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Tao of Degrowth

Tao of Degrowth

I am a degrowther and a doomer but this is not what your first reaction indicates.  We are taught to be optimistic and so forth.  People loath pessimist and doomers.  People tire of people who cry wolf constantly.  This is what the doom movement has done for decades now.  There is some truth to this but there is also the reality of the slow boil.  A frog will slowly boil without realizing its fate.  Humans because of our short-termism and immediate gratification tendencies slow boil with periods of change.  Some of this is beneficial because it is the degree of shock and the duration that is the key variable of survivability so adapting slowly allows survivable change.

My doom approach is different.  I am a visionary of sorts in regards to the tipping over of an age.  This is academic and I have been studying this for decades now.  I have been living the response for over a decade.  I have digested the available science not as a specialist but as a generalist with some specialization.  I study all fields in general picking through them in relation to decline.  I specialize in energy and systems for my theoretical approach.  It is my assessment that a multifaceted tipping over is now at or near the peak point.  The tipping over is at or near where diminishing returns to technological efforts go non-liner into problem creation.  I see an extinction event for life systems with localized failure and general decline.  The planetary systems that support life is in abrupt change with climate but also the nutrient, carbon, and hydrologic cycles.  Finally, systematically, civilization is in a phase of degrading.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Grappling with growth

Synergies and tensions between degrowth and people’s movements

We live in an age of converging crises. Only days ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a damning report on the state of the environmental crisis. At the same time, while a few countries are recuperating from the pandemic, an on-going third wave of Covid wreaks havoc across the Global South. In both crises, the economic imperative overrides other concerns and appears to render necessary changes illusory. Even among staunch proponents of our current economic system, calls for reform grow louder.1 The health and environmental crises are illustrative of broader tendencies: environmental disasters, rising global inequality, political polarization, a strengthening of right-wing extremism, anti-immigrant policies, and accompanying human misery.

In light of this, movements are mobilizing. Beyond reform, they argue that systemic changes are needed. Their struggles take a holistic view, emphasizing how the individual crises are entangled and driven by underlying structural factors. A question moving increasingly to the center of attention is growth itself as a driver of social inequality and unsustainability. Critics of growth argue that reckoning with environmental devastation and social inequality is directly tied to leaving behind the growth-paradigm. Among the frameworks and movements criticizing growth, degrowth is especially prevalent.

Degrowth argues that environmental sustainability and social justice necessitate transitioning beyond growth-reliance. In order to address social and environmental issues, we have to transition towards societies that are not just smaller in size but also operate according to a different logic – a logic that is not determined by the market sphere.2

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Buying our way out of pandemic malaise is hurting the planet, experts say

Buying our way out of pandemic malaise is hurting the planet, experts say

Some say the emphasis should be on well-being rather than economic growth

People line up to shop in Toronto. As COVID-19 cases eased in recent months, provinces have relaxed restrictions and encouraged people to spend again. But the emphasis on economic growth can come at the expense of environmental health. (Sam Nar/CBC)

Back in the spring, Canadian politicians spoke optimistically of a “two-dose summer,” signalling that a robust COVID-19 vaccination rollout would enable people to fully enjoy the warmer weather.

As COVID-19 infection numbers eased in recent months, provinces have relaxed restrictions and encouraged people to spend again.

While this was meant to provide a collective boost in the middle of a stubborn pandemic, this summer has put on another horror show of extreme weather — including a deadly heat dome and rampant wildfires in British Columbia and northwestern Ontario and drought in the Prairies.

Earlier this week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a dire report that stated unequivocally that climate change was human-made and that some of its catastrophic effects were already on view.

The destruction we’re seeing now is fuelled by decades of environmental harm, but it is also coming at a time when politicians and marketers alike are prompting us to spend — whether it’s at the mall, at the car dealership or on so-called revenge travel.

Mass consumption inevitably adds stress to the natural world, in the form of resource extraction and carbon emissions.

