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?

Nothing Grows Forever

Mother Jones is asking some fierce questions

The most recent issue of Mother Jones, a magazine that credits itself for “smart, fearless journalism,” tackles some serious issues. The cover get’s started with the question “Who’s to blame for the population crisis? (A) The Vatican, (B) Washington, or (C) You?” Inside you’ll find some even more interesting stuff, including a 6 page article about “no-growth economics” entitled “Nothing Grows Forever: Why do we keep pretending the economy will?”

The article’s author, Clive Thompson, compiles a pretty good introduction to steady state thought. He starts by discussing how Peter Victor (author of Managing Without Growth and professor at York University) came to realize that the Earth really does have limits – limits that impose themselves on our growing economy.

After a brief history of the field and the economists that founded the ideas, Thompson inevitably arrives at  Herman Daly, “being the most prominent… of the key thinkers in the no-growth theory.” The first topic Thompson has Daly counter is the neoclassical economist’s idea that our economy will eventually decouple from environmental impact and resource use as it continues to grow.

In the past Daly has the idea of decoupling the economy from resource consumption a chimera. Daly’s view on this topic drives home the point that developed economies are still using more resources as they grow, they just outsource their resource use to developing countries. This, in turn, creates “blood-diamond-style conflicts” for the often exotic materials needed to supply continued economic growth. Thompson notes that “the growth of greenhouse gas emissions likewise demonstrates that the free market alone cannot deal with planet-threatening pollution.”

Continue reading “Nothing Grows Forever”

Life After Growth – Economics For Everyone

The economy’s gotten bigger, but the inequality has as well. Most of the growth in income is placed in the top 10-20% of the world. If you’re lucky enough to be that 1 in 10, or 1 in 5 people (by the way, cancer if more common now that being in that group), you might buy into the idea that economics growth is good, sustainable, and right. But think about the other four people in the room?

Growth has taken the place of our religions, our morals, and most of our society’s decisions – they are now framed by, simply, “is the price the right price.” Well, is it? We should be ensuring our economy is about “maintaining and renewing life on Earth, human life and all other life.” (Vandana Shiva)

This short film is a great synopsis of the arguments against growth. Life Without Growth – Economics For Everyone asks “what’s wrong with this picture?” and then goes further, asking “This degrowth idea might be an answer, but I don’t understand what it will look like in reality, what does it mean for me?”And it answers:

“It looks like a lot of things, that are happening right now: Voluntary Simplicity,” for one. Giving up your pursuit of more things, a bigger house, greater pay for a pursuit of less work, more fun, simple, non-complicated life.

“That sounds a bit extreme to me, are people doing this on a community level?” Yea, Transition Towns, for instance.

“Yea, but even if this is happening at a local level, the banks, the corporations and the governments – they’ll never buy it” Sure, in most cases, right now, but we can change that. And a lot of groovy things are going forward in some governments already: recognition of ecosystem services, adoption of well being metrics, et cetera.

“So, where do we go from here?” Work less, consume less, live more. Life after growth.
“Everywhere people are engaging in degrowth type activity – the beginning of a wave that is laying the groundwork for a post-capitalist future…

Because it’s not the size of the economy that counts, its how you use it!”

Life After Growth – Economics for Everyone from enmedia productions on Vimeo.

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”

Points of Progress

I’m going to start a new serious in this blog, “Points Of Progress,” a once-monthly report of things happening in our world, policies, articles, and practices in-line with the steady state economy, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. This stems from the many articles I have been scoping through on google reader (a great RSS feed tool, for those of you interested in getting updates via rss).

Through the 50-100 posts I receive daily, I manage to pick out a handful of good ones and post on twitter (follow me), but some of these deserve some recognition on this blog. This monthly report is for the exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about in-depth. Here are some cool things happening in the world:

Maryland’s New Alternative Metric: The GPI

Herman Daly‘s home state has just instituted their version of the Genuine Progress Indicator. This alternative to the grossly inadequate GDP takes into account 26 factors, from incorporating the costs of crime to the costs of ozone depletion. The state is using the GPI as a tool to education the public and policymakers on the balance between costs and benefits of decisions regarding resource use.

As Governor O’Malley said, “The GPI will help us ensure that our economic growth will not come at the cost of our natural resources, and that they both support our progress toward a sustainable future and a better qualify of life for all Maryland families.”

