It's not the 'what', but the 'how': Exploring the role of debt in natural resource (un)sustainability

Julen Gonzalez-Redin (Lead / Corresponding author), J. Gareth Polhill, Terence P. Dawson, Rosemary Hill, Iain J. Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
144 Downloads (Pure)


A debt-based economy cannot survive without economic growth. However, if private debt consistently grows faster than GDP, the consequences are financial crises and the current unprecedented level of global debt. This policy dilemma is aggravated by the lack of analyses factoring the impact of debt-growth cycles on the environment. What is really the relationship between debt and natural resource sustainability, and what is the role of debt in decoupling economic growth from natural resource availability? Here we present a conceptual Agent-Based Model (ABM) that integrates an environmental system into an ABM representation of Steve Keen's debt-based economic models. Our model explores the extent to which debt-driven processes, within debt-based economies, enhance the decoupling between economic growth and the availability of natural resources. Interestingly, environmental and economic collapse in our model are not caused by debt growth, or the debt-based nature of the economic system itself (i.e. the 'what'), but rather, these are due to the inappropriate use of debt by private actors (i.e. the 'how'). Firms inappropriately use bank credits for speculative goals-rather than production-oriented ones-and for exponentially increasing rates of technological development. This context creates temporal mismatches between natural resource growth and firms' resource extraction rates, as well as between economic growth and the capacity of the government to effectively implement natural resource conservation policies. This paper discusses the extent to which economic growth and the availability of natural resources can be re-coupled through a more sustainable use of debt, for instance by shifting mainstream banking forces to partially support environmental conservation as well as economic growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0201141
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'It's not the 'what', but the 'how': Exploring the role of debt in natural resource (un)sustainability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this