“There is always discussion that we should as consumers spend money to fuel up businesses,” said Bengi Akbulut, assistant professor of geography, planning and environment at Concordia University in Montreal.

“But I think the broader tension [right now] is whether we can grow our way out of the ecological breakdown.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s a Trap, Don’t Do It

It’s a Trap, Don’t Do It

My last article focused on mindsets and how they can lead us into traps. One of the most pervasive of these traps is the energy trap. People are constantly searching for new types of energy, new energy generation, and/or ways to improve energy efficiency, ALL of which unfortunately are ultimately dead ends. The search for this energy is often with the idea to reduce emissions in an effort to reduce the effects of climate change. The trouble is in the fact that this ignores the root predicament of ecological overshoot and that producing more energy requires destruction of our planet resulting in MORE ecological overshoot, not less. Ultimately, the only way to reduce emissions is to consume less globally, period. I pointed this out in my article, What Would it Take for Humanity to Experience Radical Transformation? and added that continuing civilization is a non-starter. Yet, practically every single idea we see to “solve” climate change consists of ideas to ramp up energy production in one way or another or to continue civilization, the very continuation of which is driving us to the edge of extinction. Why do we still fail to see that what most all of our ideas attempt is impossible and only leads to ruination? Why can we not see that degrowth and contraction are the only options? Why not instead focus on ideas which help and support the only two options that are actually possible, feasible, and practical? Politically speaking, mentioning ideas that would conform to this trajectory would be a death sentence for the politician, and so we continue on unsustainable paths and continue kicking the can down the road.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Necessary Climate Solution No-one is Talking About

The Necessary Climate Solution No-one is Talking About

For all the talk of renewable energy, electric vehicles and plant-based diets, there’s a gaping hole in the way we’re trying to solve accelerating climate change.

We will not stay below 2°C of warming while pursuing economic growth – yet barely anyone talks about it.

Since the end of World War II Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been the metric of human prosperity in Western nations – the idea being that if the productivity of the economy increases so will the wellbeing of the people within that economy. And for a while that was the case – but since the 1970’s increases in GDP have, on average, failed to translate into increases in wellbeing and happiness.

It is not surprising. Research has shown that once a certain GDP threshold, or level of wellbeing, has been met people gain little from consuming more ‘stuff’ – a necessary requirement for continuous GDP growth.

Robert F Kennedy eloquently summed up the inadequacy of GDP as a metric of wellbeing at a speech he gave in 1968:

[t]he gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

What’s more, GDP has never been, and can’t be, decoupled from material footprint, including energy[i]. This means we cannot roll out renewable energy fast enough to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement – to keep warming below 2°C – if we continue growing our economy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

On Degrowth

On Degrowth

“The Good Life” mural painted by Amanda Lynn, Forestville, Califonria, 2021. Photo: Kamran Nayeri.

What is degrowth?

Degrowth is an ambiguous  label used by different currents that have emerged or have been reconsidered as such since the 1960s when the contemporary environmentalist movement got underway.  The bulk of these movements identify as Greens although it includes eco-anarchists (e.g. Trainer 2010; Australian Simplicity Institute) and others.  The ambiguity of what degrowth stands for is a problem both for its proponents and its critics that sometimes misrepresent it.    

I will briefly review and discuss degrowth by focusing on a recent book The Case for Degrowth (2020) by Giorgos Kallis, Susan Paulson, Giacomo D’Alisa, and Federico Demaria (herein, “The authors”). Mike Davis has recommended the book as “eloquent and urgent.” The authors themselves declare: “The purpose of this book is to motivate and empower citizens, policy makers, and activists to reorient livelihoods and politics around equitable wellbeing.” (p. 5)

In their view:

“Degrowth makes the case that we have to produce and consume differently, and also less.  That we have to share more and distribute more fairly, while the pie shrinks. To do so in ways that support pleasurable lives in resilient societies and environments requires values and institutions that produce different kinds of persons and relations.” (ibid.)

