The Green Economy vs US Politics

My apologies for the near two weeks of silence, we’ve had some computer issues in my house and a wave of fall cold. I’ve been twitting when possible, but limited computer time has made it difficult to write much. Here is something I think you might find interesting…

The United States political arena is mind-bogglingly idiotic. There, I said it. The fact that our media and politics can take a scientific fact (climate change) and turn it into a “four-letter word that many U.S. politicians won’t even dare utter in public” is despicable, detestable and degrading to the intelligence of the American people. Thomas Friedman just wrote a great article about the “next great global industry” and how our media-political system has pushed us behind the curve.

China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientist. They understand scientific data, unlike our leaders that are politically-driven lawyers and scoundrels – they only seem understand money. It’s just unfortunate that most of the money is held by oil and coal companies with free reign to purchase elections and fund anti-climate campaigns. From Friedman’s short article “Aren’t We Clever?“:

“‘There is really no debate about climate change in China,’ said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China… The push for green in China, she added, ‘is a practical discussion on health and wealth. There is no need to emphasize future consequences when people already see, eat and breathe pollution every day.’

“So while America’s Republicans turned ‘climate change’ into a four-letter word — J-O-K-E — China’s Communists also turned it into a four-letter word — J-O-B-S.

“‘China is changing from the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world,’ said Liu. ‘It has the unique ability to pit low-cost capital with large-scale experiments to find models that work.’ China has designated and invested in pilot cities for electric vehicles, smart grids, LED lighting, rural biomass and low-carbon communities. ‘They’re able to quickly throw spaghetti on the wall to see what clean-tech models stick, and then have the political will to scale them quickly across the country,’ Liu added. ‘This allows China to create jobs and learn quickly.'”

So the old worry of communism may not be too far off – they are in fact stealing jobs from us. But not because they are communists and we are capitalists, but because they are intelligently transitioning to a new green economy and we are busy arguing over whether or not to trust the science.

Note: don’t let my tone make you think I don’t believe the US can transition to a greener economy, far from it. It is just frustrating to be in the one country with a non-functioning congress. If anything, I want you to not let the regressive party (republicans) win seats in this next election – it will make things worse. Vote out the idiots who don’t “believe” in the science!

Earth Overshoot & Natural Debt


Earth Overshoot Day 2010
Our Natural Accounts Run Red

Today is the official day of Earth Overshoot: the first day of the year our natural capital spending is in the red. This type of natural debt is far more destructive than its monetary counterpart (natural debt meaning debt owed of natural capital, not a debt that is natural – there is no such thing). Instead of being able to pay back this loan, we’re actually making it harder to pay our bills next year and the year after.

Overshoot is a term used often by biologists to describe a population that consumes more than the system can support. This could be a pack of grey wolves in the Northern Territories that is eating more deer than can possible be born and grow within the year. What does that mean? With less deer this year to breed, there will be less deer next year to eat. The deer the wolves eat next year will deplete their reserve even further. Eventually no deer will be around to eat and the wolves will starve.

We’re doing the same thing today with the Earth. As the Global Footprint Network puts it,

“For most of human history, humanity has been able to live off of nature’s interest – consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year.

But approximately three decades ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for ecological services began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them. This gap between demand and supply – known as ecological overshoot – has grown steadily each year. It now takes one year and six months to regenerate the resources that humanity requires in one year.

The bummer here is that we can’t migrate to a new territory: there’s only one Earth. There will only ever be one Earth. One Planet. That’s how much we’ve been given, best we figure out how to use it well. We need to create a sustainable scale to our society and economy.

Gas Tank
Maxed Out: Earth Doesn't Have Give Out Credit

Overshoot is directly related to carrying capacity – and biologists know that when a population consumes more than the system can renew, this overshoot often leads to a mass die-off.  We’re already watching the most massive extinction since the dinosaurs, our biological diversity is dwindling at unheard-of rates. Perhaps this should be seen as a warning to our own existence? After all, we are part of nature.

