Enough Is Here

Jeremy over at Make Wealth History just posted a video by Conspiracy of Freedom, a Christian response to consumerism from the Breathe Network. The recent video, Home, questions our fragmentation of community and the importance of local. This let me to their previous video, Enough Is Here that questions growth and the mysteriously forgotten concept of “enough.”

It is incredibly refreshing to me to see a Christian group that campaigns for issues that are (dare I say it), actually values of Christ. Too often I am overwhelmed by the media-frenzied far-right Christians who are poster-boys for big business and Tea Parties. Thank you Jeremy for post this video and helping this group.

Ten Things That Will Build The New Economy

Out of the Old Economy of big-business, inequality, wall street over main street, oil & gas, environmental destruction and social degradation will rise the New Economy of small business, fair distribution, local systems, renewable energy, environmental restoration and protection, social renewal and strong communities.

The term “new economy” is broad, but its definition is gaining a more solid footing in the grass-roots of localism, communalism and post growth(ism). When I hear the term I think of an economy based on people and planet, not greed and growth. It is one that focuses energy on resilient local communities and businesses. It embraces the knowledge that small is beautiful. The New Economy is not just a rebooted version of the Old Economy – it is a drastic reshaping of the economic landscape. (I also believe that the New Economy is a post growth economy)

Out of the Old Economy of big-business, inequality, wall street over main street, oil & gas, environmental destruction and social degradation will rise the New Economy of small business, fair distribution, local systems, renewable energy, environmental restoration and protection, social renewal and strong communities.

The path ahead is not entirely clear, there are many opportunities to improving our social fabric and strengthening our local economics, but I believe that certain ideas will shine above the rest. Most of the change will come from the bottom up. This is true not only because the viability of anything getting done at the top of the political spectrum is practically non-existent, but also because the local movements will out-pace the movement of congress any day of the week. Here is my list of Top Ten Things That Will Build The New Economy (in no specific order):

Continue reading “Ten Things That Will Build The New Economy”

The Opportunity of Limits

The Limits of Earth

Debates over limits is not new. From Parson Malthus to Donella and Dennis Meadows to Herman Daly and, most recently, Tim Jackson, Juliet Schor, Peter Victor and many others – economists, policy-makers, ecologists, and biologists have all debated the limits we face and where they are encroach on society (or rather, where society encroaches on them). Economists from the very creation of the social science to recent shapers of the field have recognized the limits to a growth economy.

In the 19th century John Stuart Mill, a political economist who believed in free markets and utilitarianism, expounded the idea of a ‘stationary state,’ or a steady state, economy, one which remained stable without expanding in size. In Mills stationary state vision our economy would maintain a constant population and stocks of capital. He envisioned an enlightened state where “there would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living and much more likelihood of its being improved, when minds cease to be engrossed by the art of getting on.”

John Maynard Keynes, the grandfather of current economic thought, even acknowledged that growth was a means to an end. Keynes referred to the dilemma of growth as “the economic problem” that someday will “take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.”

Where does that leave us today? In a world seemingly full of ecological limits playing out in numerous arenas – peak oil, water scarcity, climate change, dwindling resources – how do we find that stationary state equitably? Do any of these limits play out in our favor?

Continue reading “The Opportunity of Limits”

Dear Dick Smith

As Dave mentioned in the last post, Australian Dick Smith has offered a challenge to those steady-staters under 30 years of age: get famous furthering the post-growth solution and win $1 million dollars (Australian). While there is a small amount of irony in the proposal, it is much needed money that could do a lot to increase the movement. There is already a few ideas in work amongst the eager post-growther, de-growthers and steady-staters, but more to come on that later. For now, here’s my response to Dick Smith’s post on his website..

