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We need to end growth dependency, but how?

We need to end growth dependency, but how?

Introduction: escaping growth-dependency

It has long been understood that the standard economic prescription of economic “growth”, to fix multiple economic, social and environmental ills, is highly implausible3. This stems from the elementary observation that you cannot expand the material throughput of the economy (the materials and energy it consumes) without coming up against the limits imposed by the biophysical systems of the earth that we all rely on. There are other dimensions to the critique of “growth”, 1) the destabilising economic impacts of the reducing return on investment as materials and energy sources become scarcer, 2) the failure of economic growth to benefit those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, and 3) to deliver increases in well-being for the population as a whole (once a certain overall standard of living has been reached), which supports the idea that we need a different kind of civilisation ethic, one based on sufficiency rather than excess4. Against the implausible wager on “growth”, I and colleagues in Steady State Manchester have argued for a Viable Economy,

… an economy that is resilient and dynamic, providing enough for all, while supporting social well-being. And it must be ecologically viable, not causing further damage to the earth’s fragile systems without which life is not possible.”5

The understanding that you cannot grow the material economy for ever was given a clear focus by the work of Donella Meadows and colleagues in the 1970s with their Limits to Growth report6. That report was criticised, largely on spurious grounds, leading to its eclipse and the dominance of the fudge of “sustainable development”, that you can continue to grow while producing environmental and social benefit. The bankruptcy of that idea is ever more clear as the earth’s ecological and biophysical systems lurch into a series of danger zones of which climate change, biodiversity loss and pressures on freshwater systems are just the most obvious ones.7

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

Betting the Earth on a Game of Wrap-Cut-Smash

Betting the Earth on a Game of Wrap-Cut-Smash

Photo by Kevin Gill | CC BY 2.0

The Earth is having to deal with continuous, largely unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases, along with soil degradation, mass extinction of species, destruction of ecosystems, and disruption of nitrogen, phosphorous, and water cycles. Meanwhile, efforts to head off the planet-wide ecological crisis remain trapped in a game of rock-paper-scissors. [1]

Let’s start with the “paper,” which represents the kinds of paper exercises purporting to show that prosperous “green growth” can carry humanity and the Earth together through a better and better future. These include, for example, the 2015 “Ecomodernist Manifesto” [2] and a series of “100% renewable wind, water, and sunlight energy roadmaps” [3] published in recent years. Such cornucopian analyses undergird the mainstream climate movement’s vision of a smooth transition to a greener, happier, more prosperous world.

The paper, however, is cut up by the “scissors”— the restraints on resource exploitation and consequent cutbacks in production of goods and services, along with other human activities, that will be necessary if ecological catastrophe is to be avoided. Rooted in the knowledge that infinite growth is impossible and efficiency a chimera, the idea that economic activity must be restrained was developed early on by the ecological economists Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly [4] and has long been urged by the Post-Carbon Institute [5], “peak oil” campaigners [6], Tim Jackson, Ted Trainer, and various proposals for firm ceilings on energy consumption, with business and household quotas [7].

The scissors argument for the necessity of cutting throughput and pulling back within ecological limits is unassailable. However, most such analyses are focused on the world’s high-production, high-consumption economies, with few specific recommendations for how the billions of people in both rich and poor economies who already lack adequate access to resources can achieve material sufficiency.

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

The Seneca Cliff Explained: a Three Dimensional Collapse Overview Model

The Seneca Cliff Explained: a Three Dimensional Collapse Overview Model

A Three Dimensional Collapse Overview Model
In this post, Geoffrey Chia illustrates one of the fundamental characteristics of the “Seneca Effect”, also known as “collapse,” the fact that it occurs in networked systems dominated by feedback interactions. This is a qualitative interpretation of collapse that complements the more quantitative models that I report in my book “The Seneca Effect.” (U.B.)


The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 by a group of world class scientists using the best mathematical computer modelling available at the time. It projected the future collapse of global industrial civilisation in the 21st century if humanity did not curb its population, consumption and pollution. It was pilloried by many “infinite growth on a finite planet” economists over the decades.

However, updated data inputs and modern computer modelling in recent years (particularly by Dr Graham Turner of the CSIRO in 2008 and 2014) showed that we are in reality closely tracking the standard model of the LtG, with industrial collapse and mass die-off due sooner rather than later. The future is now.

