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!

Beyond Growth: Getting Beyond The Growth Paradox

I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check this resource out yet, but Jeremy Williams, blogger of Make Wealth History, put together a wonderful guide to understanding the problems with continued economic growth in the developed nations called Beyond Growth. It opens up to a walk through of the problems with growth, solutions to the issues and the first steps towards a sustainable economy.

In addition to the well laid out explanation of the issues Jeremy has a News section – a blog build up off of Make Wealth History’s re-occurring “Growth Report.” This recent article caught my eye especially:

Just how strong is the link between economic growth and human development?

Not very strong, according to a new report from the UNDP which suggests that investment in education, health, and role of women in society are far more important.

Economists George Gray Molina and Mark Purser sifted through 35 years of data from 111 countries in reaching their conclusions, and concluded that human development and economic growth are not necessarily correlated. “The most rapid improvements in life expectancy and literacy are not occurring in the fastest growing economies of the world” says the Times of India, reporting on the forthcoming report. “They are occurring in a subset of lower and middle-income countries in Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa. China and the Republic of Korea are in fact the only two countries which appear both among the top ten income and HDI performers.”

Thanks for the tip, through Treehugger, and I’ll be looking out for the paper, entitled Human Development Trends Since 1970: A Social Convergence Story, when it comes out.

Be sure to check out more of Jeremy’s work at Make Wealth History and Beyond Growth, one of the many thinkers out there campaigning for a sustainable world and a sustainable economy.

Obama Announces Degrowth, Wins Republican Support

President Obama Speaks On Health Care In Portland, Maine
"We Must Forge A Sustainable Nation For All"

In a surprising turn of events, President Barack Obama announced in a press conference today that economic growth could no longer continue as we know it. As a prominent New York magazine quoted, “the press room went silent and after a tension-filled moment, erupted in applause!”

As numerous environmental groups, ecological economists, and people with common sense have been trying for decades to gain political ground on the issue, a left-field bipartisan bill was drafted late last night and rushed through both the House and Senate. News of the conflict between growing the economy and maintaining an environment that can sustain human life was a shock to many in congress. However, conscience and prudence won the day, prompting late-night legislative sessions.

Tomorrow President Obama will sign into law the American Development and Reorientation Act, a comprehensive bill that will overhaul the financial sector, incorporate well-being into national accounts, end fossil fuel subsidies, tax pollution, cap greenhouse gas emissions, remove rights of person-hood from corporations, and provide minimum incomes and cap gaps in wealth – all to provide a more stable and just economic system that focuses on developing our society instead of expanding the size of our economy.

As the President said during the conference,

“By recommitting ourselves to the founding ideals of this great nation, focusing on our possibilities and liberating ourselves from failed ideas and institutions, together we can create a stronger, better nation that secures a fulfilling life for every person and honors the premise of the Declaration of Independence that every individual is endowed with an unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This amazing turn-about in public policy not only represents the needs of the America people, but ensures a long, prosperous future for our society on this planet. This will go down in history as the first major (gigantic) step towards a sustainable world for all! Well done, Mr President!

**Happy April 1st everyone!**

Newsweek: The No-Growth Fantasy

Newsweek recently published an article titled, “The No-Growth Fantasy: Europe’s Attack on Capitalism.” Calling a no-growth economy a fantasy is a bit delusional, I think continued economic growth is the real fantasy here. I just commented on that article, my response is below – expanded past their comment section’s character limit.

“A large part of what was taken as growth was financed by unsustainable bubbles in credit and asset prices.” Most of our growth in the past 50 years has been nothing but bubbles: credit bubbles, housing bubbles, internet bubbles, property bubbles – even a Uranium bubble. We all hate when the bubble pops, why get back on the growth horse and expect different?

You discuss resource depletion as if it can be thinned down to last forever, while we continue to grow the economy (and therefore, the amount of resources needed). Efficiency is key, for sure. However, you can only get so efficient! If we could reach 100% efficiency we’d be able to use the same gallon of gasoline in our cars over and over again forever. Even if you don’t trust those pesky laws of thermodynamics, common sense should tell you this is pure nonsense.