Dick Smith
Dick Smith's Wilbderforce Award

Dear Dick,

Thank you so much for placing such an inspiring award in the public arena. The issues confronting human society are grave to say the least, yet they pale in comparison to the spirit and optimism we carry with us. Those of us in the “next generation” hold the key to shaping the future of what will surely be the most pivotal century in all of human history. Climate destabilization is already taking place and will only increase if we continue to follow the growth paradigm. Resource scarcity, pollution, community degradation, biodiversity loss and the breakdown of civilization are the only future presented by further growth of our economy.

There are many of us that recognize these challenges and are working as best as we can to solve them. For several years I have run a blog called Steady State Revolution, where I focus on the damaging behavior of conspicuous consumption and the need for a sustainable alternative. Recently I co-founded a blog called Post Growth with a few other fellow-minded bloggers, both in the United States (Scott Gast) and in Australia (Sharon Ede). Another blogger friend of mine in the UK, Jeremy Williams has been making waves with his blog Make Wealth History and a website called Beyond Growth.

I’ve recently taken a post with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) as their Washington State Chapter Director. CASSE has been working hard to further the public conversation about these topics and I have been privileged to help them in their endeavors. Their new blog, the “Daly News,” features some of the most prominent names in ecological economics – including the blog’s namesake Herman Daly.

Every one of these people recognizes the conflict between continued economic growth and ecological sustainability. We see how the growth economy must transition to a stable, dynamic, steady state economy to insure a livable, just and flourishing human society is passed down to future generations.

Your prize may very well represent a flag under which we can all unite.

I believe the single most important thing in the success of the human experience is community. No man is an island, and this is an even more evident truth in the face of climate change and peak oil. Our way of life is dependent upon others, and the way we live impacts everyone. A sustainable economy will require strengthening our local and global communities, working together in cooperation instead of competition.

Your award represents a means to help pull more of us together, not for the money, but for the possibility of inspiring change and the ability to enhance the recognition of a sustainable way of life for all.

I look forward to the next year!

All the best,

Joshua Nelson
Washington State Chapter Director
Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
steadystaterevolution.org
postgrowth.org

Million Dollar Prize To Cure Growth Addiction

This post comes from Dave Gardner, a filmmaker who has been studying what he calls “our worship of growth everlasting” for several years as part of a non-profit documentary film project called Hooked on Growth. This film is part of a larger movement/public education project/documentary series called GrowthBusters. Dave promised Hooked on Growth will be released in the first half of 2011. I thought this post was exceptionally important and wanted to share the news in its entirety with you.

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from Australia. A gentleman named Dick Smith was on the line and he was very complimentary about our film project. Quickly I was brought up to speed on this man and his new, noble effort to get the world talking about limits to growth and into a recovery program for growth addiction.

Dick Smith announces Wilberforce Award
$1m cash to save civilization

That was the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald last week as Mr. Smith announced his one million dollar Wilberforce Award – a grant to be awarded to someone under 30 “who can impress me by becoming famous through his or her ability to show leadership in communicating an alternative to our population and consumption growth-obsessed economy.”

Did you see a news story about this audacious offer? I found no news stories about this outside of Australia, other than a photo in Times of India and the UK Guardian. The rest of the world apparently doesn’t consider this million-dollar prize offered by one individual newsworthy. I find that incredibly disappointing, but I suppose that is to be expected in a world where denial of limits to growth is so widespread and growth addiction is perpetuated by the pushers (growth profiteers, who include mainstream media).

Dick Smith ad in Murdoch press
Dick Smith ad in Murdoch press

In fact, Dick Smith has taken on the mainstream media in his quest to eliminate the mega-dose of pro-growth Kool Aid served to us daily. He recently took out this ad in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper.

Unless you live in Australia, you may not know who Dick Smith is. The subject line of his follow-up email to me read: Rapacious Capitalist Loves your Website. So, who is this “rapacious capitalist” who is not pushing growth at every turn in order to finance his next private jet or another 10,000 square-foot vacation home? You can read more about him here.

Smith is a man who concedes “I’ve benefited from a long period of constant economic and population growth – we are addicted to it.” He is indeed a wealthy businessman. But Dick Smith has seen the light. It has come to his attention (thanks to his daughter) that there are limits. He writes, “sooner or later this consumption growth will have an end. We appear to be already bumping against the limits of what our planet can sustain and the evidence is everywhere to see.”