The LtG looked only at 5 parameters, with global warming being a mere subset of pollution. Dramatic acceleration of ice melt and unprecedented, increasingly frequent, extreme weather events over the past two decades clearly demonstrate that global warming is progressing far faster and far worse than anyone could possibly have imagined back in the 70s. Global warming certainly deserves a separate category for consideration on its own, quite apart from the other manifestations of pollution.
The LtG did not include a specific category looking at the human dynamics of finance, economics and political manoeuvrings, which was fair enough, because it is impossible to mathematically model such capricious irrationality.

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

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America

Photograph Nathaniel St. Clair

As Hurricane Harvey lashed Texas, Naomi Klein wasted no time in diagnosing the “real root causes” behind the disaster, indicting “climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police.” A day after her essay appeared, George Monbiot argued that no one wants to ask the tough questions about the coastal flooding spawned during Hurricane Harvey because to do so would be to challenge capitalism—a system wedded to “perpetual growth on a finite planet”—and call into question the very foundations of “the entire political and economic system.”

Of the two choices, I vote for Monbiot’s interpretation. Nearly forty years ago, the historian Donald Worster in his classic study of one of the worst natural disasters in world history, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, wrote that capitalism, which he understood as an economic culture founded on maximizing imperatives and a determination to treat nature as a form of capital, “has been the decisive factor in this nation’s use of nature.”

Care must be taken not to imagine capitalism as a timeless phenomenon. Capitalism has a history and that history is important if we are to properly diagnose what happened recently in Texas and is about to happen as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida. What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England.

The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature.

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

The Fallacy of Endless Economic Growth

THE FALLACY OF ENDLESS ECONOMIC GROWTH

What economists around the world get wrong about the future.

The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn’t appear to bother us. We hear the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion, in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street, in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct. Growth will bring jobs and income, which allow us entry into the state of grace known as affluence, which permits us to consume more, providing more jobs for more people producing more goods and services so that the all-mighty economy can continue to grow. “Growth is our idol, our golden calf,” Herman Daly, an economist known for his anti-growth heresies, told me recently.

In the United States, the religion is expressed most avidly in the cult of the American Dream. The gatekeepers of the faith happen to not only be American: The Dream is now, and has long been, a pandemic disorder. Growth is a moral imperative in the developing world, we are told, because it will free the global poor from deprivation and disease. It will enrich and educate the women of the world, reducing birth rates. It will provide us the means to pay for environmental remediation—to clean up what so-called economic progress has despoiled. It will lift all boats, making us all rich, healthy, happy. East and West, Asia and Europe, communist and capitalist, big business and big labor, Nazi and neoliberal, the governments of just about every modern nation on Earth: All have espoused the mad growthist creed.

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

Moral economy: a different way of thinking about the future

Moral economy: a different way of thinking about the future 

Coal shovels at work in Randolph County, Illinois c. 1970. Katy McClelland/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)You know something is grotesquely wrong when the 80 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population, when the combined wealth of the 1000 richest people in the UK is nearly five times the size of the annual NHS budget, and when unending growth is assumed to be possible in a finite, rapidly overheating planet. But conventional approaches to economic matters can’t explain what is wrong.

To understand these problems we need a radically different approach that goes back to basics. Most basic of all is this: the point of economic activity is simply to enable us to live well. Economies are systems of provisioning—ways of providing us with the wherewithal to live a decent life—and of course some ways of doing this are much better than others. Provisioning involves two kinds of relations:

    1. Relations between people, whether as buyers and sellers, employers and employees, lenders and borrowers, landlords and tenants, citizens and governments, or as providers and beneficiaries of unpaid work.
    2. Our relations to the environment, as all material wealth ultimately depends on this. Looking after the environment should make economic sense, degrading it does not.

No one ever got rich or poor outside these two sets of relations. ‘Moral economy’—unlike mainstream economics—focuses on these and examines whether they are fair or unfair, functional for provisioning or not, and sustainable or unsustainable. Particularly at this time of economic and environmental crisis, it can provide us with signposts to a different way of doing things.

