[Update: Since this was posted, the CASSE site, including the FAQ, has been revamped. I encourage you to go there and have a look around!]
Administrator’s note: Though lots of actions play around the edges of helping address our environmental problems, very few get to the heart of the matter. One that does is the promotion of economic policy which rejects the notion of endless economic growth. In that vein, the “steady state economy” is a key alternative model, having grown out of the work of those in the field of ecological economics.
And no one works harder or more effectively to promote the steady state economy than Brian Czech, Ph.D. (and team!) and the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE). Trained as a conservation biologist, Brian is today an important contributor to our understanding of ecological economics, which he teaches as a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech. He is the author of Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train.
Here then, is the CASSE FAQ on economic growth. In few words, it says a great deal, touching on key points involved in the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. My thanks to Brian for making it available! Find previous posts on Brian and CASSE here. In a related vein is this recent piece on ecological/steady state economics at Trinifar and this one at The Natural Patriot. — JF
By Brian Czech:
What is economic growth?
Economic growth is simply an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services. It entails increasing population and/or per capita production and consumption. It is measured or indicated by increasing GDP, or gross domestic product.
Why is economic growth a threat to the environment?
The economy exists within the ecosystem. This fact is overlooked in business and economics textbooks, where the economy is portrayed as a circular flow of money between firms and households:
The production of goods and services entails the conversion of natural resources, or “natural capital,” into consumer goods and manufactured capital. This explains why there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation (pdf). Furthermore, pollution is an inevitable byproduct of economic production. The degradation of the environment as a result of economic growth occurs in many ways, but in general, economic growth leaves a larger ecological footprint.
Why is economic growth a threat to economic sustainability, national security, and international stability?
To grow, an economy requires more natural capital, including soil, water, minerals, timber, other raw materials and renewable energy sources. When the economy grows too fast or gets too big, this natural capital is depleted, or “liquidated.” To function smoothly, the economy also requires an environment that can absorb and recycle pollutants. When natural capital stocks are depleted, and/or the capacity of the environment to absorb pollutants is exceeded, the economy is forced to shrink.
National security, meanwhile, is always and everywhere a function of economic sustainability. The economic strife of a nation may result in insurrection or revolution, and eventually the nation-state may turn its agressions outward. From the Nazi doctrine of Lebensraum to the 21st century powder kegs, war invariably involves, and often revolves around, struggles for resources by nations that have exceeded their ecological capacities – or have had their capacities impacted by other states.
Can’t technology alleviate the threat of economic growth?
Some economists think that, because a particular production process can become more efficient (more output per unit of natural capital), there is no limit to economic growth. These economists and other “technological optimists” are forgetting the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy law, which tells us that we cannot achieve 100% efficiency in the economic production process. When the entropy law is applied across all economic sectors, or in other words when the limits to efficiency have been reached, the only remaining way to grow the economy is by using more natural capital (including energy).
Remember: To think there is no limit to growth on a finite planet is precisely, mathematically equivalent to thinking that you may have a stabilized, steady state economy on a perpetually shrinking planet. Both claims are precisely, equally ludicrous!
OK, so there is a limit to economic efficiency and growth. But don’t we have a long way to go to reach those limits? Can’t we grow a lot, meanwhile, without threatening the environment or the economy?
There are two crucial considerations here and, unfortunately, each one is subtle and consistently overlooked by economic policy makers. First, efficiency is not automatically selected for by consumers, firms or governments. In fact, when the goal is increasing production and consumption, moderate levels – not maximum levels – of efficiency are selected for. (Physicists and systems ecologists may recall the maximum power principle.) Getting serious about increasing efficiency requires a policy goal of something other than economic growth.
Second, technological progress is not a free lunch. In today’s computerized, competitive economies, technological progress comes from research and development, or “R&D.” Profits required for financing R&D are gained partly from economies of scale, which by definition entail increasing the size of the enterprise. This sets up a “chicken:egg spiral” between technological progress and economic growth at current levels of technology, or in other words, a zero-sum game between technological progress and environmental protection (pdf). (Economists and economic historians may recall “Jevon’s paradox.”)
But what about the “green growth” we hear about?
Some of the talk about green growth, and “smart growth” in general, is well-intended, but is more often a function of political expediency. Would we not expect politicians, who court industry while appeasing the public, to promote “green growth?” It’s handy political rhetoric, because “green” is too vague to be relevant to economic policy.
One thing is clear, however. If “green” means protecting the environment and conserving natural resources, then economic growth is fundamentally “brown.” Economists and politicians who speak loosely of “green growth” have no background in ecology, most notably trophic levels.
Trophic levels? What are those?
The “economy of nature” operates in trophic levels, and so does the human economy. In nature, the “producers” are plants, which literally produce their own food in the process of photosynthesis. Herbivores consume plants, and carnivores consume herbivores. Omnivores may eat plants or animals, and some species function as “service providers,” such as scavengers and decomposers.
The human economy follows the same natural laws. The producers are the agricultural and extractive sectors, such as logging, mining, and fishing. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, it is the agricultural surplus that allows for the division of labor and economic growth.
Analogous to herbivores, we have economic sectors that consume the raw materials of the producers. These are manufacturers, and the higher level manufacturers are analogous to the carnivores in the economy of nature. We also have service providers, such as chefs, janitors, and bankers.
The key point is that he economy tends to grow as an integrated whole. More manufacturing and more services. requires more agricultural and extractive surplus, which frees the hands for the division of labor. In other words, economic growth, with limits to efficiency as described above, requires the use of more natural capital and results in more pollution. Through the lens of trophic theory, it is easy to recognize the fallacy of “green growth.”
But what about the Information Economy? Can’t we have growth in the information sectors without using more natural capital?
The fallaciousness of a “de-materialized” information economy becomes evident when we ask two questions. First, what do we do with the information? If the information is to be relevant to economic growth, it must be used by the “regular old sectors,” from agriculture to mining to manufacturing to electronics to banking.
Second, how does anyone come to afford the information? For, if no one can afford it, the information will not get past the invisible hand of the market, and it will not be relevant to economic growth. As Adam Smith and trophic theory tell us, the origins of money are in the agricultural and extractive surplus that free the hands for the division of labor.
So much for de-materializing the economy!
Why emphasize the phrase “economic growth” in discussions on the environment and national security? Why not just talk about “human activities?”
In recent decades, many publications have warned of the environmental perils of “human activities.” These warnings have been based on important scientific findings, but they have had little effect on public policy. Why? Imagine walking through the policy arena, searching for a policy table where “human activities” are handled. Your search will be fruitless, and so are the warnings.
To affect policy decisions, we will need to use language that points clearly to an established policy table. The biggest policy table in the domestic policy arena is devoted to economic growth.
When we use the phrase “economic growth” to describe the overall threat to the environment and national security, the relevant policy table is unmistakable. To the extent we are effective, policy reforms to stabilize the size of the economy will follow, with an inevitable stabilizing effect on population, per-capita consumption, and “human activities.”
What is CASSE’s position on economic growth?
CASSE advocates a carefully crafted, scientifically sound position on economic growth. Individuals are invited to support the position by e-signing (No contact information is requested, so no spamming results.) Professional societies, non-governmental organizations, and other organized groups are invited to join the growing list of organizations that have endorsed the CASSE position. CASSE also assists organizations in tailoring and developing their own positions on economic growth. Contact CASSE to offer an endorsement or for more details.
How can I help?
You can help support the goals of CASSE by e-signing the CASSE position on economic growth. (No contact information is requested, so no spamming results.) Professional societies, non-governmental organizations, and other organized groups are invited to join the growing list of organizations that have endorsed the CASSE position. An organizational endorsement is distinct from an individual signature; both are valuable resources in building the movement toward a steady state economy.
Numerous other activities may help lead to the establishment of a steady state economy. See the Action page for ideas and examples.
You say: ‘Some of the talk about green growth, and “smart growth” in general, is well-intended, but is more often a function of political expediency. Would we not expect politicians, who court industry while appeasing the public, to promote “green growth?” It’s handy political rhetoric, because “green” is too vague to be relevant to economic policy.’
Brilliant point! A lot of people who are talking green nowadays are really just interested in ‘greenwashing’ the activities that are motivated by plain economism and greed.
I’m thrilled to see this level of clarity of thought here. In my own blogs, I have been talking my head off about the need to ‘grow down’ and an individual and collective levels.
We need to whittle down our economic growth. Indeed, to be able to do something meaningful for the environment, we need to achieve NEGATIVE GDP GROWTH RATES of over 10%. Of course this will cause various degrees of discomfort, but it needs to be done.
Today this seems like economic heresy. Maybe it is, but that’s only because we have unconsciously given a godly status to economic growth.
I’m in the process of linking up with thinking people to join me in actively triggering and leading a movement to spread this mindset of cooling down our individual and collective economic habits. (I already have a small group that includes a professor of climatology and a young entrepreneur. I am also on the Global Warming Committee of a chamber of commerce, and I’ve been talking my head off at all sorts of fora… but we need lots more to generate momentum for activism.)