And discussions of “barely tapped potential of genetic engineering and other plant-breeding technologies” envision a future of mutated plants, crowded cities, and soylent green. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to live in a world of genetically engineered food supplements, packed into a tight living space, simply because we didn’t want to think outside of economic growth. Besides, these technologies will have their limits as well, assuming we can make them viable in time, and then what? What’s the next thing we can latch onto in order to keep this hamster wheel spinning?

“Even if the critics are right and growth is going to be harder to attain post-crisis, that’s no reason to give up on it. Just the opposite: all the more reason to spend our energy coming up with the right policies—from education and innovation to entrepreneurship and competition—that will help foster it.” Right, pick something to keep the wheel going because you’re afraid to deal with the transition to a stable, just, sustainable economy? This is cowardice shrouded in a cloak of misplaced optimism.

Continue reading “Newsweek: The No-Growth Fantasy”

The End of Growth

Richard Heinberg Says, "Growth Won't Continue."

Richard Heinberg, writer of Peak Everything and most recently Blackout, just wrote an article entitled, “Life Without Growth.” While this is a long article, Richard provides a a potent analysis of our current economic standing, as well as where we are going in the future. Essentially, we’re all out of options that include continued economic growth – time to think about the next phase, a post growth society (hopefully a socially just steady state economy).

He does not mince words and says clearly that we’re “in for some hard times.” But he finds hope that we will use this challenge to eventually find an equilibrium. He goes on to say,

“The transitional period on our way toward a post-growth, equilibrium economy will prove to be the most challenging time any of us has ever lived through. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can survive this collective journey, and that if we make sound choices as families and communities, life can actually be better for us in the decades ahead than it was during the heady days of seemingly endless economic expansion.”

Four Propositions to Life Without Growth

Heinberg gives us four propositions to not only understand our current situation, but also navigate our way to a desirable future:

  1. We have reached the end of economic growth as we have known it.
  2. The basic factors that will inevitably shape whatever replaces the growth economy are knowable.
  3. It is possible for economies to persist for centuries or millennia with no or minimal growth.
  4. Life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure.

With these opening statements Heinberg goes on to advocate local economies, building stronger communities, and going forward with a mindset of action. “We must assume that a satisfactory, sustainable way of life is achievable in the absence of fossil fuels and conventional economic growth, and go about building it,” he says. I agree.

Read the full article here.

Social Business and Limits to Growth

Last night I attended a presentation by Dr Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate for his pioneering work in micro-credit. Titled ‘Abolishing Poverty – The Human Rights Priority’, the central messages in Dr Yunus’ presentation, to an enthusiastic and highly receptive Sydney crowd of more than 500, were simple. He believes access to credit is a human right; that we can end poverty by channelling the market forces of capitalism; and that we can ‘solve’ all the world’s problems if only private enterprise would be more widely accompanied by ‘social business’ – a term he uses to describe commercial activity whereby businesses whose primary goal is to help ‘the poor’, reinvest their entire profits back into their work, rather than into shareholder pockets. Holistically speaking, I am not convinced.

Dr Yunus’ track record is as incredible as his ideals are worthy. His present-day work began in 1974 when he loaned US$27 to a Bangladeshi woman who made bamboo furniture. Viewed as a ‘repayment risk’, traditional banks were not interested in considering such individuals for the provision of small loans. This experience was to prove life-changing for Dr Yunus.

Nine years later he established the Grameen Bank that has since disbursed US$6.6 billion in micro-loans averaging US$130 to ‘the poor’. Bypassing the traditional method of a customer needing to demonstrate collateral before a loan can be administered, the Grameen bank uses a customised approach to solidarity lending whereby each drawer must be in a five-person group that merely serves to encourage repayment. The results have been stunning. The bank boasts a repayment rate of 98.35 per cent and 97 per cent of its members are women. As Dr Yunus noted with a smile in his Sydney presentation, the global financial crisis showed who you can really bank on when it comes to repayments.

The Grameen model has now been replicated in over 100 countries, with proposals on the table for its extension to poverty-stricken cities in the ‘developed world’ such as Glasgow, in the U.K.