21 Hours: Work Less, Live More

Part of the many policies of a steady state economy, adjusting the work hours for increases in efficiency is a policy that could revolutionize our society. Not only does this policy fight unemployment head-on by making more work available, it frees up time in our weeks to do something really important – live.

The new economics foundation’s new report, 21 Hours: Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century outlines how the average time worked in Britian, 21 hours, should  be the new standard. As nef explains, “A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: The average overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

The IMF Rethinks Macroeconomics

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has not only recently acknowledged that macroeconomic policy may have “exacerbated the recent financial crisis,” but also has begun to rethink those policies.

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, published a paper, “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy” (pdf), stating that better economic policies might include increased government involvement, higher inflation, and help for the poor. The IMF’s typical policy of telling governments that less intervention and low inflation were powerless to prevent the “Great Recession.” Great news for those of us hoping for changes in the IMF and World Bank.

Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth

Dave Gardner, film producer/director/writer, is in the process of completing would could be a monumentally important film in exposing the fallacy of “growth everlasting.” Armed with a camera and donations from regular folks, Dave has traveled the world questioning our growth addiction. He started in his home town of Colorado Springs and has now taken the filming to the national and global arena.

Hooked On Growth: Our Misguided Quest For Prosperity” is still in production and could use your help to finish off the process, please take a moment to make a tax-deductible donation to help fund the film’s release. Here’s a quick blurb from the site about the movie:

“Why is it more important to our society to have GDP growth than clean air? And why do communities seek andsubsidize growth even when it destroys quality of life andincreases taxes?

Our growth-centric system is broken. It’s not providing the happiness or the prosperity we seek. But that’s good news; it means a shift to a sustainable model will not require great sacrifice or pain. A transformation will allow us to be happier and more prosperous…

From Las Vegas to Atlanta, Mexico City to Mumbai, the White House to the Vatican, Hooked on Growthtakes us on a whirlwind tour of growth mania. It’s Wild Kingdom with a twist: the cameras are turned onhumanity as our own survival skills are examined. Hooked on Growth looks into the psychology of denial and crowd behavior. It explores our obsession with community growth and economic growth, and our reluctance to address overpopulation issues head-on. This documentary holds up a mirror, encouraging us to examine the beliefs and behaviors we must leave behind – and the values we need to embrace – in order that our children can survive and thrive.”

View the Trailer here (also below) and join the cause!

Consuming Our Way To Prosperity

First off let me say that I have had a crazy couple of weeks between holidays and family and then getting my wisdom teeth pulled. As such, I haven’t had much time to read, let alone write, so the blog will be a little slow for the next week or so. But feat not! In just two weeks I will be on my way to the Capital City to attend the New Green Economy Conference. There I will be keeping you all up to date on the daily workshops, volunteer activities, and events!

While reading an article I was reminded of a topic I have been trying to formulate words on: measuring progress. As George Monbiot puts it,

“In our hearts most of us know it is true, but we live as if it isn’t. Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions which sustain life. Governments are deemed to succeed or fail by how well they make money go round, regardless of whether it serves any useful purpose. They regard it as a sacred duty to encourage the country’s most revolting spectacle: the annual feeding frenzy in which shoppers queue all night, then stampede into the shops, elbow, trample and sometimes fight to be the first to carry off some designer junk which will go into landfill before the sales next year. The madder the orgy, the greater the triumph of economic management.

“Though we know they aren’t the same, we can’t help conflating growth and well-being… GDP is a measure of economic activity, not standard of living.”

Read through Prosperity Without Growth and the new economics foundation‘s publications and you will find tons of information about prosperity, progress and the measuring of it. In fact, there are numerous metrics out there to choose from. I just wrote a post for new project I am working on with some fellow steady staters on the subject of measuring progress, read it here.

Uneconomic Growth

“That which seems to be wealth may in verity be only the gilded index of far-reaching ruin”
John Ruskin

Herman Daly is often given credit for pioneering the term “Uneconomic Growth.”  It is a key term in ecological economics and Daly has given us numerous works on the subject. What is uneconomic growth? It is closely related to the optimal or sustainable scale of our economy.

When social or environment costs become larger than the benefits of more production and consumption growth is no longer economic. As Daly and Farley put it in their textbook Ecological Economics uneconomic growth happens when continued growth “costs us more than it is worth. A situation in which further expansion entails lost ecosystem services that are worth more than the extra production benefits of the expanded economy.”

Continue reading “Uneconomic Growth”