People in all cities are urged to contact me, but I really am hoping to network most actively with people who are in Mumbai. If you stand convinced that this is an urgent problem that is crying out for action, please contact me now at email@example.com
Krish (a.k.a. Friendly Ghost)
I have copy-pasted a large portion of this post on my blog http://globalwarming.rediffiland.com . Through this and my other blot http://backfoot.rediffiland.com , I am actively promoting the idea of taking large, uncomfortable steps at a civilian level towards de-addiction from growthism — economic growth, career growth, growth as consumers etc.
In my latest post, I have urged people to visit this site and cast their vote. More power to you! may your tribe increase!
Keep going. Great work. We are going to make a difference.
Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population, established 2001
Pingback: ecological/steady-state economics, an introduction « Trinifar
Yes, I agree as well with Brian’s point, “Would we not expect politicians, who court industry while appeasing the public, to promote ‘green growth?'”
And that has become too big a focus among environmentalists. They play up the potential for corporate earnings through “green” products. We do need those, but they don’t get directly at the basic system responsible for our having outgrown the earth’s absorptive and regenerative capacities.
It appears to me some environmentalists have become sidetracked by “green growth,” and are merely playing into the hands of corporations.
A lot of really intelligent people — sincere ones — are getting taken in by the “green growth” logic. It is difficult to convince people that NEGATIVE GROWTH is the way forward; people, businesses and governments are so used to their lifestyles, business styles, economic styles etc that they will bend argue which way to avoid seeing how insidious ANY kind of economic growth can be!
John, I’m mooting an idea here: we are creating or identifying a political niche here that is currently not occupied by anybody at all. It is currently a vaccuum that can be occupied by those who demand negative growth. Can we not seek legitimacy by forming a POLITICAL PARTY CUTTING ACROSS NATIONAL BOUNDARIES?
Because to mitigate climate change, ALL major governments will need to roll-back growth of the last few decades and cool down their economies… otherwise, they will never cease to argue over who should make the first cuts.
What say? Can we do it? How to go forward on this?
That should read: they will bend logic any which way to avoid seeing how insidious…
That’s a fascinating thought. It’s something on which I suspect others would be more prepared than I to comment. I’m not sure I have enough political knowledge to be able to respond with much substance.
I’ll mull it over, but would like to hear others’ reactions to such an idea.
I’m current spreading the idea around in the comments spaces and by email. Hope to be able to revert to you soon.
Thank you for your early response!
Thanks to Dave Gardner for pointing out a related topic in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
I found the comments amount negative growth so true.My problem is “How the hell do we do it?”I have a post graduate business qualification and am no idiot yet I have driven myself almost mad trying to think of a model in which we shrink our businesses and lives so that we reduce our environmental impact.The conclusion to which I have come is that (to copy a phrase that I heard recently) we will have to spend a long time kicking people away from the lifeboat.The harsh reality is that a lot of people are going to suffer, for instance if one really , and I mean really believes that there should be no more growth then what is the point of building more new houses ? Each country is going to have to set negative growth rules , however if say a limit was set in population growth, there would be no point in allowing immigration hence the ‘kicking away from the lifeboat’.On a more personal side, how do we invest for old age if demand is reduced ? I’m buggered if I can think of a way out of a scenario where every precious item in which countless collectable would be worthless, whether we mean a stamp collection, oil painting,shares, gold.No, it is obvious that to me that the last two milleniums when resources were fought over by huge armies are going to nothing like the future, instead we are going to see nationslooking after their own and to hell with the rest.I am an atheist by inclination and my own higher level is ‘mother Nature’ she will sort it out like she allways has with a massive population crash, and the unfortunate truth for those who like to believe that we are all equal is that we most definitly are NOT.In Africa we are seeing the end game of mother natures own making with the huge toll on populations caused by MDR TB and other opportunistic infections helped by reduced immune systems,it would be environmental madness to intervene however the very same people who advocate NO Growth are the first to rush in with assistance whenever mother nature tries to redress the balance !!!
I’m not an expert on the economic growth issue, but I think some additional places to start looking into how it might be dealt with are:
This article by Brian Czech (see the last paragraph)
Herman Daly’s works, including his books, Steady State Economics and Ecological Economics.
Also, you might find some ideas in this Daly essay which was featured here before his latest book came out.
It may well be, as Brian suggests in the article above that:
At the very least that would be a great start, eh?
John, another odd coincidence. Just before reading your comment above about Dave Gardner and his link to the Atlanta Journal article, I had just looked at Dave’s site http://www.growthbusters.com/ for the first time.
Russell England’s op-ed Ecologically, perpetual growth is impossible thing is definitely everyone here should read — succinct and right on target.
Hi John. thanks for the pointers, my only question is where do we begin? One would obviously think that the UN should be the starting point but since the majority of member states will be losers when the no-growth scenario comes into being then that is obviously a non starter.I feel that it should begin at individual nation level and filter down to the individuals in that country , once the notion of zero growth is established ( and I mean NO GROWTH) only then will it be appropriate to percolate ideas up to the international community.However let us take an example of a country which tries to take the no growth route and look at the some of the frightening scenarios.No new prisons, No new houses,No new schools, No new roads Etc the list is endless, however since population reduction because of the dynamics of demography will take at least three generations if we are not to have the ridiculous thought of having to ‘import ‘ people to provide say for example carers for an ageing population.In that timer period other nations ( Growth nations) will be grabbing for themselves the rapidly diminishing resources of the world.The Paradox can be solved by getting together a grouping of the main players in the world,such as the EU, US,Russia, China,Japan and enforcing the will of these on the rest of the world, for t he good of mankind.Of course the other paradox is that the majority of people who are concerned about the environment are the same type of people who adopt third world issues and think that the countries that I listed are evil.The answer is simply that it is only by looking at the big picture that we can see that it is either ‘us ‘ or ‘them’ no way can we all be winners !
Well Joe, again, you can probably find some authoritative thoughts on the issues you raise in some of the sources I cited. But I think one idea is Daly’s point that you can have “development” without growth. Developing countries can improve their standards of living without GDP growth.
Moreover, those countries don’t want to commit suicide. So if they can come to understand that rising to, say, a bloated American level of overconsumption would be suicidal, then they should accept an emphasis more on development than growth while developed countries learn to shrink their consumption levels.
Dear Joe and John,
Giant steps forward are being made here.
Hi Guys,There is no real problem with increasing GDP (Or is there?) I see the problems as consumption of finite resources.For instance if Canada ( for instance ) is sitting on the largest oil reserves in the world in the Athabasca Tar Sands and they overcome the technical extraction problems , that will obviously lead to a massive reduction in the resource.If on the other hand a country such as the USA produces huge amounts of Bio-Fuel using genetically modified input crops that need no fertiliser, then this ( because of the demand driven price) could lead to an increase in GDP without a comcomitant use in scarce natural resources.However there would be a huge outcry from the “So Called Green Lobby” about taking food out of the mouths of third world babies,the answer to this of course is to re-educate the Green Lobby to the fact that the starving masses of the third world are part of the problem and could never be part of the solution.DNA research confirms Darwins theorums and it is literally going to come down to that i.e. the survival of the fittest.What we need now is to drop the Namby- Pamby feel good bunny hugging attitude that seems to be the common cloak of the anti-big business lobby and concentrate on survival.First at family level then community and eventually national level.Bear in mind at all times that the aim of the exercise is to stop growth in all it’s forms and that is not going to be easy.Another example is the trend towards organic at all costs,this has spurned a huge tree felling exercise in the tons of books being written because organic is good for us.The point being, so what, if not being organic is bad for us then it should ( according to common sense) effect our populations detrimentally , isn’t this what we want ?
Brian Czech’s piece that started this thread is probably the most succinct explanation of the problem. Kudos to Brian for being an early adopter of an unpopular but totally accurate stance. I can recommend highly his book, Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train. I interviewed Brian for my documentary and hope to interview Herman Daly soon.
Joe’s post above concerns me. Do I misinterpret when I read into it he proposes adopting an “every man for himself” or “every nation for itself” philosophy just to keep GDP going up? Joe! Please go back and re-read Brian Czech! I’m sure someone here can explain how bio-fuel is not going to come close to being an effective and environmentally benign growth engine.
I read somewhere recently that one of the biggest hurdles in this is the fact that we expect to earn interest on our money when we give others the use of it. Money can only become more valuable over time if the economy is growing. So returning to the outlaw of usury might be one part of the policy answer. That is a small clue, however, to how huge a paradigm shift this will require.
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
Which giant steps? And where? I can see none. Is it not only that more and more people are about to become frustrated here, in trying to deal with some of the simplest forms of knowledge about modern human natural condition. That more and more people are starting to realize that modern human life in modern human societies seems to be all about the quick destruction of the natural habitat of humans as well as other species. And slowly (or quickly) coming to terms with the apparent fact that there is nothing anyone can do about any of this, except accept it and sit oneself down in front of a computer, log onto the internet and start to moan about it. Just like I — a goddamn internet idiot with a university degree, but no job — has been doing for some years now.