Yet degrowth “does not claim one unitary theory or plan of action. A remarkably diverse network of thinkers and actors experiment with different initiatives and engage in healthy debates about what degrowth, and what form it can or should take un different contexts.” (p. 19)

Thus, degrowth appears as as décroissance in France, decrescita in Catalonia, and sumak kawsay (an ancient Quechua word for “good living”) or Bon Vivir in Latin America, Ubuntu in South Africa, and so on.

Intellectual sources of degrowth

At its core degrowth is about volunteer simplicity as a lifestyle choice. Voluntary simplicity has deep historical roots. In the U.S. its intellectual origins is in American transcendentalism, most directly the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the more practical example of Henry David Thoreau.  In the Western tradition simplicity is a theme in Christianity. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God is infinitely simple. The Roman Catholic and Anglican religious orders of Franciscans also strive for personal simplicity. Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) practice the Testimony of Simplicity, which involves simplifying one’s life to focus on what is important and disregard or avoid what is least important. Simplicity is tenet of Anabaptistism.

Recent sources of degrowth come from the Club of Rome, think tank headquartered in WinterthurSwitzerland. Meadows, et. al. (1972) published The Limits to Growth a report prepared at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) using simulation models to predicate the future of economic growth on a planet with limited resources. In 2012, one of the researchers of the original study, Randers (2012), published the last report 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years  Intellectually more interesting sources include E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973) and  “Buddhist Economics” (1966) as well as Herman Daly’s stationary state economics such as“Towards a Steady-State Economy.” (2008) and others (see, here).   

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXV

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

This contemplation was prompted by an article regarding an ‘independent’ think tank’s report that presented the argument that government funding of the oil and gas industry needed to be shifted towards ‘green/clean’ alternatives. I’ve included a few hyperlinks to sites that expand upon the concepts/issues discussed.

Context, it’s always important. This ‘independent’ think tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, is part and parcel of the corporate/business ‘greenwashing’ of our world and ‘solutions’ to its various dilemmas. It’s primary mission is ‘sustainable’ development/growth, a gargantuan oxymoron on a finite planet. Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong?

In fact, the perpetuation of this continued pursuit of perpetual growth is seen quite clearly in the absence of any discussion about curtailing our growth but rather finding ways to ‘sustain’ it, and the misuse of language (that has become endemic in the environmental movement) and the simplified ‘solution’ offered by arguing that government funds need to be directed away from the climate change-causing oil and gas industry and towards the ‘clean’ energy alternatives of ‘renewables’.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future

Suburban affluence is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.

To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.

You might naturally assume this will involve pain and sacrifice, but we argue that a “prosperous descent” is possible. Our new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, envisions how this might unfold in the suburban landscapes that are currently emblematic of overconsumption.

The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).

Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels

Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.

This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Portrayals of Degrowth in the Press: ‘Free market magic’ vs ‘Radical doomsayers’

In October 2020, I analysed press coverage of degrowth in Western European (English language) newspapers and magazines between January 2015 and October 2020.  Using media theory concepts such as agenda setting and framing, my research explored how degrowth is being considered in the press, particularly as a potential response to climate change.

*    *     *

Are you a fanatic, a fetishist or a member of a cult?  If you are a supporter of degrowth, then you are likely to be portrayed that way in the press.  My research found that degrowth is not yet on the media agenda, except in a very limited and mostly dismissive way.  The English-language press is not informing the public thoughtfully of alternatives to our current political-economic system or the impact of unfettered growth on the planet.

