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”

Gund Institute & My Summer Project

In January I was privileged enough to be able to join in at the New Green Economy Conference put on in DC. There I met a number of amazing people, many heroes of mine, and joined in some great discussion about the future of our society and economy. The breakout session I attended was led by my friend Rob Dietz at The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy and Jon Erikson, Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

I talked briefly with Jon about possible education opportunities, and one that he mentioned was the online course available in Intro to Ecological Economics. This course can be taken to earn credits towards their distance learn program or can be taken for free online, to learn more about the topic. Whilst I have done tons of reading and writing on the topic, I have not done anything structured like this course. I also have yet to completely read, cover to cover, Daly & Farley’s landmark textbook Ecological Economics, which is one of the main texts in this online course.

So far this textbook has served as a great reference for me and I have certainly read many portions, but it has been on my list of things to completely read for some time. That being said, I am placing a goal of finishing this online course over the summer. I will be updating the blog as I go along, writing posts on topics and hopefully furthering one of my goals with this blog: teaching myself and others the concepts of the steady state economy.

The Goal

I will complete the Gund Institute’s online Introduction to Ecological Economics over the summer, the next four months, June through September. The course is split into four modules, which means I will need to finish one module a month. Each module has sub modules, around 3-4 each. This gives me an almost weekly goal of reading to complete, videos to watch, and posts to write!

Hopefully I will expand my knowledge a bit, but along the way I hope you’ll gain something as well. I would really like to encourage you to engage me via comments as I explore this course. You can also join in online and do the course yourself – you just need a couple of textbooks, the rest of the content is online.

Reader Survey Feedback & Blog Direction

Thank you to the few of you who responded to my readers survey. It seems most of you like where this blog is going and would like to see medium-sized posts on a more steady frequency. I also heard that apparently I can ramble a little and might be a bit too optimistic – I will work on the rambling, while the optimism you’ll have to live with. 😉

I will also work on worrying less about superior arguments and content to the point of obsession, and instead focus on posting at least 1-2 times a week with good content, news, thoughts, et cetera. This will still give me time to develop the slightly longer, content driven posts. However, this blog is probably going to get a little more laid back and personal in content. Basically, I need to not stress out so much about what I’m posting, it’s starting to actually make me write less.

A few people on the recent reader’s survey thought their knowledge or clout wasn’t sufficient enough to comment on the blog. That’s just silly – I’m not an economist, I’m just another person trying to understand how to create a sustainable society. It just happens that I write about it here, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have ideas or questions that are worthy of being here either! My largest goal with this blog was to inspire discussion and learning about this topic – so please, comment!!

Thanks again for the feedback, and if you haven’t already you can still fill out that short survey here. If you’re looking for some more discussion about sustainable economics and a post growth society, check out my new side project, a collaborative blog called Post Growth.

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”

Add It Up

I received an email today from Rob Dietz, Executive Director of The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE). CASSE has now officially launched their new website! More great news: they have completely re-invigorated their blog, now known as The Daly News.  Herman Daly, the award-winning economist and incisive writer who developed the concept of the steady state economy, will kick off the new blog on March 1.

In addition to Professor Daly, the core rotation of authors at The Daly News includes Brian Czech (wildlife biologist, ecological economist, and author of Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train), Brent Blackwelder (former president of Friends of the Earth and founder of American Rivers), and Rob Dietz (environmental scientist and executive director of CASSE). (There is even a rumor that yours truly might be privileged enough to post along side these greats as a guest contributor!) You can access the blog on CASSE’s website or via RSS feed.

CASSE has also released an entertaining animated short called Add It Up that tells the truth about pursuing perpetual economic growth. The animation, produced by film students at the University of Southern California, is available on CASSE’s website and YouTube, as well as here:

For more information about these resources and other news about the steady state economy, please read the most recent edition of CASSE’s The Steady Stater newsletter (pdf)

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.

The New Green Economy Day 2: Recap

It has been a whirlwind tour here at the NCSE New Green Economy Conference. I have been privleged to help out behind the scenes, but also attend some of the conference, including a break-out session yesterday. I have had very little time to write, as I have been busy round the clock with about 4-5 hours of sleep time. I do, however, have many things to write about – it’s just a matter of finding the time (and energy).

The second day of the New Green Economy Conference was exciting and enlightening. Over the course of the day I was lucky enough to meet many great minds. Just to name a few, they included Van Jones, Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Jon Erickson, Brian Czech, Jim Tate, and more. The day started with round table discussions.

What follows is as, brief as I could make, a recap on the events of the second day of the NCSE New Economy Conference. Technically it was the first day, as Wednesday’s Workshops were hosted around the city by others. Today brought the near 1000 attendees to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center to talk about the Green Economy and sustainable economics. The irony of the event is the building’s namesake’s quote on the main hall wall:

“There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.”

Continue reading “The New Green Economy Day 2: Recap”

New Green Economy Day 1: Prologue

I’m writing today from a Starbucks in Ballston, just outside the nation’s capital. Today is the first day of the three day New Green Economy Conference, where I will be attending and volunteering. It has proven to be a good trip so far, and I am looking forward to meeting all those sustainably-minded people I have been reading: Tim Jackson, Herman Daly, Brian Czech, and many more.

Today’s workshop is “Alternatives to Neoclassical Economics for Business and National Security.” It’s all day, should be a very informative. We’ll be hearing from Dr. James Giordano of the Potomac Institute for Policy StudiesDr. Brian Czech of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), R. Warren Flint of Five E’s Unlimited, and Joan Michelson, writer and editor.

Today’s Session Goals:

“During this workshop participants will learn the positions of conventional economists and ecologists and be exposed to alternative concepts including incorporation of sustainability, diversity and valuation into human economies.

After the workshop participants will better understand how natural and human economies work, on how they incorporate non-commodity resources into value systems, and the ethical and moral positions taken by ecologists and economists.”

Be sure to follow me on twitter for updates in the moment, I’ll be visiting with some friends in DC tonight and then hopefully writing a recap of concepts, ideas, and things gained from today’s workshop.