I’d like to say: “Welcome to the Club.”
Or rather: Welcome to the Hotel California: “Last thing I remember, I was running for the door, I had to find the passage back to the place I was before. ‘Relax,’ said the night man, ‘We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!'”
You see: there’s probably no limit to awareness. Problem is: while we are becoming aware of the cruellest kinds of natural facts about the planet as well as the human species — what are we going to do about the inconvenient truths that Al Gore and lot of other and rich kid celebrities keeps on selling to the world? To no avail? Because maybe there is a character flaw which is no more than a natural ingredient of the molecular form which we all recognize as “human beings”, to simply shy away from all problems, ignore all things which has to do with actually saving this natural habitat from ourselvs, sort of, and simply “keep going.” I don’t know. I’m empty. — But I wonder.
I can imagine the thing is: in order to prepare ourselves for serious lifestyle changes, we all need to go through an initial phase of panicky despair? But hey? I think we can all understand that the paradigm shift which beckons for all of us to comply with, must eventually be very huge. Because at the end of the day, we’re bound to be discussing the unfortunate consequences of the highly convenient industrial revolution: a social and technological revolution which is just about to get started in the third world, believe it or not, and accept it because you should!
I don’t know. But hey! I wonder. 8)
Dave, a couple of points ,1)I am not advocating a switch to Bio-fuels for Growth, rather for survival, if a farmer (or a group of farmers) can produce there own fuel in the form of Jojoba or sunflowers for diesel to allow them to produce food then good luck to them they are certainly not impacting upon the worlds resources negatively to any great extent.2) Everyman for himself is the only way to go ,expanded to every country for themselves when they are fit and able. It is no good thinking that everything will be nice and rosy in the end, it won’t be unless you make it so.3)The paradigm shift to making usury a crime is the sort of thing that I have heard for the last fifty years from well meaning people who do not have anything or have never produced anything.I was born during world war two in London, my mother who is close to ninety still talks proudly of sitting on the roof with a bucket of water and a bucket of sand with me in a crib waiting to put out incendiaries.I spent the first fifteen years of my life in an asbestos prefab ,I left home when I was fifteen and I have never inherited anything, my wife also left home when she was fifteen , we have been married for forty years, you ask ” am I advocating everyman for himself?” the answer is YES a big Darwinian YES, however not to keep up GDP but for my own and my ilks survival.I am still working some fifty five hours a week in My son’s Engineering business and live on a farm in South Africa, I am confronted daily by the great unwashed hordes with their hands out, if it comes to survival of the fittest then I am voting Yes.However, I still agree with your mindset and that of the other supporters of G.I.M.The unfortunate thing is that the vast majority of the worlds population ( the consumers) have no inclination to change the status quo.
Joe: “The unfortunate thing is that the vast majority of the worlds population ( the consumers) have no inclination to change the status quo.”
That’s right. I’m thinking: what if we shall have t0 accept the notion that exponential growth of several different kinds (population, production, c0nsumption, finance, etc.) must be understood as a natural condition of modern humanity? And that in order to do anything about this problem, we’re in need of a civilizational shift, which must — if we’re going to be sincere about this — start with shrinking consumption? I mean: in this age of shopaholism, that would be the easiest first step to take.
Making the rational decision to consume less, is something that each and every one of us are free to make, and it would be something that could actually be DONE, as a matter of free personal will; it would not be a social change that would have to be imposed on anyone. A small step for one individual person or family, but one huge step, in a positive direction, for mankind.”
Apart from this, there is still not much anyone can actually do. Strictly speaking: I’ve always said that it is not a question of what you, as an individual person, can do. But rather a question of what you will no longer do.
If you know what I mean? 🙂
Magne, I agree wholeheartedly but let’s not give up before we start.Krishnaraj proposed a multinational political party, I feel this is going too far ahead of ourselves but lets talk, talk some more and exchange thoughts, only then will we be able to do something , but as you so rightly say each one of us can make a differrence .
I want to echo and add to Dave Gardner’s comment. It appears to me you’re trying to invent this wheel all by yourself. Thinking in that way about the topic is commendable, but won’t get you as far as also researching what others such as Czech and Daly (and Costanza and others) have written about this. In fact, you’re coming to conclusions that we’ll need to abandon compassion and go with a pure “survival of the fittest” approach. I can understand how you might come to that out of desperation if you’re trying to think this through on your own. But others have developed ideas which should allow us to maintain a compassionate approach while still tackling growth. Let me just respond to a few individual points:
Yes, there is, Joe! 😯 See the first paragraph of Brian Czech’s piece above.
Well, see, this idea that Third World people are a part of the problem and so are dispensable is not only abhorrent, but is unnecessary. You might find interesting the work of authors like Quinn, Hopfenberg and Pimentel, who submit that we should cease growing the global food supply and, in so doing, would actually not starve more people, but would take away the main factor which leads the world population to grow. It’s complex, but you can get a start on it here. Their idea is probably debatable, but is certainly worth thinking about in the context of all of this.
Come on Joe. We can reduce the global population completely humanely through programs designed to lower fertility rates.
We need not and, in my view, should never promote, even indirectly, allowing people to die as dispensable numbers of an overpopulated world.
Sounds like a prescription for war.
Joe, you have some research to do! You can do a lot right here at GIM and then follow leads elsewhere. Nose to the grindstone ❗
[As I went to post this, I found John had already added another response, perhaps a kinder, gentler one than mine for which I commend him. Still, since I’ve got this written, I’m adding it too.]
I’m not sure if it’s what your saying or what I’m reading into it that I find disturbing.
Everyman for himself is the only way to go, expanded to every country for themselves when they are fit and able.
Isn’t that exactly the kind of thinking that’s gotten us into this mess and keeps us there? Personally, I have no time for it.
The answer is simply that it is only by looking at the big picture that we can see that it is either ‘us ‘ or ‘them’ — no way can we all be winners!
I’m wondering who “us” and “them” are? The best interpretation I can come up with is that you want those who have consumption-intensive lifestyle (the developed world) to do whatever is necessary to maintain that level of consumption including, if necessary (and you seem to thing it is), “kicking people away from the lifeboat.”
If on the other hand a country such as the USA produces huge amounts of Bio-Fuel using genetically modified input crops that need no fertiliser, then this (because of the demand driven price) could lead to an increase in GDP without a comcomitant use in scarce natural resources.
Actually, farm land — in fact any kind of good land — is a scarce natural resource; the jury is still out on GM crops being sensible and safe; and increasing GDP isn’t the goal (see John’s post again and the links in the comments above).
However there would be a huge outcry from the “So Called Green Lobby” about taking food out of the mouths of third world babies,the answer to this of course is to re-educate the Green Lobby to the fact that the starving masses of the third world are part of the problem and could never be part of the solution.
When you talk like this I get the feeling you’ve not actually studied the problems we face or the positions of the “so called Green Lobby.” The so-called developed world is consuming far more resources and generating far more waste and pollution than the “starving masses of the third world” although we are using those starving masses to create cheap products for us and we take their raw resources as well.
DNA research confirms Darwins theorums and it is literally going to come down to that i.e. the survival of the fittest.
This is a complete misunderstanding of Darwin and evolution. However, taking it as I hope you intended, as the economy gets squeezed who is going to have an easier time coping, the well-off American (or South African or European etc.) or someone in a developing country who doesn’t need all our luxuries to enjoy a good life?
Here’s a new thought I’ve had this morning:
Maybe we need to start thinking about RURALIZATION as the way forward. Maybe we need to start forming ourselves into villages as a way to combat the I-don’t-care-what-happens-to-my-surroundings attitude that the growth of big cities breed.
As I see it, cities are huge conglomerates of people engaged in
i) intellectual-type stuff
ii) large-scale trading/manufacturing activities
ii) service-type stuff for the intellectuals and traders, cooking their food, washing their clothes etc.
Villages are smaller places that house primary producers of basic things like food and clothing, largely for the villagers themselves. The people there also tend to do a lot more for their own households and neighbourhoods; they are more connected to members of their own family and community. Villages have relatively self-sufficient households with limited give-and-take with the ‘outside world’. Hence, each village develops a character and history of its own.
These are of course huge generalizations that I am making for the limited purpose of stating my main point, which is:
We need to start living in smaller, slower-paced, more self-sufficient groups that are less dependent on, and that do not contribute much to, this huge money-making resource-guzzling thing we call the economy.
The intention here is not to create hippie-type utopias or communes of spaced-out people, but to create replicable models of groups of thinking people DROPPING OUT OF THE MAIN ECONOMY, gradually taking the wind out of its sails and slowing it down.
Villages I believe are basically places that are friendlier to people, animals and the environment. They are slower paced and have less of a hunger for personal growth, primarily because they are focussed around good living day-to-day, not on growth.
Villages are built around the core principles of caring for each other’s good opinion and way of life and actively participating in upkeep of common facilities such as rivers, beaches, grasslands, neighbourhoods, roads and playgrounds. (By contrast, indifference of ones surrounding is built into a typical urban setup; the bigger the city, the greater the indifference — because everybody is in such a tearing hurry to get somewhere else that they delegate the basic tasks of looking after their own neighbourhoods.)
