Endangered Species Condoms?

Next month is the Global Population Speak Out Month – a whole month focused on raising awareness of a large (and growing) issue – population growth. We live on a finite planet, with only so many resources. Yet our population (and consumption, as I mentioned earlier) continues to grow. We’re over-stretching our carrying capacity, and it isn’t good for our species or other life on Earth either. What can we do?

The project I have been working on recently is involved with the coming documentary Hooked On Growth, which will be releasing later this year. Here’s a great video on the subject of population growth… and contraceptives.

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:

Limits To Growth Compared To 30 Years of Reality

It’s a couple years old already, but I just found it and want to pass it on. A report published in June 2008 by CSIRO, an Australian science and researching body, compares the prophecies of the seminal Limits To Growth with the thirty years of data since its original publication. Turns out, the Meadows (et al) were not full of shit – we do live on a finite planet and will run out of resources quickly if we continue to follow growth instead of living within our means. In fact, as the CSIRO report points out, we’re on track for nature to force us to stop growing.

Read the whole report here (pdf).

California Maintains Climate Bill

While this mid-term election has been mixed (mostly bad news), the voters in California maintained their ground-breaking climate bill AB 32, defeating the oil-industry funded Proposition 23. There is a lot of speculation on why voters kept this bill in play, but I think the most realistic one is that they have seen the affects and like it! Californians have seen how a cap-and-trade bill can be good for their economy, promote a more sustainable society and protect the environment.

Let the Golden State help show us all there is still hope for progress in the battle against climate change.

Proposal To Extend Montreal Protocol Gaining Support

Along the same vein, this election has pretty much shown that action on climate by congress is no in the near future, if at all. There are lots of other things being done, by industry, by the administration, by community groups and transition towns. On an international level the climate talks, with the next meeting schedule for Cancun, are a political dead-end as well without action from the US Congress. Alas! There is some hope…

Another international treaty that combats pollution, the Montreal Protocol, has eliminated 97 per cent of the ozone-harming chemicals. From the sounds of it, the annual signatory meetings go smoothly and without much fuss. Better yet, there is a growing support to expand the Montreal Protocol to include HFCs, an ozone-harming and incredibly harmful greenhouse gas (1000 times worse than CO2).

The resolution has gained support from developed nations and includes a fast implementation to eliminate a type of greenhouse gas that could help push major climate destabilization off by years, even a decade, by eliminating up to 88 billion carbon-equivalent tons of greenhouse gasses. It’s not a complete climate agreement, but it’s something in the right direction.

Find A Cure

Dave Gardener and the good people over at Growthbusters are getting close to finishing the Hooked On Growth documentary. They just recently put together this great trailer/video:

This film is funded by gracious donations, so I would recommend if you’re looking to donate to a good cause: go to the Growthbusters’ donation page and help out! (tax deductible, too!)

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”

Brian Czech on BNN

I’ve been busy drafting a guest post for another blog, as well as enjoying this great weather (seldom comes to Seattle), so it will be a few more days before another good post materializes. I do have some cool news, though, something I wanted to share earlier:

Brian Czech on BNN
CASSE vs Barclays Capital

Brian Czech, President of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) and author of Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train,  was on Business News Network for a debate over economic growth.

This is an exciting step into the mainstream media for CASSE and the steady state economy. Face time on any major news network is good, especially when Brian raises such good points. It also helps that the Barclays’ representative (who is treated like an authority on economics, even though he looks a little green to me) stumbles a bit and uses “modest” more than a modest amount.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an embed-able video of it, but you can watch the debate here.

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:


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.

Joshua Nelson

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?

Joshua Nelson

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

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”