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

Extinction, the New Environmentalism and the Cancer in the Wilderness

Extinction, the New Environmentalism and the Cancer in the Wilderness

The word is in from the wildlife biologists. Say goodbye in North America to the gray wolf, the cougar, the grizzly bear. They are destined for extinction sometime in the next 40 years. Say goodbye to the Red wolf and the Mexican wolf and the Florida panther. Gone the jaguar, the ocelot, the wood bison, the buffalo, the California condor, the North Atlantic right whale, the Stellar sea lion, the hammerhead shark, the leatherback sea turtle. That’s just North America. Worldwide, the largest and most charismatic animals, the last of the megafauna, our most ecologically important predators and big ungulates, the wildest wild things, will be the first to go in the anthropogenic extinction event of the Holocene Era. The tiger and leopard and the elephant and lion in Africa and Asia. The primates, the great apes, our wild cousins. The polar bears in the Arctic Sea. The shark and killer whale in every ocean. “Extinction is now proceeding thousands of times faster than the production of new species,” biologist E.O. Wilson writes. Between 30 and 50 percent of all known species are expected to go extinct by 2050, if current trends hold. There are five other mass extinction events in the geologic record, stretching back 500 million years. But none were the result of a single species’ overreach.

I’ve found conversation with my biologist sources to be terribly dispiriting. The conversation goes like this: Homo sapiens are out of control, a bacteria boiling in the petri dish; the more of us, demanding more resources, means less space for every other life form; the solution is less of us, consuming fewer resources, but that isn’t happening. It can’t happen.

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

The decoupling debate: can economic growth really continue without emission increases?

 

A year ago, in one of our most popular web articles, our group, Steady State Manchester took issue with claims from New Climate Economy (NCE) that there was no conflict between climate change mitigation and continued economic growth. NCE argued that by taking action on climate change economic growth could be boosted. While NCE marshalled a lot of useful information on the how of emissions reduction, emphasising the role of cities, investment in clean energy, and adopting more efficient technologies in aviation and shipping, their argument relies on the idea that economic (i.e. GDP) growth can be decoupled from the growth in GHG emissions. While the emphasis here is on the relationship between GDP and GHG emissions, similar analyses are needed for the material flows underpinning transgression of the otherplanetary boundaries, in addition to climate change.

There are two kinds of decoupling1Relative decoupling means that the rate at which emissions increase is lower than the rate at which GDP decreases. That is not a lot of help in the climate crisis, since under relative decoupling, if there is economic growth, then GHGs continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, contributing to the already high risk of runaway global warming. Absolute decoupling on the other hand would mean that as the economy grew, emissions didn’t. If it could be demonstrated, then we might want to rethink our critique of endless economic growth.

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

Here’s Why the Status Quo Is Doomed

Here’s Why the Status Quo Is Doomed

The problem is the Status Quo only works in a world with plenty of room to expand.

The central illusion of this era is that the Status Quo can be reformed or saved.All we need to do is (or so we’re told):

1. Get money out of politics

2. Re-impose the Glass-Steagall Act on banking

3. Close the tax loopholes exploited by corporations and the wealthy

4. Overturn the Supreme Court decision giving corporations personhood

5. Restrict the Imperial War Powers of the president

6. Restore the civil liberties stripped by post-9/11 legislation

and so on. All good-governance, all prudent, all necessary.

But none of these reforms–or any of the other good-governance tweaks habitually promoted by left, right, center and Libertarian–can save the Status Quo. For what’s wrong with the Status Quo is systemic: tweaking rules and limiting excesses may make us feel like we’ve accomplished something useful, but that sense of accomplishment is illusory.

The problem is the Status Quo only works in a world with plenty of room to expand–a world of virgin resources ripe for exploitation (oops, I mean development), easy-to-extract abundant energy, and an expanding population with rising productivity and little debt.

In this world, there’s plenty of room for everything to expand: resource extraction, energy consumption, population, productivity, income and debt.

This is a world optimized for growth: there is so much material and labor capital available, enormous quantities can be squandered on wars, mal-investment, elite excesses and plain old waste.

The world optimized for growth begins with little or no debt. Debt, as we know, is a way to consume future earnings today. If $1 in income can be leveraged into $10 of debt, the worker earning the $1 can consume $10 of goods and services today, or buy $10 of assets.

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

 

Review of Collision Course (Endless Growth on a Finite Planet)

Review of Collision Course (Endless Growth on a Finite Planet)

Kerryn Higgs, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2014

This informative book is about the rise of economic growth to the status of the number one goal of nations; the short-lived challenge to that dogma from the book The Limits to Growth (1972); the solidity of the Limits position as confirmed by subsequent data and the analyses of others; the intellectual poverty and dishonesty of the growth economists’ reaction against the Limits argument; and how it nevertheless happened that through modern public relations and well-financed ideological think tanks, the intellectually weaker growth arguments prevailed. Higgs focuses on the US story, but with informative parallels from her native Australia.

