The ethos of zero growth is encapsulated in the Zero Growth Creed. A more definitive definition will grow out of the hopes, reflections, and personal behavior of believers in zero growth. However, three characteristics can presently be offered as necessary constituents of a zero growth ethic.
First, zero growth must be global in scope. In a world of competitive, aggrandizement-oriented nation-states, it would be suicidal for any nation, other than one with no resources coveted by others, to adopt a policy of zero growth while other nations continued to expand. Moreover, the adoption of zero growth by half the world and not the other half would not remove the threat to the environment that man's activities represent. Nature, and man's impact on it, knows no borders.
While zero growth, being global, implies a "world government" of some sort, it does not necessarily ring the death knell of nationhood. Just as the existence of a national government does not demand an end to states or provinces, a world governmental body, whatever its nature might be, does not require the abolition of the beloved nation-state. Witness the flowering of nationalistic sentiment in the era of the United Nations - 188 sentiments at present.
Second, zero growth emphasizes cooperation, instead of competition, as the overriding determinant of relations amongst peoples. Admittedly, this position derives from moral principles not susceptible to empirical or logical proof. Critics of zero growth will deride it as wishful thinking, no more likely of fruition than another of man's lofty but seemingly unattainable goals: peace. Certainly, one solution to the problem of increased competition for resources, a solution unfortunately hallowed by the frequency of its adoption down through the ages, would be for the strong to steal from the weak and kill them if they protest.
But a cold analysis of current realities might lead even the most hard-nosed practitioner of realpolitik to conclude that cooperation amongst nations is the best hope for solving the threats to the global environment we all face, as well as for assuring the well-being of whatever entity he holds dear. Loosing the horrendous weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological, nuclear - available to powerful nations today might well prove as damaging to the inflictor as to the inflictee. If access to vital resources were to require the stationing of troops around the globe, to stabilize societies wracked with poverty or to gain advantageous terms, a less costly, less force-based arrangement might be sought by thoughtful diplomats. Nations may be forced to cooperate, whether they like it or not, to protect their own competitive interests.
Thirdly, zero growth implies sacrifice. Though zero growth itself does not necessarily mean reduced prosperity, one of the primary motivations behind the concept is a concern for future generations, a belief that we must forego some measure of our consumption of the earth's bounties on behalf of generations yet to come. Whether the psychological and spiritual benefits derived from a zero growth ethos would outweigh any material losses, only the adoption of the concept can prove. But, clearly, zero growth does imply material sacrifice.
Special sacrifice is required of those in the wealthier countries, for it is hard to conceive how the degrading poverty suffered by so much of the world can be alleviated without a generous giving by those who have so much, and without a resolution to the material disparities which afflict mankind zero growth cannot succeed. But such sacrifice may be forced on the world's wealthy, regardless of any zero growth ethic. If those in the industrialized countries, for instance, came to conclude that the deforestation of the tropical rain forest truly threatened the global climate, they might find the only viable solution was to raise the standard of living in tropical countries so that their inhabitants had other means to survive than to practice slash-and-burn agriculture. Charity, based on self-interest, is perhaps the surest, if not noblest, kind.