I’m not saying that ruralization is the one and only answer to the ills that we face today. I’m only saying this is one possible way forward — one among many others that we must consider.
What do you think?
Krish: “I’m not saying that ruralization is the one and only answer to the ills that we face today.”
Very good. I just can’t imagine a world consisting of more than 9 billion people, all living in villages and countrysides. Although I can empathize with your argument (at least to a certain degree), it is impossible for me to take it seriously. This is the kind of stuff that belo9ngs to the realms of dreams; an interesting topic in itself, and one that kept thinkers like Nietsczhe, Freud and Jung (among others) preoccupied for quite a while.
Now, I am very, very interested in everything which has to do with the human spirit. I admit to taking an interest in topics of the soul, in which dreams are a natural ingredient.
I like your idea which I interpret to mean “let’s re-adjust the urban/rural mix.” Having just crossed into the realm of more than 50% urban worldwide, it’s time to be pushing the other way for the reasons you give.
To make such a change we need a way to encourage people to stay in and move to smaller towns and to limit the city size.
It’s interesting that our collective treatment of the environment is considered ‘the major challenge’ of our times.
Because the other ancient ‘major challenge’, that of achieving peace by STOPPING war is getting ignored in all of this….
Beyond ‘climate change’ there are of course sound reasons for drastically changing the way we do things, environmentally. Those reason have existed ever since the city culture became the dominatant power structure….
All those who hope to retain the ‘comfort’ of our affluenza by changing the processes are in for a number of big shocks – the first of which I hope will be the recognition that they were still operating out of the old and still current paradigm of achieving a form of material wealth over …. psychological health..and joy in life.
with that recognition in place, there is a slight chance we can make the changes appropriate.
without that recognition, we are lost!
I’d say you’re doing some good thinking. Your idea of ruralization sounds somewhat similar to the “relocalization” ideas put forth mostly by folks concerned about peak oil. Much info on that here:
I do think it has a lot going for it. And it seems to be an approach which would promote economic health without the usual emphasis on a growth imperative. In that sense it might fit well in a steady state economy model.
Sure, Magne is right that we won’t see a complete transformation in that direction, but any amount should help. You gotta admit that, eh Magne? 🙂
Welcome. I quite agree about the pursuit of material wealth over true wellbeing.
Concerning stopping war, I’d really rather be focused on that. Unfortunately, having become more aware in the last few years of the gravity of our ecological plight, I feel I have to make it my priority. The number of lives potentially at stake and the degree to which future generations may be profoundly affected for many, many centuries to come push our ecological situation, for me, to the forefront.
It’s a shame we’ve waited so long to deal with it for the very reason you point to: Now something as fundamental and crucial to deal with as war cannot be our sole focus. That’s a terrible situation we’ve put ourselves in.
I sometimes complain that other issues are distracting us from the ecological one. Not that those issues are not extremely important. They are. But now that we have an idea what’s happening ecologically, I’d argue that should be sharing the front page of the paper nearly every day. (It’s not.)
Though many of use have to “specialize,” I suppose, I think collectively we just have to attend both to war and our ecological situation (and some other issues as well). We can’t very well choose just one without ignoring a massive crisis.
“This is not the place to go deeply into the question of whether cities are more sustainable than contemporary American country life, but at each point where I delve into the issues, I find suggestions that urbanites have a smaller ecological footprint per capita.”
– Toby Hemenway
– — – — – — – — – — –
I think I’ve posted this link before, somewhere on this blog. I still think it’s a very good read. For those who do not bother to click the link, let me just say that it’s the story of a family that lived in a city but moved to the countryside. The writer, Toby Hemenway, shares his (sometimes very funny) experiences with us.
To return to my criticism of Krishnaraj Rao’s way of thinking, let me just reiterate my most basic point of view: I believe it is essential that we as bloggers, humanists, social philosophers or whatever, are ready to accept, as a fact of future life (well, under normal circumstances), that in the year 2050, the world’s human population will be in the excess of 9 billion souls. Now, as I see it, this 50% rise in the world’s population by the year 2050, can only lead to more urbanization. The most probable first byproduct of the coming (remaining) population explosion, will be a soaring number of towns and cities. Anything else would come as a major surprise to me!
What we’re going to need is a further “greening” of urban life. A thorough clean-up of the toxic harbours of coastal towns is just one example. The appaling height of the suburban mountains of garbage, is another. – 🙂
We seem to be losing direction, maybe I’ve got it wrong but to my mind a subsistence farmer is a pathetic and disgusting waste of scarce resources ( The land) as Krish said earlier.It is like having a subsistence doctor who only treats his own family, or a miner who only digs enough coal for himself.Mankind cannot uninvent things and people will allways aspire to what they percieve as better whether they are right or wrong.The concept of the noble savage is a false ideal, to put it into context I recently watched a documentary which was all about a tribe of cattle owning people in East Africa who demanded the right to live as their ancestors had allway done and to be allowed to graze their cattle on their ancestral land.It all sounds good but scratch the surface of this idylic lifestyle and we discover that the main character had a watch and a bicycle, all very minimalist I hear people saying but to build just the watch glass some poor soul had to work in a silica mine another in a coal mine and a third one in a tin mine,a fourth in a glass factory Etc, the watch had to be transported from the factory to Africa, the plastic strap entailed a chemical industry, the innards of the watch entailed thousands of differrent industries which had to come together to make the watch so the “Noble Savage” could opt out and live like his ancestors had lived while us poor bastards were forced to live in the real world.It is obvious that most of the people who are taking part in this discussion are ( and good luck to them) idealists.I ask the question again if we need NO GROWTH, who is going to be the first to Not buy a pencil which means that a tree has to be chopped down.HOW ???? do we reduce the population of the world by two billion people without chaos,the UN is a no go, idiots like Chavez and Mugabe who thinks that the way to reduce prices is by government decree have millions of supporters in the UN, No the way forward is by :_
1) Our own family, spreading the gospel within the family to cut back on consumption and encouraging our sons and daughters to only have one child at the most.
2) Friends, spread the word, get into debates, tell every one what an idiot you think any politician is who advocates growth, ( I burst out laughing when I heard Gordon Brown telling an audience that there is millions to be mad by selling carbon credits, as if they were seats on the Tirtanic).
At this point the message should be self sustaining, if it isnt and by say 2020 the world has not listened then it is too late and then it really is everyone for himself, I have got my lifeboat, I have my farm, my generator, my gun,my stash of gold , my dry rations.Have you?
Believe me when the end game comes I am prepared to fight for what I have got.
I understand urban living has some key ecological advantages — less land used etc. I was simply indicating that the relocalization idea, as I understand it, includes certain elements which might be termed “ruralization.” I don’t think it calls for an end to cities (though I believe some proponents think smaller towns will be best positioned to adopt such a strategy). But it involves, for instance, a shift away from predominantly large industrial farms to a lager number of small, locally based farms, for instance. Here are two quick bits about it:
On another point, Magne:
I think we need to prepare for the possibility, yes. But I don’t think we need to accept that as inevitable, no. The hope is that increased awareness will lead to greater funding for the groups working on population issues, and to new projects and international cooperation on population issues. Then perhaps that 9 billion could instead be 8 billion, or some other preferable number. After that, perhaps a population decline (though reduced fertility rates) will be possible. It will certainly be necessary.
I suspect the people who reinforce the notion that growth to 9 billion is inevitable are the demographers. But they’re just making projections based on recent trends. They even admit there are myriad social factors which they can’t predict, but which can affect future fertility rates enough to have large impacts on future population size. I’m not sure groups like the Population Media Center and Population Action International would bother with their work if they didn’t think it possible to influence current and future growth. And, as I’ve argued, if we don’t influence it, we’re in big trouble.
As with your other questions, these things do take a bit of research on your own. On that particular question, you might start here and here.
EDIT: I should have said, as well, that implementing policy promoting a steady state economy would, in itself, also have an effect of reducing population growth. After all, economists and corporate heads have long viewed population growth as integral to economic growth.
… to my mind a subsistence farmer is a pathetic and disgusting waste of scarce resources ( The land)…
I tend to agree, and add so are a soccer/football stadium, a race track, a factory that makes Hummers (or any other other gasguzzler), a large house with a manicured lawn, and large car parking structures among a long list of similar choices. All things considered the subsistence farmer is doing much less harm to global commons. The tragedy of the subsistence farm is it means there is a family living at high risk or drought, crop failure, etc. The large corporate farms of California and the American Midwest are also easily seen as a waste of scarce resources in the way use water, fertilizer, pesticides, and pollute their surroundings. There monocroping is a waste as well.
To me, it’s not an either/or question, not a choice between subsistence and enourmous corporate farms. What we need is a more sane scale of living — of production and consumption — that respects the natural limits of the local ecology and human needs rather than attempting to satisfy every human desire under the sun.
See the notion of Robust Sustainability.