There is no doubting that Dr Yunus’ approach continues to challenge attitudes of business in both the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world. But does it challenge these views enough to ensure our longer-term sustainability as a species? Thinking ahead, perhaps Dr Yunus’ approach sets us up to hit a fundamental ceiling in which inequity-creating businesses continue to thrive, removing hope for ‘poverty alleviation’ and sustainable futures, because their image in the community is largely defined by publicly-embraced subsidiary social businesses.

Unfortunately, Dr Yunus’ presentation reinforced my frustration with what I see as ultimately atomistic arguments made by our ‘poverty champions’ (think Jeffrey Sachs, Bono, Hugh Evans). Thus, when the floor opened up to questions I asked:

“In a world with serious biophysical limits, how can any growth-based financial system – including micro-credit – ever be truly sustainable?”

Dr Yunus quickly replied that human creativity is an amazing thing and that I should not be so grim.

I sat down. Given the chance, I would have responded by saying that his answer is the kind men have been giving ever since anthropogenic global warming became accepted by mainstream audiences and the news on this front is not getting any better. At its heart, I believe Dr Yunus’ answer falls somewhat into the common habit of using the term ‘creativity’ as a pseudonym for ‘technological innovation’. In this sense, there is mounting evidence that such faith is misplaced; that the idea of de-coupling economic growth from environmental degradation at the speed required to avoid catastrophic effects from climate change is totally unrealistic. In addition to the problem that increased technological efficiency often equates to greater levels of associated consumption, as Professor Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey in the U.K. has recently shown:

“In a world of 9 billion people, all aspiring to a level of income commensurate with 2% growth on the average European Union income today, carbon intensities (e.g.) would have to fall, on average, by more than 11% per year to stabilize the climate, 16 times faster than they have fallen since 1990. By 2050, the global carbon intensity would need to be only 6 grams per dollar of output, almost 130 times lower than it is today…”

All said and done, I remain critically hopeful. I think Dr Yunus is inspiring and well-intentioned, and I like his concept of social business – similar to what we, in Australia, call not-for-profit social entrepreneurship. In fact, I like his concept so much that I propose we be brave enough to entertain the thought of a world in which every business is a social business.

From large multinationals to small cafes, what could we create if the ‘developed world’ unhooked itself from its addiction to quantitative growth and the ‘developing world’ was free from ideological and physical coercion to adopt unsustainable ‘development models’? As Dr Yunus is quick to note, when you take the individual profit motive out of it, anything becomes truly possible.

Guest contributor Donnie Maclurcan runs an Australian social business, is investigating nanotechnology and its consequences for global inequity and is working on a film about the limits to growth.

Sustainable Scale

Size Does Matter
Size Does Matter

Sustainability is quite the buzzword nowadays. What is sustainability anyway? It would appear at face value to have a simple, easily understood meaning. On the contrary, almost everything labeled “sustainable” is not, creating ambiguity in the meaning of the concept. It has become more of a marketing tool than an actual process. Being sustainable is quite different from what is typically called sustainable in our culture currently.

Something is sustainable if it can maintain balance with the system supporting it, and can do so indefinitely. A sustainable process takes only the amount of resources that can be regenerated by its supporting system between each processing cycle. Waste generated by a sustainable process can be absorbed by the surrounding system at the same rate it is created. Sound familiar? On a large scale, that’s the steady state economy.

Continue reading “Sustainable Scale”

Shrink to Survive, Return City to Nature

Return Sprawl To Nature
Return Sprawl To Nature

Perhaps all the hype about growth is finally being put into perspective. Economic decline has a way of making us reevaluate many things – most notably in this recent decline we are questioning the growth dogma, our banking system, media and government. Local communities have also begun to play a larger role, not only in our day-to-day lives but in our ways of thinking: local is better. Together we are working on building a sustainable economy from the ground up.

As the too-large-too-exist rule has pointed out, as car companies go belly-up they have brought many areas down with them. Flint, Michigan, once the poster city for the grand American automotive industry has seen its population cut in half. This decline may be the first serious wake-up call that we’ve gotten too big for our britches. More importantly, I hope that we realize that growth may not be the answer.

Continue reading “Shrink to Survive, Return City to Nature”