Greta Thunberg gave a stirring speech to the United Nations in 2019, challenging the leaders of the world to think differently about their approach to climate change.  In her direct style, she delivered a stinging rebuke of governments’ emphasis on continuous economic growth, telling the gathering:  “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

Thunberg echoes the degrowth movement – an increasing body of academics and activists, who argue that economic growth cannot be decoupled from increased greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, they advocate for degrowth as a potential solution to climate change.  An open letter proposing putting degrowth principles at the root of a new economy attracted over 2,000 signatories and has been translated into 18 languages.  Academic interest in degrowth appears to have increased significantly in recent years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How We End Consumerism

How We End Consumerism

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XV

Rome, Italy (1984) Photo by author

Energy. It’s at the core of everything we do. Everything. Yet we take it for granted and rarely think about it and what the finiteness of our various energy sources means for us.

As Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World concludes in a recent thought-provoking article that should be read widely: “Needless to say, the powers that be do not want the general population to hear about issues of these kinds. We find ourselves with narrower and narrower news reports that provide only the version of the truth that politicians and news media want us to read.”

Instead of having a complex and very necessary discussion about the unsustainable path we are on (especially as it pertains to chasing the perpetual growth chalice) and attempting to mitigate the consequences of our choices, we are told all is well, that ‘science’, ‘human ingenuity’, and ‘technology’ will save the day, and we can maintain business-as-usual with just some minor ‘tweaks’ and/or a ‘green/clean’ energy transition. Pre/history, physics, and biology would suggest otherwise.

Here is my relatively long comment on a Tyee article discussing the International Energy Agency’s recent report that calls on all future fossil fuel projects to be abandoned and drastic reductions in demand in order to avoid irreparable climate change damage to our planet. The answer, however, will not be found in ‘renewable’ energy and related technologies as many contend because the underlying and fundamental issue of overshoot has been conveniently left out of the story.

Having followed the ‘energy’ dilemma for more than a decade I’ve come to better understand the complexities, nuances, and scheming that it entails; not all mind you, not by a long shot, but certainly better than the mainstream narratives provide…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Degrowth and law – how to combine these concepts?

Reconciling degrowth and law isn’t always easy, given the anarchist underpinnings and anti-statist leanings of some in the degrowth community.  One vision of a degrowth world is of decentralized, autonomous, convivial communities of people in tune with their supporting ecosystems, consuming no more than they need, sharing as much as possible and treating each other with compassion, fairness and mutual respect.  No central state power, no police, no borders, no masters and servants, no conspicuous consumption, no oppression.  This, however, doesn’t necessarily require a world without law, just a world with law that is much different from the forms of law that prevail in today’s rapacious and unjust world. Humanity’s overarching challenge is to learn how to stop individually and collectively doing harmful things we are used to and conditioned to doing.  Meeting that challenge, through degrowth or otherwise, requires some form of law.  For reasons that follow, I propose that that the emerging field of ecological law is well suited to help guide a transformation to degrowth societies.

Contemporary law, including environmental law, is anathema to degrowth. Dominant forms of law today are tied to hierarchical structures centered around states and private property, and contemporary law is a fierce handmaiden to many aspects of the prevailing neoliberal order, including capitalism, that degrowth challenges.  Environmental law is part of this contemporary law.  In calling for ecological law that transforms contemporary law, the Ecological Law and Governance Association’s (ELGA) Oslo Manifesto (2016) notes that the roots of environmental law in anthropocentrism, human-nature dualism and individualism has rendered it fragmented, reductionist, blind to ecological interdependencies and weak in comparison to law that protects private interests and state sovereignty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The anti-colonial politics of degrowth

The anti-colonial politics of degrowth

As degrowth ideas speed their way into social movements and academic research, they have encountered some interesting critiques. In a recent contribution to this Virtual Forum, Huber (2021) dismissed degrowth as a preoccupation of middle-class environmentalists in the global North who feel “anxiety” about excess consumption. Such a movement, he argues, can never hope to connect with the working class, who are struggling to get by, and certainly cannot connect with social movements in the global South, where mass poverty is widespread and where, he claims, the concept of degrowth is largely unknown. These claims constitute a significant misrepresentation of degrowth politics.