John, at last some specific answers, I was particulary impressed with the Iranian example.
There is something new concerning me about the global challenge potentially posed by the huge scale and fully anticipated rapid growth rate of the global economy that I would like to understand better. Would someone with an adequate background in economics kindly comment on the research of the economist, Clive L. Spash?
Perhaps this good doctor of the economy is one of those rare economists who is actually ecologically-minded rather than religiously growth-oriented. If this fellow is somehow on the right track, we will be served well by stepping up our efforts to raise awareness of the prospect of economic or ecologic collapse or both……sooner than anyone I know is anticipating such an unwelcome occurrence.
The following link will provide an introduction to his work.
Going through this ongoing debate, I’m struck by the fact that many among us are actually hoping to find a way out of our current predicament WITHOUT CHAOS and major social-economic-political disruptions… or what pokerfaced economists call Discontinuities.
I think that’s unlikely. We are jolly well going to have some ‘discontinuities’ on this planet, regardless of whether we act positively or just drift happily along seeking economic growth.
The likelihood of populations coming crashing in a series of major calamities is high and getting higher. So maybe, as John Feeney points out, we need not take population projections of 9 billion as a given.
A lot of people on this discussion forum may have remarked that our economies are growing in a pretty centralized way that is POTENTIALLY UNSTABLE. The global economy is rather like a tower built by kids balancing blocks and books one on top of another; at some point, it all becomes shaky.
Our own civilization is built around central infrastructures that invisibly enable massive human populations (and their massive consumptions) to be maintained, especially in urban areas. The degree of reliance on these infrastructures grows exponentially year from year, especially in a place like Mumbai, India, where I live.
For instance, all around me, I see high-rise apartments built to accommodate the burgeoning consumer-class. A lot of these folks are making their money thanks to outsourcing from the US.
Now let me project a worst-case scenario for Indian metropolises that could very easily turn into reality.
The projected US recession in 2008 is deeper than expected, triggering legislative changes that ban outsourcing to India. Suppose this move is emulated by the Europeans, who aren’t doing too well either.
As the outsourced work dries up, millions of apartment-dwellers are rendered jobless. These are currently big spenders running up credit-card debts and supporting the Indian economy with their extravagant purchases. As they struggle to subsist in the changed scenario, they abruptly set off a cascade of effects:
Stage 1: They default on credit-card repayments, car loans, housing loans and stop paying their electricity bills. The banking sector takes a hit at first as bad debts mount, and then begins a spate of repossessed houses and cars. Power supply companies, which are now in the private sector, cut off their supply, rendering their apartments unlivable.
Stage 2: As these guys flood the job market, salaries in other sectors of the economy drop precipitously, making more people unable to support their existing bank loans. More repossessions, real estate prices drop, consumer goods companies (durables as well as fast-moving stuff like biscuits and ketchups) start suffering losses. New automobiles are no longer sold as their cars flood the market at distress prices.
Stage 3: Stock markets start collapsing, multi-billionaires with their fortunes riding on these high-return instruments realize that these are high-risk too. They start pulling out, and so do foreign investors (including US Provident Funds), and the markets collapses in ruins around investors.
Stage 4: A number of banks collapse due to bad debts. Very numbers of middleclass or poor depositors are hit. The assumptions on which banking rates of returns are calculated are all up in the air. Confidence in banking vanishes. Confidence in markets turns positively sour.
Stage 5: Hitherto rich people living and working in high-rises turn paupers, and power-supply to many building is cut off. No lifts, no water-supply… a large part of the city of Mumbai ceases to be inhabitable. These apartments have no market value, and so they are deserted by their former occupants.
Stage 6: Law & Order problems abound — theft, robberies, murders, suicides, forgery, defaults on debts. Movement of essential goods along road and rail corridors becomes a high-risk business. A state of emergency is declared and the world’s largest democracy becomes essentially a police-state.
Stage 7: As medical and surgical supplies drop off and health issues are aggraved by stress, water-shortages, poor hygiene etc., mortality rates surge. the medical infrastructure becomes overloaded and then collapses. Hospitals become places where sick people go to die rather than to recover.
Stage 8: As death rates spiral upwards, safe disposal of the dead becomes a major economic and administrative issue. Rotting bodies lie uncreated, unburied in deserted high-rise apartments. Friendly neighbourhood stray dogs respond to the abundance of sheltering darkness and human flesh by turning feral, hunting in packs. Children and the infirm are now no longer safe to go out.
Stage 9: Deprived of food supplies, city folks — those who are fit and capable of manual work — drift towards rural areas and start invading rural populations. Pitched battles for territory ensue. Communal feuds, never really forgotten, resurface. Strange alliances are drawn up.
Stage 10: National boundaries are now difficult to defend as the overloaded administration crumbles. Many in the administration and in security forces have not received salaries for months; they have few loyalties left.
Variants of this scenario, I’m sure, would apply to any nation in the world. In such scenarios, how long would it take for national POPULATIONS to crash to, say, one-sixth of their current strengths? A decade? Or even less maybe?
Hate to say this, but I think each passing year of economic growth increases the odds of precisely such a catastrophe. The tower of blocks will definitely fall within the next couple of decades.
Our challenge is really to anticipate such ‘discontinuities’, awaken the administration to such risks and build safety-valves into the system while sizing down this tower. It’s relly a quasi-governmental task that we have ahead of us; wouldn’t you agree, John, Brian, Trinifar?
My apologies for this overly long article which was to have been only a comment.
I wonder if Magne Karlsen thinks that this scenario is too far-fetched, and whether he still feels so sure about the 9-billion figure that the population is headed for.
Because if this were to happen in India and China whose fortunes are majorly dependent on the global economy, the world population projections would go for a toss.
I’m stunned by the scenario you’ve put together here. I believe you have a very good framework here, for writing a novel: a dystopic masterpiece in the making. 🙂
Krish: “My apologies for this overly long article which was to have been only a comment.”
Don’t worry about that. With all that non-news from Bali fresh in my mind, I say we are allowed to spend some time thinking while we write. Let me just tell you that the Bali Climate Conference is, most probably, going to end up as the starting point of politically orchestrated disaster. That is: if we’re going to believe in (and rely on) the bulk of the scientific findings of UNDP, IPPC, WWF, and others; in which case we shall have to accept the notion that the activities of an exponentially growing number of human beings is the biggest / worst problem this planet has ever faced — well, to the very least, ever since the last Neanderthal took a walk down the dirt track of evolution. 🙂
Most people are, most likely, going to shut down their brains on this issue. — The cruellest of all facts are that the peoples of the western world have experienced periods of soul-biting blood thirst before. Witch hunt, holocaust, genocide, and what have you? Slave trade. Brain-washing, lobotomy and pure evil. — If you like, you could write a few paragraphs about the inquisition type of social activities, directed at exterminating all those ordinary folks who dares to be passionate about their understanding of climate science. As all such passions are deemed — quite naturally — to be ominous.
About my own personal life, there is one thing I know for certain: if any nof this had happened to a person some twohundred-and-fifty years ago, he’d definitely end up on top of the bonfire. The Scandinavian inquisition against people who do give a damn, can easily take on bestial qualities.
Michel Foucault: “Madness and Civilization” (1961) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault
Jens Bjørneboe: “History of Bestiality” (1966 – 73) – http://home.att.net/~emurer/
Now, allow me to do like you did. Let me simply reach for the top of my head, and provide some kind of response to your question; no need to do any research. 8)
I’m a Social Anthropologist by education, but I’m an honest internet idiot, too. — To tell you the truth: I don’t know much about India. I do know a little something about the end-results of capitalistic market mechanism; which is to say that I never turn a blind eye on the class issue. I’ve understood that India is one of the countries of this world where inequality amongst people is the most visible. Which is not to imply that this problem is a typical Indian phenomenon. Not at all. We’re having enormous difficulties of this kind in the western world as well. Check out the living conditions in those parts of the U.S.A., of France, of Germany, of Norway; parts of towns and countrysides where politicians don’t usually go, because politics doesn’t work.
I also know about the caste system. That’s what all western anthropology about India is all about. Extremely boring business, huh? 😉
But hey: I also know about some extremely rapid processes of change down there. — The building and construction boom, for example. The record breaking building of new airports. New shopping malls, new ports, new highways.
Wait a minute. To be continued.
You’re asking a question about the population explosion, and I’m answering to your comment on the risk of social catastrophies in the future. The truth is: I’m exactly as confused as you are. Given the most frightening climate science (and a whole lot of other disheartening environmental knowledge we are basing this discussion on), also I believe that anything — and I mean that, quite literally — anything might happen.
Let’s think about it: what if the upper class of 3rd World countries, which quite naturally control the police and the armed forces, should start to take the population explosion DEAD seriously? — And maybe decide to do something about it? The hard way. In terms of measures known from German history: I’m thinking of Bismarck’s REALPOLITIK and Hitler’s ENDLÖSNUNG. I mean — realistically — would the thought of a genocide solution always be too far fetched? I mean: the ruling class’s use of death squads within the police and the army is not a topic for medieval history classes. — Just think about the carnage which took place in parts of Africa and The Balkans during the 1990s.
