Quick Update

Just a little note on the goings-on recently. Friday I had a great time at the Town Hall Seattle event with Paul Gilding. Paul has a lot of fresh, inspiring ideas about climate change and the end of the world as we know it. I was lucky enough to introduce him and chat with him a bit as CASSE’s Washington Chapter Director. I also met with some other sustainable gurus in the Seattle area from Sustainable West Seattle and SCALLOPS.

I’m putting together a more thorough overview of the night that will be up soon, once the video is available online. In the meantime, please take a moment to check out Paul Gilding’s book! I highly recommend it (that’s why it’s this month’s feature book on SSR)

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?

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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

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.

Countdown to Day of Action

There are two days left until October 24th – the Day of Action. We must stand united to show world leaders that we, the people of this planet, will no longer wait for change – Copenhagen must bring it! I will be taking my civil engineering professional license exam on the Day of Action, unfortunately. I will be wearing a 350.org t-shirt and posting here, but I will be unable to join in the activism on the actual day.

I ask that you step up where I cannot and join an action near you!

A Steady Stater Dinner

A Great, Sustainable Meal
A Great, Sustainable Meal

I’m approaching another year older (hopefully wiser) and was taken out to a surprise location for dinner by my partner. She did her research and found a great place near us that represents what I envision life in a steady state economy to be like: focused more on the local economy, a greater sense of community, and more time to enjoy living our lives with less of an impact on the environment.

Sutra is a vegetarian restaurant in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, nestled amongst the many former-homes-turned-businesses along 45th street. A beautiful, intimate space awaits up to 35 guests for a dinner seating serving four community-style courses. Seasonal food from Forged and Found Edibles, Full Circle Farm, and other local food suppliers are masterfully combined into delicious meals.

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Blueprint For A Better World

New Scientist Sets Out To Make The World a Better Place
New Scientist Sets Out To Make The World a Better Place

New Scientist‘s next three issues will follow up on what this week’s issue started: defining world problems and finding solutions. I have been continually impressed with New Scientist, from their articles on economic growth, endorsing the steady state economy, and their article about the nature of greed. I am one of the few Americans I have met that actually subscribes to this great weekly UK periodical, though I hope more will follow my lead.

Their ambitious premise on this four-part serious entitled “Blueprint For A Better World” is to “explore diverse ideas for making the world a better place, and the evidence backing them.” [emphasis added] It is one thing to talk the talk, but now it’s time for decisive action. We can no longer wait around for the change to self-manifest, we have to deliver it ourselves.

Continue reading “Blueprint For A Better World”