Let me begin by noting a few facts. High-income countries are the primary drivers of global ecological breakdown. The global North is responsible for 92 percent of emissions in excess of the planetary boundary (Hickel, 2020a), while the consequences of climate breakdown fall disproportionately upon the global South. The South already suffers the vast majority of the damage inflicted by climate breakdown, and if temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade, much of the tropics could experience heat events that exceed the limits of human survival (Zhang, Held, & Fueglistaler, 2021). Likewise, high-income countries are responsible for the majority of excess global resource use, with an average material footprint of 28 tons per capita per year – four times over the sustainable level (Bringezu, 2015). Crucially, these high levels of consumption depend on a significant net appropriation from the global South through unequal exchange, including 10.1 billion tons of embodied raw materials and 379 billion hours of embodied labor per year (Dorninger et al., 2021).

In other words, economic growth in the North relies on patterns of colonization: the appropriation of atmospheric commons, and the appropriation of Southern resources and labour. In terms of both emissions and resource use, the global ecological crisis is playing out along colonial lines…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Do You Believe in Magic?


The people pretending to run the world’s financial affairs do. The more layers of abstract game-playing they add to the existing armatures of unreality they’ve already constructed, the more certain it becomes that they will blow up all the support systems of a sunsetting hyper-tech economy that now has no safe lane to continue running in.

Virtually all the big nations are doing this now in desperation because they don’t understand that the hyper-tech economy is hostage to the deteriorating economics of energy, basically fossil fuels, and oil especially. The macro mega-system can’t grow anymore. We’re now in the de-growth phase of a dynamic that pulsates through history, as everything in the universe pulsates. We attempted to compensate for de-growth with debt, borrowing from the future.

But debt only works in the youthful growth phases of economic pulsation, when the prospect of being paid back is statistically favorable. Now in the elder de-growth phase, the prospect of paying back debts, or even servicing the interest, is statistically dismal. The amount of racked-up debt worldwide has entered the realm of the laughable. So, the roughly twenty-year experiment in Central Bank credit magic, as a replacement for true capital formation, has come to its grievous end.

Hence, America under the pretend leadership of Joe Biden ventures into the final act of this melodrama, which will end badly and probably pretty quickly. They are about to call in the financial four horsemen of apocalypse: 1) Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), 2) a command economy, 3) Universal Basic Income (UBI, “helicopter” money for the people), and 4) the “Build Back Better” infrastructure scheme.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

money, monetary theory, modern monetary theory, debt, money printing, james howard kunstler, clusterfuck nation, magic, degrowth, growth

Presidents Day: Carter’s Prescient Farewell Address in 1981

Presidents Day: Carter’s Prescient Farewell Address in 1981

Regardless of our opinions about President Carter and his legacy, his Farewell Address is worthy of our attention and study.

On Presidents Day 2021, I invite you to read/watch President Carter’s Farewell Address from 40 years ago. As a Washington outsider, Carter was relentlessly mocked and undermined by the Establishment, as insiders’ loathing of outsiders knows no bounds.

In a similar fashion, the loathing of the corrupt and self-absorbed for the faithful aspiring to better world despite our weaknesses and flaws also knows no bounds, and so the establishment insiders that run the nation had no use for Carter other than as a handy whipping post.

President Carter was not the only outsider president reviled by the Washington elites, of course; outsiders of both parties draw the fierce fire of a corrupt Establishment fearful of exposure.

Although many reckon it good sport to make fun of President Carter’s initiatives (along with his grin, hair, accent, etc. etc. etc.), a strong case can be made that he was the first and only 21st century President the nation has elected. Every president since, regardless of party or ideology or canned speeches (Soaring Rhetoric (TM), has been embedded in a continuation of the 20th century economy, politics and Imperial Project.

Carter was the first and only president to address DeGrowth, though the word had yet to be coined: DeGrowth is the idea that resources would eventually become scarce and thus unaffordable, and rather then pursue the insane fantasy of eternal growth on a finite planet, a new arrangement that did more with less would be needed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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