I’m encouraged that a number of wealthy capitalists are speaking out today about the fallacy of our quest for and belief in unending growth. Media mogul Ted Turner frequently raises the issue of overpopulation and sustainability. “Too many people are using too much stuff,” he told Charlie Rose two years ago. Zhang Yue, Chairman and Chief executive of BROAD Air Conditioning spoke eloquently about limits to growth in a speech last year to the Business for Social Responsibility Conference: “Today, that mission to grow more, to get more, to make more, isn’t suitable for society.”

Fact is we’ve all benefited from the era of growth. But just as it’s not too late for those who’ve built empires and made fortunes to learn from our mistakes and promote a more sustainable model, it’s not too late for society at large. It is time for us to get over our growth addiction and move quickly to a model that celebrates “enough.”

I applaud Australian Dick Smith for having the vision to see where our worship of growth everlasting will take us, the courage to confess his sins, and enough concern about future generations to put his money where his mouth is. According to Smith, “I will be looking for candidates whose actions over the next year show that they have what it takes to be among the next generation of leaders our incredible planet so badly needs.”

Originally posted here. For more information about Hooked on Growth, visit www.growthbusters.org.

By the way, I’m under 30, in case there are any who would like to help me win this prize 😉

Australian Growth Debate Emerges

New Internationalist Cover
Growth Debate Goes Down Under

Australian media is taking a bit of a shine to the debate around economic growth. A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald explores the emergence of the steady state economy in political debate. And the Aussie magazine New Internationalist is featuring an issue about “Life Beyond Growth.” I have to admit that my familiarity with Australian publications is, well, non-existent. Near as I can tell, New Internationalist is a Aussie version of Yes! Magazine and Mother Jones.

The one article available online from New Internationalist is titled, “Nature’s Bottom Line,” and outlines the conflict between continued economic growth on a finite planet. Here’s a bit:

“Free market cheerleaders believe that technology and human ingenuity will solve the problem. The economy can be ‘de-coupled’ from material inputs. Improved technology will allow us to produce more wealth with less energy, materials and waste. This is whistling in the dark. Between 1970 and 2000, rich countries saw impressive gains in energy efficiency of up to 40 per cent. But average improvements of two per cent a year were eclipsed by growth rates of three per cent or more.

Increased technical efficiency is swamped by increased consumption. A recent report by the New Economics Foundation found that to stabilize carbon emissions at 350 ppm by 2050 the carbon intensity (CO2 per unit of production) of the global economy would need to fall by 95 per cent. Ramping up GDP without improving technological efficiency leads to more environmental damage. Yet improving efficiency triggers more growth, which leads to the same result.”

And this is my favorite part at the end:

“The economy is a human construct. It’s not an act of god. We made it, we can change it. The rest of this issue examines the growth dilemma and highlights the alternatives.”

You can get involved in furthering the knowledge about the limits to growth by signing the CASSE position, supporting this blog and, of course, joining the discussion! Spread the word, my friends, to every continent!

p.s. If anyone has an extra copy of this issue, I would love to get my hands on a copy! Their site doesn’t seem to have a single issue purchase option.

No-Growth Economics and You

Kevin Drum with Mother Jones has a great blog. However, I was surprised to read a recent response to a no-growth article – Kevin is apparently a growther, not willing to accept the fallacy that is continued economic expansion on a finite planet. What Kevin might not realize is that increasing the size of the macro-economy on a planet that doesn’t grow, with resources that remain constant (actually, since we’re in overshoot, our resource base is steadily decreasing), means increasing scarcity, not wealth.

There are, as with many of his posts, tons of comments. I have made a few and I invite you to comment there as well. Here are the first two of mine:

Kevin,

I’m seriously disappointed in you. I mean, truly disappointed on a massive scale. Of all people, I figured you would see the truth behind this argument and the ridiculousness of the idea you can continue economic expansion on a finite planet equitably.