I’d rather not think like that. Not voluntarily and not by force. This kind of thinking gives me the creeps, and makes me want to vomit. And this is the reason why I think we shall have to plan for a future of more than 9.2 billion people, … starting from the year 2050.
So call me a coward.
I have been informed (I just don’t remember the source of this information) that we are already producing enough food to cater for more than 12 billion people. The problem is: most of this food is used to feed animals, and another large portion of this food simply goes to waste, as litter, as thrash, as garbage.
We have a serious problem of food distribution, that’s all. Yes, this is the reason why millions of people around the world are still starving. But of course, not only for that reason, but also for the multitude of reasons that members of the more privileged classes alone must answer for. Like in Mumbai. Oh yes, I know a little something about Mumbai. — I know that one of the largest slum areas of this world lies near to the town center of Mumbai. 🙂
Mumbai is like Los Angeles, isn’t it? The center of the Indian film industry (like Hollywood), as well as the location of the most famous slums (like South Central, L.A.).
Deforestation, desertification, water scarcity, food scarcity, etc., may well be the end product of manmade climate change. Not everywhere, but certainly in the developing world: in Africa, in Latin America, and in South Asia (all these according to the UNDP).
Global warming / climate change may well turn into an international refugee catastrophe which is going to leave national politicians reeling with a feeling of naussea. But so long as there is food enough, there will be an ever-growing number of humans on this planet. 💡
Magne, thank you for spending so much time and devoting so much thought to my worst-case scenario.
As you correctly note in conclusion, climate change catastrophes may soon throw up refugee crises all over the planet. You say it will leave politicians reeling with nausea. I fear a large-scale refugee crisis in the overcrowded ‘Developing’ nations such as mine would result in a complete breakdown of governance, by overloading all infrstructure, including law & order.
But the point I’m trying to make is that the Indian economy, growing at 9.5% annually — an unprecedented rate — is like a motorcyclist at high-speed. One stone, oil-slick or sandy stretch is all it would take to send it veering out of control and into a nasty skid.
The speed of our economic growth is exhilarating, especially for the industrialists, administrators and journalists who have the wind in their hair. Our stock-markets are euphoric.
What I’m trying to say here is that THE CAUSE OF OUR ECONOMIC DOWNFALL DOES NOT HAVE TO BE CLIMATE CHANGE. The speed of economic growth is itself a deadly risk factor!
In the US, I’m told there is a debt-bomb waiting to explode — $480 trillion of debts riding on a GDP of $ 60 trillion, if memory serves me right. The bank valuations of loan securities/collateral is highly skewed, and therefore a lot of banking assets may need writing off, I read.
Climate change will reverse decades of social and economic progress across Asia, campaigners claim.
A report by a coalition of environment and aid agencies calls for urgent action to avert the threat.
Andrew Simms said he hoped the [Bali] talks would help bring a “paradigm shift in the attitude of developing countries”.
“We need to start talking about emissions reduction targets that are in line with the science rather than in line with what negotiators think they can get away with,” he told BBC News.
— Fred’s footprint: Can we buy a green future?
On one side were the paradigm-shifters, who figure the world has to get off the growth bandwagon before we fry. My favourite was Manfred Max-Neef, a radical Chilean economist and global guru, who thought the world went wrong when it followed Machiavelli rather than Francis of Assisi, and compounded the error by adopting neo-liberal economics in the 1980s.
Then there was Jan Pronk, former Dutch environment minister and international climate negotiator, who is now the UN’s special representative in Darfur. He had an understandable bleak take on things. “In the past the rich believed they needed the poor; now they are no longer needed,” he said. “There is no sustainable development if there is poverty. We have to talk about over-consumption and inequality.”
But the counter-attack was led by that smooth favourite of the intellectual salons and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Jeffrey Sachs. “It’s not a zero-sum game; there are many technological options on the table; the cost of implementing them will turn out to be shockingly small.”
The dreamers and hair-shirt intellectuals are getting in the way, he said. “These problems won’t be solved by talking about cuts in consumption. We don’t need heroism; we need science-based strategies… problem solving.”
Goes to show that there are many answers out there. But I guess I’m one of the dreamers and hair-shirt intellectuals who’s getting in the way of Jeffrey Sachs. 😉
And why is that?
Well, because I believe in simplicity. As I see it, the devastating logic of the population explosion can easily be understood by the children of this world, but only so long as they are being taught about it. And when it comes to the adults, I think it’s about time they started to realize that enough is enough, and that you do not need a mountain of things in order to be happy.
That’s all, so come on! Let’s work wonders! – 😀
— – “In short, integral pessimism and integral optimism lead us astray. What we need is realism and clarity about the realities of our own nature and the world about us. And I think we also need hope. And the greatest source of hope is not a fatuous “everything’s gonna be all right” mantra. It is the realization that we create the future by our own concerted actions. And so we will get off the track of death — and the hazards we avoid will most likely consume those who tried to trap us there. And, free once again and awakened forever, we will make a new and better world for future generations.”
“The nervous system keeps us aware of our environment and allows us to react appropriately to what is going on around us.”
“Information about the environment is acquired through sensory cells that are specialized to respond to a particular external stimulus.”
“The idea then is that the brain forever changes and every experience leaves a little imprint on our nervous system.”
I’ve been thinking too much, as of late, about the attitude of the elites of this world civilization, as exposed to the world’s population during the run-in to the Climate Change Conference in Bali. As a matter of fact, the diplomatic consensus which is drawn up down there, is a world policy of further of negotiations. In other words, the end result of the Bali meeting will be one of further inaction. It goes on my nerves.
I don’t know anything about the nervous system. I only know that I have one. I also know that all others have one. What would human life be like without it? Robotic?
I read a novel by Norwegian author Thure Erik Lund, a novellist and essayist, who is known — in this country — for his clear and uncompromising way of thinking, especially when it comes to the topic of modern human’s lack of connectedness to nature, and the same modern human’s stupid addiction to a consumerist way of life in a society that is seriously ill: a modern s0ciety which does not take nature’s basic needs and limitations into consideration at all.
Thure Erik Lund has spent the last ten years of his life (or more) investigating and exposing the more and more apparent insanity of humanity; our lack of connectedness to nature being the first, and best, case in point. The second case in point is the modern consumerist lifestyle: a way of life which only works to make us even more alienated from nature. And all this in a time and a situation in which the most basic fact of life is that humanity, knowingly and willingly but also blindly, is destroying the whole biosphere: the very nature which we do not feel connected to at all. A Kafkaesque situation, for short.
Now, I’m thinking of Lund’s last novel, “In” — it was published in 2006. The man writes about the brainless destruction of the ecosystems of this planet again, and concludes: THE PROBLEM is overpopulation, THE PROBLEM is too much of human activity, and THE PROBLEM is that we can do nothing wiser / smarter than forget about THE PROBLEM altogether. Because nothing can be done about this mess.
So: Lund tells me that in order to not go insane, I’d better decide to forget about all that I know about modern humanity’s lack of connectedness to nature, because this is a given.
Okay, so I’m insane. Now, according to Lund, if I want to become sane again, I should stop caring about the bad news which is bound to come out of the Climate Conference in Bali, for example, because if I do that, I’ll definitely go mad again.
Lund chuckles misanthropically: “The real task for future generations, will be to forget about all this natural science.”
But is that possible?
The worst case scenario which all of a sudden come off the top of your brain, above, is shared by others. Here’s the latest warning from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP): a new report called “Climate Change as a Security Risk”
“NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) – Global warming could lead to internal conflict, regional unrest and war, with North Africa, the Sahel and South Asia among the hotspots, a report issued at a global climate change forum said Monday.”
“The assessment is the latest, but most emphatic, in a series of analyses of the link between climate change and instability.”
This thread is focusing on some things about which we need think more deeply and hear more. Thanks for your contributions to it. Also, I hope what you are reporting encourages Krish and others to comment on what they see unfolding globally, let us say between now and end of 2008, or even better, if you like, between now and 2012.
The great scientist, Dr. Hans J. Schellnhuber in Germany has pointed about a dozen ways in which “tipping points” regarding climate change could lead to changes in life as we know it.
Krish is looking a big-business-based scenario in which changes in the global economy could lead to other “tipping points” and changes in life as we know it.
I would like for us to look at “tipping points,” both of the economic kind and the ecologic kind.
No one can predict which tipping point, either ecologic or economic, will be the first tipping point; however, I think it could be extremely helpful if we begin to think aloud about which tipping point might begin to force change and set a new succession of events in motion.
Which tipping point will occur first?
At least to me, which tipping point occurs first could have serious implications.
Steve: “I would like for us to look at “tipping points,” both of the economic kind and the ecologic kind.”
Let me start by repeating myself (cf.: “Grim worldview from the deck of the Titanic”). It seems to me that something as unusual as clean-cut truth is about to seep through the various communication channels that is at our disposal; with an exception, perhaps, for most television channels.