Celebrate Earth Overshoot Day by donating your car and buying a bike, calling your congressman, writing the president, trading your oil company job for a green job, building resiliency in your local community and supporting your local economy. Have a great anti-Holiday!

See my cross-post on Post Growth and out my guest post on Green Growth Cascadia about Earth Overshoot Day. Image Credits: Global Footprint Network.

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 😉

Resiliency & Peak Oil

Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is resiliency, both personal and communal. It’s a main topic in the book of the month, The Transition Handbook, too. What is resilience? It is the ability of a system to absorb or adapt to external changes and shocks. Essentially, it’s the ability to roll with the punches. This seems to me to be an incredibly valuable trait to have as a strong, independent human being. More importantly, it’s something we should instill in our communities and the systems upon which we rely for sustaining and enriching our lives.

We seem to be talking a lot about climate change lately, yet we should be just as worried about peak oil. I am begining to think we should worry a bit more about it, actually. Oil is in everything. Either directly or indirectly, oil rules our lives and touches everything we rely on. So what happens when we run out? Well, it’s not as important as what happens after the peak. After we cross the point of less supply yet increasing demand.

After the peak prices go up, quickly. The rise in oil prices will result in a rise in food prices, clothing prices, transportation costs, and just about everything else. This wave of cost increases will make it very difficult for everyone who is not extremely rich, especially those of us in the middle class, and even more so for those near or just under the poverty level.

Watch this little video and think about how your community. Are you fostering resilience? Perhaps you should investigate the Transition Movement, too.

Oh, a site note: I am officially a licensed professional engineer. I passed my exams. Cheers!

Mr President, Put Solar On The White House

Lead By Example, Symbols Are Powerful

Symbols are important. The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall are all examples of important cultural symbols. But even small symbols are important, in fact I would venture that smaller, local symbols are even more important on a day-to-day basis – the example of a father, the blessing of a ship, the courtesy of a door held open.

In order for the United States to survive the coming few decades as a society it will need to invest in something called resilience. This term has devoid from our lives for the past 50-100 years in part because of our belief that we will forever have cheap energy. The truth of the matter is that oil is peaking, and will run out soon.

Even before it runs out completely, it will get super expensive. This might not seem like a big deal to some, but to many this will increase the costs of everything we do, because nearly all of it relies on oil. Electricity, supermarket food, pencils, transportation, fresh water, lawn mowers, sewer, medical supplies, and waste water systems – everything either requires oil directly or indirectly.

Therefore, in order to increase our society’s resilience, we need to be able to take the shock of post-peak oil in stride. This means, among many other things, having readily available renewable energy. We should take advantage of our cheap(er) oil now to build the structures that will sustain a more resilient society after the peak. Once the shocks come it will likely be too late to make any proper transition to a renewable energy-powered society without hardship.

Back to symbols – we need a strong leader in this venture towards a sustainable society. President Obama has a great opportunity to provide a great symbol of our commitment on top of his house – for free! The Glõbama Campaign is provide a means for us to send a message to the president that he should do just that – put solar panels on the white house!

Check it out here.

Feeds For A Sustainable Society

Whether you’re a twitter follower or not, I tend to put a lot of articles up on there. Something like 3-15 a day. Micro-blogging they call it. Most of my tweets run with a hashtag or two: #neweconomy, #postgrowth, #steadystate, et cetera. Once upon a time it was a place for me to store for later use articles I thought interesting. Today it is a way to further the message and gaining readers for this blog and Post Growth. One twitter follower asked me recently what blogs I follow. Well….

Below is a list of the blogs I am currently following that I think give a wide array of articles on topics related to a sustainable society, economy and way of life. This is a fairly long list, so I suggest you get yourself a feed reader and have the articles sent to you in one location – I love google reader for this – or follow me on twitter for updates on articles I find especially pertinent. I wanted to write out a short description of each one, but realized after I compiled them all in one place that task would have taken me forever, so I encourage you to check them out on your own:

Anyone have others to suggest? I always love to add new blogs to my reading list!