You seemingly failed to do any other research around it and jumped to the conclusion (falsely) that a non-growth centered economy wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be pleasant. Actually, most of human history was a steady, non-growing economy and we did just fine. Why do we suddenly think the last hundred years is how the next thousand will go?

Read Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth. It’s a book, but also available as a shorter report or even as a summary if you really don’t have time. Or read Peter Victors book, mentioned in that article, where he actually shows how a future in a steady state economy is desirable over the continued expansion of the economy.

Basically we have two options:

(1) Focus on development (not expansion) of our society in a sustainable fashion, thus improving the lives of most of the population and actually confronting climate change, hunger, and poverty; or

(2) Keep betting on the horse that has been losing the game: growth. Meanwhile, as our economy expands and our biosphere REMAINS THE SAME SIZE, we will each of us have less and less – less water, less food, less fuel, less nature. Further growth = increased scarcity.

Growth has failed to increase our happiness (after a certain point of basic needs, further growth adds little or nothing to our happiness).

Growth has failed to end poverty: it has, in fact, increase it.

A non-growing economy would not be stagnant. A dynamic steady state economy is the result of focusing our energies on improving our society instead of making it bigger. We actually have a chance of accomplishing the things that the growth economy has failed at: eliminating poverty, improving equality, tackling climate change.

The last one is without a doubt, absolutely impossible in a growing economy – for the very same reason why we cannot improve our technology fast enough to make up for growth (also known as decoupling, which is a myth).

Lastly, we our ultimately bound by the physical laws of the universe – the laws of thermodynamics will eventually make any further improvement in efficiency, and therefore growth, impossible.

Please read up on this topic before you go spinning the dogma of growth. Economic growth is the largest threat to human society.

Cheers,
Joshua Nelson
steadystaterevolution.org

And, in response to a comment about decreasing work hours and increasing leisure time:

Actually, total work hours were decreasing steadily because of increasing productivity from the beginning of the industrial era until the 70s/80s. Then came the worse president in our nation’s history: Ronald Reagan. History will remember him as the president who eliminated publicly funded college, threw a bunch of mentally ill out on the street to fend for themselves and pioneered the vision of growth-at-all-costs, greed-focused economics.

What happened in that era was a reversal of that decreasing work hours trend. Prior to this shift increases in productivity would partially decrease work hours and partially increase production (grow the economy). Today, all productivity and efficiency increases go directly to expansion of the economy, because work hours remain the same (or increase), dumping it all into growth.

A good book on this topic is Juliet Schor’s Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth, or you check out her lecture at a Seattle City Hall event.

We could eliminate our staggering unemployment by cutting back the average work week. We could do away with economic expansion by, in part, placing all productivity gains into producing the same amount in less time – working less, put still producing. This is where the more leisure time comes from: less work, similar pay.

They’ve partly been doing this in many European countries (where they continued on the path we gave up in the 70s/80s). The French work 35 hours a week and Germans have a flexible work week. Most Europeans also get around 8 weeks of vacation a year (not like our measly 2 weeks in the US) and in some countries (Sweden) there is 3 months of paid maternal and paternal leave after a birth. [Update: Sweden specifically has 16 months paid leave as it turns out]

Any wonder why these countries consistently rate higher on happiness and well-being metrics?

We should be focusing on prosperity and improving human well-being, not making more stuff and destroying our planet. The results are in on the economic expansion: it only works to a certain point, after which is actually undermines our happiness. Besides, why are people so opposed to working less and having more free time? I’d love to have more time with my son, focusing on my writing, reading, or actually getting to the gym. I find it so strange that there is an uproar against having more free time.

Perhaps the view of a better world is too must of a fright because it shows clearly the flaws of the current world?

Cheers,
Joshua Nelson
steadystaterevolution.org
postgrowth.org

Check out Kevin’s blog (outside of the growth post, generally a great blog) and comment here.

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.