Higgs documents the cogency of the Limits position and how the business as usual projection of the World Model has for over thirty years fit the data better than any standard economic model. She also exposes how the economists resorted to ridicule and arrogance as a substitute for reasoned refutation in their response to Limits. This story is well known to me because I was a participant in the debate. I can testify that Higgs’ retelling is accurate and insightful. It is also refreshing to me that MIT Press published her book. This indicates the welcome likelihood that some anonymous member of the MIT department of economics no longer has a veto over the decisions of the MIT Press.*

Collision Course

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

 

 

If We’re Going To Borrow Against The Future, Let’s Borrow To Invest

If We’re Going To Borrow Against The Future, Let’s Borrow To Invest

The are much better ways to spend the next $1 Trillion

We are at an important juncture as a global society: either we immediately prioritize a new trajectory focused on creating a positive, functional future or — by continuing the consumptive, extractive, exploitative status quo — we will default into a nasty nightmare.

What will determine which future path we take is our collective narrative. It’s the story we tell ourselves — who we are, what we value.

The Power Of Narrative

Under the old narrative, the one currently operating and taking us towards disaster, powerful people and interests simply perpetuate a regime of More of the same.

And I do mean ‘More.’  The old narrative rests upon an ideology of endless growth.  It wants and requires moreof everything.  More cars sold, more houses built, more jobs created, and more goods and services of every description sold next year than last.

Everything flows from that want for more. The defenders of the old ideology are therefore defenders of our astonishingly-wide wealth gap, rapid energy depletion, emptying aquifers, disappearing pollinators, ruined soils, and dying oceans.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A subtext of the old narrative is that humans are destroyers: we wreck natural systems. Put humans somewhere and first the large animals go extinct. Then the waters become polluted. Next, the soils are stripped.

Less well known, possibly because it shines a bitter light on our common practices, is that humans can be incredible forces of positive change, using their big brains to build natural abundance at rates far faster than nature by itself is able.

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

 

 

 

 

Adjusting the Fifth to a Finite Planet, Part II

Adjusting the Fifth to a Finite Planet, Part II

Editor’s Note: This is the second piece of a two-part post. You can read Part 1 here.

Among the avenues by which Takings case law could be adapted to the reality of a finite planet are these three:

One: Change the default by changing the definition of what constitutes a reasonable investment expectation. It is no longer reasonable for an individual to expect to profit from using property in ways that would destroy or diminish the property’s ability to provide ecosystem services to the public at large. Instead of the general public having to pay property owners the going market rate for land burdened by regulation–a rate that reflects the most intensive economic use of the land that can be imagined by infinite-growth-believing, financial-risk-taking optimists–land owners would have to compensate the general public when their acts diminish the flow of ecosystems services.

Two: Change the default by promulgating the notion of an ecological servitude. All property that abuts navigable waters in the U.S. is held under a navigational servitude: the public’s interest in maintaining navigable waters trumps the interests of waterfront property owners. As Justice Jackson put it in United States v. Willow River Power Co., “Rights, property or otherwise, which are absolute against all the world are certainly rare, and water rights are not among them.” Given the legitimate authority of government to pursue the public interest in establishing and maintaining navigable waters, he said, “private interest [in the disposition of waterfront property] must give way to a superior right, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, as against [the public interest represented through] the Government, such private interest is not a right at all.”

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

 

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize: Chris Martenson | Peak Prosperity

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize: Chris Martenson | Peak Prosperity.

At the essential center of the framework of the Crash Course is the almost insultingly simple idea that endless growth on a finite planet is an impossibility.

It is so simple it could be worked out by a clever 4 year-old. And yet it must not be so simple because the main narrative of every economy in every corner of the globe rests on the idea of endless, infinite growth.

Various rationalizations and mental dodges are made in people’s minds to accommodate the principle of endless growth.  Some avoid thinking of it all together.  Some think that perhaps we will escape into space, and continue our growthful ways on some other yet-to-be named planet(s).  Most simply assume that some new wondrous technology will arise that can allow us to avoid pesky limits.

Whatever the rationalization, none stand up well to simple math and cold logic.

At the very heart of endless growth lies the matter of energy.  To grow forever requires infinite amounts of energy.  Growth and energy are linked in a causal way.

…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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