Points of Progress

This semi-regular report includes things happening in our world, policies, articles and practices in-line with the steady state economy or transitioning to it, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. They are all exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about each in-depth.

Here are some cool things happening in the world:

Peter Victor Lecture in Toronto

For those of you in the great Canadian wilderness of Toronto, or nearby, Peter Victor will be lecturing at the Center for Inquiry this Friday, July 2nd at 7pm. More than just a man with two first names, Peter Victor is the famous Canadian author of Managing Without Growth and a professor in environmental studies at York University.

Victor’s book is the result of an economic simulation devised to study the Canadian economy if it turned away from growth as its main policy goal, shifting to a sustainable, steady state economy. Results from his simulation suggest that it is possible to have  full employment, eradicate poverty, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and maintain fiscal balance without economic growth. If you’re able to attend his lecture, please take notes and let me know how it goes!

Tales From The Steady State Conference

Just a few weeks ago a gathering of minds took place in the town of Leeds, UK. A blogger friend of mine, Jeremy Williams of Make Wealth History was there, along with writer and activist Lucy Glynn. Lucy is the first to write a report back from the conference, though I hope to be featuring a guest post soon from Jeremy and/or Rob Dietz with CASSE, who help host the event.

The conference included great workshops and featured keynote speakers including Peter Victor, mentioned above; Andrew Simms, Policy Director at nef; Dan O’Neill, European Director of CASSE; and Tim Jackson, author of Prosperity Without Growth and professor of sustainable development, University of Surrey.

Take a look at Lucy’s post at the nef triple crunch blog here.

Pacific Coast States Band Together To Ban Offshore Oil

As we transition to a steady state economy we will need to leave behind the unsustainable, destructive ways of our previous growth-driven economy. Foremost in my mind is the unbelievably harmful extraction, production and consumption of fossil fuels. We’re nearly out of oil. This is ever apparent in the lengths to which we now go to find more oil: oil shale, Alaskan oil, deepwater drilling, et cetera.

Happy news for my home the Pacific Northwest: All three pacific states have come together to ban offshore oil. Each state has banned it off their coasts and are now working together to remove it from the federal waters that extend outside of the state’s coastal jurisdiction. I hope this passes through out congress and the western states can live happily in the knowledge that the Gulf spill won’t be repeated here.

Taxing The Bads

Taxation is an interesting facet of our society. Economists view taxes as a disincentive in a free market, and rightly so. Taxes increase the price of a product or service, making it less desirable. Yet, when you think about what we tax in this country, it’s mostly things we desire more of – income, profits, sales, et cetera. This odd behavior should be questioned, even more so today when every budget (state, city, federal) seems to be facing seriously tenuous times.

I took the train down to Oregon this last weekend to see my sister graduate from college. While there I stayed with Rob Dietz, Executive Director of CASSE and a good friend of mine. He handed me a very modest looking magazine called Sockeye. I am sure I will be drawing material from this one issue for some time (check it out, amazing articles). For now I want to talk about tax shifting, as mentioned in the article by Alan Durning and Amy Chan, “Making Prices Tell The Truth: Shifting Taxes from Bads to Goods.” (pdf)

The Imbalance of the Free Market

Taxes have the power of acting as a means of balancing what are called “market inefficiencies,” things in the free market system that generate negative externalities. These are unwanted side effects that are not taken into account in a product, service or activity. A great example of this is any fossil fuel, let’s take Coal for instance.

Let’s imagine a coal power plant starts leeching mercury into a watershed and a city water planet down river takes it in (coal accounts for most of the mercury in our waterways). The coal power plant is not paying to filter this mercury out, nor is it paying for all the damage that could occur from the toxin leeching into the ecosystems. Because the producer does not pay for the negative externalities it is left out of the decision to pursue coal power.

If these externalities were eliminated by charging or compensating for them, then they could be factored into the decision making process. This is especially important as all too often these become costs placed upon the society instead of the producer (e.g. the city water plant in the above example has to filter out the mercury from its water source). If these prices were added into coal’s price they would eventually make coal production to costly to be worthwhile.

One of the best ways to internalize these negatives into our free market is to increase their expense with taxes to help offset costs like oil spill clean ups, health care or water treatment.

Continue reading “Taxing The Bads”

Steady State Cyclist Tours Canada

I’ve been biking to work more and it got me thinking of bike touring – long distance traveling on a bike. I decided that I would make it a goal to do an extended bike tour next summer (the Seattle to Portland Classic plus three more days down the coast and back) to prepare me for the ultimate goal of a cross country bike trip.

No sooner did I start thinking of the practicality of this journey and deciding I should use it as an opportunity to promote the steady state economy, as well as hopefully pick up some sponsors (maybe a brewery or two?), than I get an email about Jordan’s cross-Canada journey promoting the steady state economy!

You can hear more about his trip at his blog, but I’ll be sure to talk about it along the way as well. What an truly exciting trip! This is taken directly from the press release: (links and emphasis added)

Riding a bike is all about balance.  The same is true of a world economy that can endure, one that is more than a series of bubbles-and-pops.  Jordan Poppenk will bring those two concepts together in a cross-Canada cycling tour to raise awareness about the concept of the steady state economy.

The world’s financial authorities are preparing to meet in Toronto to discuss how to get the global economy growing again. But Jordan Poppenk wants them to talk about how to stop the world economy from growing again, and he’s cycling across Canada to get their attention.