The truth may be very difficult to swallow, but its out there. The Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, is in its second week. At the same time, the Nobel Peace Prize joint accolades Al Gore and IPCC (represented in Oslo by Rajendra Kumar Panchauri) receive the Prize and are, of course, discussing the topics of global warming and climate change, live on TV as it happens.
What we have here is a moment of truth. — For better or worse, this seems to be the case.
On the one hand we hand we have the scientists (climate experts) who are speaking exclusively about the drastic CO2 emissions cuts which are neccessary in order to put a stop the warming of the atmosphere.
On the other hand, you have the usual statement of concern for the world economy, coming from the usual quarters, namely “The Powers That Be” in a distinctly capitalist globalized economy, which is run by large industry corporations that are, in turn, protected by the political elites of all modern human societies and countries; I mean — look to “Communist” China, where the economy is booming (the political leaders rejoicing), and the CO2 emissions are exploding, too.
The good news is: powerful people are being very, very honest these days. 🙂
All in all, the situation is a very, very hot potato. One which we are chewing at, all of us, whether we like it or not. But this potato has been brought on the table now. I believe this is the best way to go. Although most people would much prefer a sweet-tasting cake.
If I sound a bit confused here, it is because I am confused. As it is, I’ve been monitoring the work of news agents and information channels per se, for many years now, waiting for some version of the variation “truth” which I myself have been able to accept as “true enough” to be broadcast to the world. Now that it is happening, I am not a little bit confused. I’m very confused. — Because it’s happening now, all of a sudden.
The level of honesty which is now broadcast to the world by the financial, political and scientific elites, is commendable. I’m not saying that I can agree with the political elites, when they spell it out for us: “Continued economic growth must be ensured, no matter what else might happen.” NO, not at all. But it’s actually good to hear and read the usual suspects’ statements to this effect. It is good news, in that the usual suspects are not only intent on hiding their words behind those lovely, smiling masks. Oh my! How I dispise that!
Steve: “I think it could be extremely helpful if we begin to think aloud about which tipping point might begin to force change and set a new succession of events in motion.”
I don’t know whether or not you can understand what I’m trying to say here. I’m a bit confused now — I admit that — and this simple mental or psychological fact could easily affect my ability to explain myself by means of putting thoughts into writing.
Monitoring events in Bali and Oslo, at the moment, there seems to be a tendency that is worth noting. I think it is a brand new level of honesty we’re about to achieve here.
Al Gore and Kumar Panchauri are talking from Oslo, both being concerned about the ecology and the politics of climate change, and stressing the urgency of dealing with this problem. At the same time, in Bali, a congregation of national and international politicians, beaurocrats, diplomats and scientists are assembled. The discussions are wild. On the one hand, climate scientists are issue rather desperate papers on the patent urgency of making actual cuts of emissions. On the other hand we have the policy makers of this world — representing the businesses, the industries, the multinational corporations, etc. — express their concern about economic growth; that good, old mantra. The policy makers — all exposed to the needs and deeds of very important lobbyists — are even saying that actual cuts of emissions will be an impossible undertaking, short term. More negotiations will be needed. They can all accept the science (the United Nations have actually gone so far as to banning all possible groups of climate denialists from the conference), but are still intent on doing nothing in particular in terms of responding to the same science. And why is that? — Well … honestly … because taking direct climate change action will be a very bad move, in terms of the economy; not only in the USA, EU, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, China, Japan, — but everywhere … and! honestly! every country of this world is worried about global warming and climate change, but still: about the economy? —
Confusion and contradictions are the terms.
Are we now — after decades of climate science and years of utter desperation — arriving at a most welcome “tipping point” concerned with the level of communication? Or am I the only person to understand this like I do?
Steve: “I think it could be extremely helpful if we begin to think aloud about which tipping point might begin to force change and set a new succession of events in motion.”
If we are in fact reaching a new level of honesty here, in terms of discussing both economic and the ecological concerns, for better or worse, it would in my opinion be a most welcome “tipping point” in its own right. This could even pave the way for a new way of thinking about the future; of what one might call “the economy of climate change mitigation.” This could easily “set a new succession of events in motion.”
We could, as a matter of fact, soon be looking at a situation in which a long range of taboo topics would no longer be understood as such — taboo topics — but as real life challenges put forth by nature itself, for humanity to find a solution to, and not to run away from.
A communicational tipping point is what I have in mind: one marked by honesty. This would be a tipping point which could never be too stupid to arrive at. If we don’t arrive at a communicational tipping point, like the one I’m suggesting for you, I don’t believe we will ever get ready and able to solve the ecological problems we face together — all of us — as fellow human beings.
Reaching a communicational tipping point where honest economic thinking and equally honest or informed ecological thinking, could even spur us all into a more productive direction, in terms of paving the way for a new economy? One that is geared at climate change action, perhaps? Or an economy geared at poverty eradication? I don’t know about economy. — But this I know: honest communication of key concepts that can help us understand what is human nature and what is old forest; well, it can’t be all that bad, now can it?
Main Entry: ob·ses·sion
Pronunciation: \äb-ˈse-shən, əb-\
1: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation
2: something that causes an obsession
– — – 😉
“the economy of climate change mitigation”
I think this kind of synthetic thinking is precisely what will be needed going forward.
“In an unusual step, the UN published the text of the four-page draft agreement, based on the first week of informal discussions, on its website over the weekend. It will now be argued over by the 190 countries present.
Observers said the draft would be repeatedly modified and updated through the week. A final version must be agreed by Friday.”
Click to access 1cp13_081207_final__nonpaper.pdf
“Responding to the unequivocal scientific evidence that preventing the worst impacts of climate change will require Parties included in the Annex I to the Convention as a group to reduce emissions in a range of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and that global emissions of greenhouse gases needs to peak in the next 10 – 15 years and be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in 2000 by 2050”
– BIG PROBLEM
“Harlan Watson, the senior climate negotiator for the US, said: “We have problems with defining the numbers up front. In our view that pre-judges the outcome of the negotiations over the next two years.”
He said the US supported the concept of a “shared global goal” to address climate change but did not want the Bali meeting to discuss exact numbers.
The 25-40% figure is based on the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be formally awarded the Nobel peace prize jointly with Al Gore today. Watson said the IPCC calculation was based on “many uncertainties”.”
I had a Eureka moment a couple of days ago. Consider this approach:
Maybe, instead of trying to attack the many arms of the Economic-Growthism problem, we should go for its eye.
As you have yourself pointed out, Climate Change seems like a problem of excess CO2 emissions, but on a deeper analysis, one finds that it’s a problem of overconsumption by all of us — individuals, corporates, governments, all.
Analyse deeper still: one finds that a very large part of this overconsumption/overproduction is triggered by and funded by CREDIT. There is an overabundance of bank credit — out of all proportion to actual earnings and savings — that gives people the power to overspend and overconsume.
So this is where the cancerous tumour, so to speak, can be clearly isolated from human flesh. This is where we can start cutting away surgically, methodically, without hurting too many people.
CONSUMER CREDIT — loans extended by banks for purchase of new vehicles and consumer appliances — is a major artery feeding this tumour. Easy loans warp our purchasing decisions, making our desires seem like needs. (A few calls from an aggressive telemarketer of car loans, plus some persuasion from my chartered accountant to increase my fixed assets, is all that is needed to make me feel that I NEED to step up from my family car to a monstrous four-wheel all-terrain vehicle.)
CREDIT CARDS induce an unrealistic sense of economic power by enabling you to securely carry large amounts equivalent to many months’ or years’ earnings in your wallet.
And when you do that, you are tempted to do all those wonderful, beautiful, “generous” things that you see in TV commercials like buying your wife a diamond solitaire, booking the Presidential suite for your wedding anniversary or surprising her with a couple of air-tickets to Paris.
Consumer credit and credit-cards are the hot air causing the great big Economic Growth balloon to go up… and up… and up.
Driven by this excessive consumer demand, a number of industries flourish, new corporates are created, and new factories get built, diversified, expanded, acquired… Stock markets rise majestically, and governments and the general public feels good.
We aren’t only borrowing economically, we are BORROWING ECOLOGICALLY. Our governments are careful not to mention Economy and Ecology in the same breath. Economists who advise them are kept in a separate department from Ecologists.
At an individual level, we should stop buying things with credit, and stop using our credit cards. It is worth cutting up our credit cards. Let us stop borrowing from the future, and let us do it NOW.
And as a community of concerned citizens, let us lobby for a clampdown on consumer credit. Let us write to the government, to our Central Banks and to individual banks and bankers.
Let each person in the banking industry be targetted with this message: Cap and roll back. Let us ask for a freeze of consumer credit at current levels this year, and a 50% reduction in the amounts of credit given each year.
This would give the economy about three years to adjust to the changing scenario.
Three years is 36 months — far more time than the economy and its stakeholders get for adjustment when the stock-markets crash. So why delay, postpone and vacillate? Let us attack the eye of the problem by fighting against the Creditcard & Consumer-loan culture!
