as I see it. Not that *we* consumers are affected by FRB - we'd like to consume anyway - but that government policies are hostage to the desire for growth.
So when, for example, BAA promises that a new terminal at Heathrow will help increase business in the UK, the government is faced with a choice between a rather vague, "long term" threat of ecological damage (and frankly there's a tragedy of the commons because they think that if they don't allow it, another government will); and a very concrete risk that they won't make their growth quota this year and either a) they raise interest rates, throttle borrowing, create less money and a whole lot of debtors will go bust and people lose their jobs; or b) they don't raise interest rates, borrowing continues, extra money is created to pay the interest on last year's debts, but without new consumption, the extra money is soaked up in rising prices.
Now it's possible, in theory, that with technological innovation, consumption can increase while the ecological footprint decreases.
In practice, a) an innovation is a one-time event which drops the cost of a particular product, but doesn't alter the *trajectory* of increasing consumption (in other words, it's a delay, not a solution); and b) - worse - often the reduction in resources consumed by a product simply becomes a drop in price, which, in turn, *accelerates* consumption. People buy 20 dresses a year instead of 2.
In other words, to have growth in consumption without growth in ecological footprint, you need a constant and reliable stream of technical innovations which are reducing the footprint of a product-category *faster* than the increase in consumption of that category including acceleration of consumption due to the fall in price.
It's hard to think of examples.