Poppenk is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto and an environmental journalist. He wants Canadians to know about new ideas emerging from the world’s economics departments, how they mesh with modern ecological challenges, and why it’s essential we rethink the current program of boosting GDP every year. He’s cycling 6,500 km to help get the idea out there.

A steady state economy aims for stable population and stable consumption of energy and materials at sustainable levels. Such an economy favors development (getting better) rather than growth (getting bigger).

“The steady state concept is about reaching some balance with what nature can provide, and within those limits, we can have a very vibrant, exciting and worthwhile economy,” says Peter Victor, an ecological economist at York University.  Dr. Victor’s model of the Canadian economy demonstrates how the nation can prosper with a steady state economy, as documented in his book, Managing Without Growth.

Poppenk adds, “Whether or not you believe in human-induced climate change, other signs of the severe strain on ecosystems from our already overwhelming economic activity are everywhere. Growth is not helping most people anyway; Canada’s economic output has doubled since 1982, but 80% of Canadians have seen no improvement in their inflation-adjusted incomes.”

Poppenk is teaming up with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) to communicate how a steady state economy could be desirable and to spark discussion about transitioning from growth to sustainability. He departs from Vancouver today and he hopes to reach Halifax on September 1.

Information, updates and photographic materials are available on Poppenk’s blog: Steady State Cyclist.

Ethical Banking Systems

Banks should protect our money, not fleece us for their profit

Our money is loaned into existence and then must be paid back, plus interest. This interest can only come by earning (taking) money from other loans in the system, thereby installing inherit competition and scarcity in our society. Could you imagine a society in which we didn’t have to compete for a scarce amount of funds? How could this alter our communities or the way we treat each other?

An ethical banking system is one that upholds the value of the people who use it. Instead of a institution that values only profit, an ethical bank would value the people that support it. This really shouldn’t be too crazy of an idea, but our banks today do everything in their power to leverage greater profits. The recent economic crash being a prime example. We should support and create banks that support our societal and economic well being, not their CEO bonus checks.

The Reason We Need It

It seems like second nature to me that systems we create as a society should function with the ethics we value, but there is obvious room for improvement. When a lot of our organizations and industries started the room for growth seemed limitless, so it was much easier to gain advantage in the market and grow without sacrificing ethics. Like many things in this era, we’ve run out of that room and the only way to make a higher market share this year and next year is to start finding ethically gray (or black areas) for expansion (e.g. derivatives).

Paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities. This distortion of value from real wealth to phantom wealth encourages a financially dependent system, driving up debt and down real value. Eventually those claims on wealth will be exchanged for actual wealth – even if there are no longer enough. An ethical banking system supports a more realistic approach to real wealth and the money that represents it – as well as environmental concerns with investment and social justice.

An Ethical Banking System is one that encourages stable and equal amounts of material wealth. If you haven’t clued into it yet, our current banking organizations do not function in an ethical way. Our banking system encourages debt, competition, scarcity, and unequal distributions of wealth. What if we created a bank in line with our values? One that supported the people, community, and real wealth?

Continue reading “Ethical Banking Systems”

The Earth Bleeds Out

If only the words “back from whence ye came” could really have magical powers and plug the mortal wound we have inflicted upon the Gulf of Mexico (and soon her bigger cousin, the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Coastline). Whilst our human brains convince us over and over again that we are above nature, can outsmart her, or take over her services, she shows us again and again the error in our ways. From Katrina, to Taiwan, to Haiti and many more, Mother Nature is an unrelenting and all-powerful presence in our lives. This shouldn’t be seen as an unwelcomed presence – far too often we seem to run away from nature, when we are, in fact, of nature and in nature.

I have been avoiding writing about the Gulf Disaster because it seems pretty well covered: it’s everywhere, whether you read it, watch it, or listen to it. However, I couldn’t resist promoting this incredibly moving image tool: Ifitwasmyhome.com. What would the oil disaster look like if it was centered over your home? Check it out for me here in Seattle: (Thanks to nef’s Triple Crunch Blog for first showing me this site)

Gush Forth! Oh, Mighty Earth!

Imagine this were true: the largest populated area in the Pacific Northwest would be almost entirely covered in oil, even up over the Canadian border. They’re our allies, but I can’t imagine they’d be happy with that type of sharing. All of the Olympic Rainforest and National Park would be dripping wet with crude. Lake Chelan would be filled with black gold. As far south as Centralia and stretching over the many islands of the Puget Sound – all wiped out by BP’s greed for a fossil fuel. Good-bye Orcas! good-bye Salmon! Audios watersheds, fisheries, and my beautiful hometown.

They seem completely incapable of stopping the leak (some wonder if they won’t be able to do it or it might wait until Christmas). Personally, I think it is motivation to sell your car, ride your bike, and vote for a constitutional amendment outlawing corporate personhood (had this occurred prior to 1886, the government could have liquidated BP’s assets to cover everything and thrown everyone involved in jail).

All of this is the direct result of our lust for oil. We are destroying the largest fishery in the US (something like 70% of our shellfish and 30% of all our seafood comes from the Gulf), destroying priceless natural capital. For what? BP’s giant profits. This won’t finish them unless we take them to court, and even that is doubtful to have a large, positive result within a decade. At least the local economy will get a bump in GDP while everyone rushes down there to clean it up, right?

What do you think of the developments down there?