I’m inspired by this thread. Thanks. Here’s my two cents.
There are two uses of the word economy. To avoid confusion we could use the terms fake-economy (the traditional understanding where people serve the economy) and real-economy (as in ecological economics, where the economy serves people).
We’ve been taught that economic growth is good for everyone, hence all this gnashing of teeth over GHG emission caps/cuts harming the economy and thus harming people. But that’s the fake-economy, and no one should care about what happens to something that’s not even real.
As for the real-economy (the one which serves people and respects the interconnection between people and the rest of the environment), the work in Kyoto and now in Bali is trying to preserve as much of it as possible.
Krish’s point about credit in the fake-economy is excellent. Extending foolish amounts of credit is a way to enslave people to long work hours and the free market fake-economy. It’s thought to be a way to increase GDP, which it can do for a while, but the GDP is a fake-economy measurement.
The real-economy is measured by instruments like the GPI, eco footprint, and atmospheric CO2 concentration. I hope the current increase in exposure at Bali, with the Noble Peace Prize, etc. push us to a tipping point in understanding the difference between the concepts of fake-economy and real-economy.
Krish: “Our governments are careful not to mention Economy and Ecology in the same breath.”
That’s true. Unfortunately, it is equally true to say that governments are careful not to mention electrical power and energy demands of private homes and public/private industries, factories, office buildings in the same breath as they claim to be “deeply concerned” with all kinds of future environment protection.
It’s never worded like this: “Sure, we admit that the environment is important, but the sidewalks of Norwegian towns must still be electrically heated during the winter season, because of all the ice and the snow; senior citizens may slip and fall and damage themselves severely.”
Trinifar: “to enslave people to long work hours and the free market fake-economy.”
Thank you very much, Trinifar, for making me feel a little less stupid than I have done, up until now, as the brilliant term “fake-economy” has reached the interior of my scull; my brain; my mind. So I do not have to feel extra stupid for not understanding the contemporary economic system, or do I?
I’m confused. – 8)
Magne, I wish I understood economics. I kinda/sorta do in that I’ve taken a few university courses and can pass the tests, but I always end up banging my head agaisnt a wall when I try to actually make sense of it — especially the brand of it being passed off these days as something good for us. Guess that’s why I went into engineering.
Worse thing about the GDP isn’t so much that it’s part of the fake-economy, it’s (as every manager and parent is taught) you need to be careful about what you measure — because you’ll get more of it. Ugh!
I read somewhere that economists make their theory intentionally obscure so they can fiddle with it and no one else will know what they’re talking about.
I like the “fake economy” and “real economy” distinction. And I think the real economy is easier to understand.
Ditto John… I too like the fake economy-real economy distinction. It kind of draws a clean line to differentiate between two kinds of economies — one that enslaves humans in the guise of serving them, and the other that truly makes for human welfare.
Kudos to Trinifar.
BTW, I’ve started emailing this thing that I wrote (about capping and rolling back creditcard and consumer credit) to every banker I know, and any banking email address I can lay my hands on by fair means or foul.
I intend to spread this thought — and many similar ones — like pollen in the wind.
May I humbly urge everybody to go forth and do likewise? I submit that we don’t have to be dignified; merely loud, vociferous, innovative, PERSISTENT and very very REPETITIVE.
I believe we anti-economic-growth people haven’t been sufficiently noisy. We need to stop being sensible intellectuals, and turn into unabashed propagandists to get people to turn around and look at this issue in a new light. We have to turn the anti-growth thing into a slogan through sheer repetitiveness.
We have to acquire the PESTER-POWER of the advertising industry. If advertising can make people believe that they need to buy a load of junk, then our spiel can be convincing too; so let us just keep dishing it out!
Guys, another thought: I tried to google for the kind of philosophy that our bunch represents — you know, Anti-growthism sort of thing.
A search for “Sustainability” or “sustainable development” doesn’t throw up the right sort of websites, leave alone websites like ours.
I think we need to coin a few suitable names to describe our kinda philosophy. A lot of good things can start happening if good people coalesce under an umbrella-terminology that we all broadly agree on.
How about coining some phrases and formally calling this common belief that we have by some name/names? How about declaring it a new SCHOOL OF THOUGHT, just so we can propound it with the seriousness that it merits?
Brian, John, Dave, Trinifar… please do give it some serious thought.
As a student during the 1990s I used to enjoy reading the world systems theories of Immanuel Wallerstein, who still remains an important critic of the contemporary civilization and its ways of structuring knowledge. Wallerstein has since the early 1980s been in favour of university reforms in order to structuring knowledge in new and less outdated ways.
“The perennial tug of war over what average people should think and do about human-caused global warming has just experienced another big yank, this time from those saying actions to cut greenhouse gases are a costly waste of time.”
“A costly waste of time.” — A simple phrase in which a whole lot of truth is located. Time is of the essence here, and the world economy is energy based. The cheapest energy in fossil (oil, gas, coal), so a change of direction must certainly come at great cost.
The findings of the Stern Report can equally be forgotten about, sooner rather than later. There are too many polluting activities at stake here, and such an unbelievable lot of people depend on the money (wages, salaries) they get for being professional polluters of environment, and it doesn’t matter what’s the nature of your job; you’ll always be fighting to keep it. This is the hard reality. Toxic or polluting practices that good, lawful citizens get paid for doing, are not easily done away with. Not at all.
Magne, you say: “This is the hard reality. Toxic or polluting practices that good, lawful citizens get paid for doing, are not easily done away with. Not at all.”
Sadly, you are dead right. It’s the grim truth.
We are like a small bunch of rather earnest schoolboys contemplating how to halt or slow down a giant bulldozer mowing down the rain forests. ‘They’ have the whole system working with them and for them, and ‘We’ have nothing but our bare hands, our brains, our ability to talk and write and plan.
And time is a-running out.
Dear Krish and Magne,
I agree with both of you.
Our time is surely coming. After all, our ‘side’ has not yet been given its chance to demonstrate what we have to offer and are capable of doing. We have all that we need to succeed .
Of course, time is also not on our side. Time is the thing that is NOT ON OUR SIDE which concerns me most.
Perhaps we can agree to do what is doable, with the assurance that things will work out for the best.
Thank you, Krish; and Steve. I’ve made the same argument on several occasions before, both here and elsewhere, but without getting any response. I’ve been thinking that people may have felt that I’d gone a bit too far when I have, somehow — to a certain extent, at least — been critical about the attitudes of ordinary workers.
And yeah, I admit it: I have been thinking quite often about what might go on inside the mind and soul of honest, hard working citizens (the list of toxic and polluting occupations is endless) — as they’ve been bombarded with newspaper articles about the problems concerned with the natural byproducts of their daily work: toxic waste and pollution of the atmosphere; with the end result of environmental destruction of a catastrophic dimension (well, that is what the natural sciences all have to say, anyway).
Such an awful lot of people are — as a matter of fact — “in the business of biosphere destruction”, getting paid for doing it, by employers who get rich because they stay loyal to the company and keep on doing it — and this shall have to stop, or mustn’t it? And, yes: can it possibly be stopped? Or would such a belief be absolutely utopic?
Reality is absurd. Human nature is bizarre. And the life I lead is confusing.
Thanks for the headsup on Wallerstein. From a recent article of his:
We in the US have so thoroughly rejected any and all forms of socialism one result of which is a lack of any kind of a long-term central planning function. Thus, we don’t engage in Kyoto/Bali, we make no effort toward conservation of energy (or much else, like water), we are left with looking for the quick success of economic (and military) speculation on a vast scale (e.g. subprime mortgages, corporate buyouts and consolidation).
The chickens are coming home to roost.
Yep. What more is there to say but yes, definitely yes?
As time is not on our side, how about concentrating our propaganda efforts on simply one focal point: A cap on Consumer Credit & Creditcards, and a phasing out of these within 3-5 years?
Because I see these as factors as factors that actively encourage overconsumption at the consumer level, overproduction at the manufacturer’s level, and a helluva lot of activity at the service-providers’ level.
(In case you’ve missed reading my detailed reasoning of this earlier on in this discussion thread, you may consider reading http://friendlyghost.rediffiland.com/blogs/2007/12/10/Stop-Credit-Cards-Consumer.html .
I suggest this as a kind of focal point for all our efforts because:
i) With less of bank credit circulating in the system, overheated economies would cool down
ii) the consuming public would see that a state of emergency has been declared.
iii) We anti-growth activists would effectively have to lobby for only one clear thing: Cap and roll back credit!
IN other words, we can stop arguing for a bewildering array of measures/legislations to cap economic growth.
iv) Progress made on this front is simple and easy to monitor — no ambiguities whatsoever.
v) Legislation on this front is simple and requires a minimum of justification before the consuming public, who would debate and bargain every inch of the way.
So what say, Magne, Steven, John, Dave, Trinifar, Brian… Can we together move a resolution to just lobby central bankers to put a cap on issue of fresh consumer credit during 2008?
Given the paucity of time, let us get down to building consensus amonst ourselves on focal points, guys… please!