The steady state revolution

Brian Czech

A few weeks ago I reported on conservation and other groups adopting official positions on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. I mentioned that Brian Czech and the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy have been instrumental in helping to bring about this awareness and activism.

As an update, on June 9th, at their annual meeting, the American Society of Mammalogists adopted a similar resolution. From the press release:

The ASM described a “fundamental conflict between economic growth and the conservation of ecosystems” based upon scientifically established principles. The ASM noted that an economy has an “optimal size” and that growth beyond the optimum reduces human welfare in addition to threatening other species…. The ASM was particularly concerned about the misleading rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”… The ASM suggests that, in many nations, a “steady state economy” has become a more appropriate goal than economic growth.

This seems like a good time, then, for a bit more on Brian’s work at promoting the steady state economy. The video below is a “must see.” It features Brian providing a lucid explanation of the steady state economy concept and its significance, including a comparison to the neoclassical economics view. Highly recommended!

Click here for the video. (QuickTime)

(Please let me know if you’re having any trouble seeing the whole video.)

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12 responses to “The steady state revolution

  1. Just to put some recent metrics on what Czech alludes to – human appropriation of natural capital. This from a paper from the National Academy of Sciences this week:

    “humans appropriated 24% of the Earth’s potential production” of primary biomass each year(i.e. ~ 25% of the “Earth’s photosynthetic production capacity”)… “with such an already high human pressure on ecosystems, schemes to replace fossil fuels with biomass fuels should be approached cautiously”

    I am not an expert in this area, but I just found these metrics staggering. Here is the info on the paper.

    “Quantifying and mapping the human appropriation of net primary production in the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems”, is about to be published by the National Academy of Sciences.
    http://www.pnas.org/misc/highlights.shtml#Humans
    The full paper is available online now here: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0704243104v1

    From the lay synopsis:
    Measuring human appropriation of net primary production, the aggregate impact of land use on biomass available each year in ecosystems, is one way to quantify the effect that human dominance has on the biosphere. Human land use, such as planting crops, or harvesting, such as clearing forests, alters patterns and pathways of carbon captured by photosynthesis. A recent analysis by Helmut Haberl et al. shows that humans appropriate almost a quarter of the Earth’s photosynthetic production capacity in this way. Haberl et al. analyzed data on human land use and harvests from 161 countries, which represent 97% of the Earth’s landmass. The results showed that humans appropriated 24% of the Earth’s potential production. Over half of the impact is attributable to harvesting crops or other plants. According to the authors, no other single species has such a large impact on the Earth’s production. The authors caution that, with such an already high human pressure on ecosystems, schemes to replace fossil fuels with biomass fuels should be approached cautiously given their ability to impact the biosphere further.

  2. Hi tidal,

    Welcome. Thanks, that’s good information. I’ve seen similar figures elsewhere (can’t recall where), some looking at different but related metrics, I believe, for which the numbers are even more alarming. I think it’s not far off to say we’ve really been too “successful” as a species.

  3. Is the whole video coming through for people? It is for me, but I’ve had a report of it ending prematurely. I hope others will let me know if they’re having a problem with it.

  4. Hi John! Welcome back!

    The ever-expanding capitalist market place no doubt has a psychological effect on our populations desire for more procreation and value-set proliferation. If the worlds resources are seen as never ending thanks to capitalism, the people living within the system must also see their lifestyle choices as reasonable accommodations given the “infinite resources” of the natural world.

    I never really made the connection until this post, thanks for the headache, haha.

  5. Hey Gavin!

    I think you’re right. In fact, I think there’s some place in William Catton’s book, “Overshoot,” (great book from 1982 that was about 25 years ahead of its time 🙂 ) where he says something similar. If I have a chance I’ll dig it up and post a quote.

  6. In order to get any kind of useful revolution started, I know for certain that a global peace movement must

    Any useful revolution must start with a call for peace and understanding amongst our number, regardless of nationality, race and faith. If it is impossible to achieve a will for peace, it will also be impossible to achieve a global human climate for co-operation. And co-operation is the most important thing. The whole world is shaking with climate change. Extreme weather patterns is the new order of the day. We need to become able to negotiate an understanding amongst ourself. Be in this togehter, so to speak. I believe, in a sense, that nature itself is trying to tell us humans something. Something about the need to stand united, and stop killing each other for reasons … who knows? …

    Global warming is affecting the whole planet. It is affecting humanity as a whole. We shall have to understand this, very well.

  7. A global peace movement which could be called something like: “The Human Alliance for The Ecological Earth.”

    Or something ..?

  8. I think you’re basically right, Magne. At the same time, though, ecologically, we don’t seem to have a lot of time. So we’ll have to work toward peace and tackle our ecological challenges simultaneously. Which is what you’re saying — that we need to *combine* the peace and environmental movements. Yeah, I’d like to see that.

  9. Economic growth is great, it makes life easier and better, and washing machines, silicon chips and safety pins are wonderful.

    I find it unfortunate that people continually confuse economic growth with population increase.

    Carving up land, clear felling forests and creating demand rather than fundamental wealth.

    Amoebae divide until they consume their environment.

    If you offer a child the choice between a “jelly bean now”, or a “jar of jelly beans in a year”
    It’ll scoff the single jelly bean.

    Please remember, you are dealing with children descended from Amoebas,
    Don’t try and solve the problem with facts and reason.

    This message should be shoved down people’s throats with militant force, before they wreck my beautiful planet.

  10. Richard,

    Economic growth is fine when it does not involve physical throughput which exceeds the planet’s absorptive and regenerative capacities. Currently that’s not the case. See Herman Daly’s essay currently posted here. (I think it’s also safe to say there are forms of economic growth which might not at first appear to involve physical throughput, but which in fact do when examined closely.)

    Corporations have long counted on population growth to fuel economic growth, and they and supporters of unregulated trade, capitalism, etc. tend to be among the loudest cheerleaders of population growth. So while economic growth is not the same thing as population growth, they are correctly associated in certain contexts.

    (BTW why link your name to a parked domain name? I removed it just so as not to waste readers’ time, but will reinstate it if there’s some understandable reason.)

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