Epistle to the Ecotopians by Ernest Callenbach

This document was found on the computer of Ecotopia author Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012) after his death. It was originally published on TomDispatch and I read it on Climate Progress. I found these words to be utterly moving, much like his other works, and could not resist re-posting it. Please share this piece (with proper citation and credit to the above) to your friends, family and others.

Ecotopia CoverTo all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support — a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence. A world something like the one I described, so long ago, in Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging.

As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not bitter or resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts and attitudes that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing: a century or more of exceedingly difficult times.

How will those who survive manage it? What can we teach our friends, our children, our communities? Although we may not be capable of changing history, how can we equip ourselves to survive it?

I contemplate these questions in the full consciousness of my own mortality. Being offered an actual number of likely months to live, even though the estimate is uncertain, mightily focuses the mind. On personal things, of course, on loved ones and even loved things, but also on the Big Picture.

But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.

Continue reading “Epistle to the Ecotopians by Ernest Callenbach”

Towards A Not-For-Profit World

I’ve often thought that the profit motive is one of the roots of our problems. That’s basically the statement behind the documentary The Corporation, which shows that the corporate model is, clinically speaking, a psychopath. When we are constantly chasing the “up and to the right” we are no longer striving for enough but more than enough. And the more than that. And still more than that. Profit motive drives the growth economy.

My wife’s been doing a lot of reading for a class about diseases around the world. One thing she commented on was regarding the “industrialization” of a lot of third world countries, namely those in Africa around the time AIDS appeared. These relatively flourishing countries had small, cyclical economies – that is, economics that produced enough for everyone involved. (Rob Hopkins talks about a similar economy in the intro to The Transition Handbook) These countries we not “developed” by western thought, but most everyone had a job and a stable home. Farmers produced enough food for their families and those in their community.

Then in come the western industrialists, saying “you can produce more than that and sell it to people in the next city/county/country to make more money!” And it was all down hill from there… Then the westerners leave the country pillaged, in ruins and aimless. No one benefited by the introduction of the growth concept in these examples except for the big company’s pocket books. And in order to feed that profit motive, in order to make even more money, these companies move on to the next unsuspecting country.

What if we were to change this line of thought? What if we were to introduce a cyclical line of thinking back into our corporate models? Instead of constantly “up and to the right” what if we said we need to maintain a certain level in order to sustain our employees, our country, our planet? What if we reinvented our way of living to serve our community and ourselves instead of just our bank accounts? Where is my rambling going? Well…

Donnie Maclurcan is a fellow Post Growther whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with a lot recently. (He also wrote a guest post a while back) He gave a TEDx Youth Talk a while back that is now available online. His concept is this: change the world to a not-for-profit model. Remove this destructive and unsustainable profit motive and focus on enough, on sufficiency instead of excess. I particularly love the story of the African village.

Check out the video:

Top Ten Steady State Posts of 2010

Another year under the belt, Steady State Revolution celebrated two years of publication in November! It seems only fitting on this, the first day of 2011, we take a moment to review the best articles of the last year. This is a list of the top ten posts in the last year, chosen by me but with influence from feedback and analytic tracking (oh, technology!) as well. For those of you that are new to this blog or haven’t checked out the archives yet I hope this list is helpful for you!

2010 Top Ten Posts

  1. Ten Things That Will Build The New Economy – Inspired by Yes! Magazine yet again, I decided to map out the things I think will construct our post-growth/steady-state/new-economy. It is an open thread, by all means, let’s work together to make that list long, thoughtful and inspiring to others!
  2. Decoupling Demystified – Tim Jackson’s work in Prosperity Without Growth tackles this subject very well in an entire chapter. This post was written to further this key argument against the growth paradigm, and to show how real-life science trumps the back-woods mysticism that is the current economic theory.
  3. The Limits of Efficiency – A follow-up piece to the “Decoupling Demystified” post, this topic is in my opinion the ultimately proof that growth everlasting is impossible – unless we find a way to re-write the laws of physics, of course. Initially the idea for this post never blossomed into a full article, but after some prodding from some of you wonderful readers I committed to it.
  4. Dear Dick Smith – 2010 presented a wonderful surprise – Australian businessman Dick Smith challenged the world to bring the debate to the main stream public. The prize? A cool million (in Aussie bucks). I know, there is some irony in it, but it still presents a great opportunity to get something moving, and then eventually funded by Mr. Smith. This post is my response to his announcement.
  5. The Opportunity of Limits – It is very easy in today’s constant news feeds full of climate catastrophes, apocalyptic prophecies, peak oil and the apparent lack of government action, to get run down. I have fallen into this downward trap a few times myself, but we must recognize that opportunity in our trails. Climate change and peak oil are frightening, yes,  but dwelling on the negative is akin to giving up. Meanwhile, the limits that we face on a finite planet actually give us the potential to create a better society, not a worse one. We just need to identify to the potential for good and act on that foundation, instead of the other alternative.
  6. Ethical Banking Systems – This isn’t the first time I’ve ranted about banking and monetary policy, because it’s pretty important people! Like the awful and cheese bumper sticker says, “if you aren’t mad, you aren’t paying attention,” we are mostly clueless of the injustices we allow the banking system to get away with on a daily basis. We definitely need a better system, so let’s make one!
  7. Resiliency & Peak Oil – This is a short post, but the topic is the main reason it made this list. In the next few years we will see more and more how resilient communities prevail in the rising costs of oil, as well as the rising impacts of climate change. The Transition Town movement was created to help foster that resiliency, and whether you buy-in to that specific movement or not it is still an extremely important concept for sustainability.
  8. Nothing Grows Forever – In May Mother Jones released a issue tackling some strong topics: population, consumption and the growth paradigm. This post was my review of their article on steady state economics. By far this is one of the largest media outlets to write a (mostly) good critique of ecological economics and the post growth movement. The ending left something to be desired, but I won’t hold it against them.
  9. Earth Overshoot & Natural Debt – This year I wrote three separate posts for this blog, Post Growth and a guest post on another blog: all focused on the very real fact that we’re using our planets resources faster than can be generated, we’re in overshoot. This is not a good place to be in, especially if you have any knowledge of biology and carrying capacities – typically those populations in overshoot have a mass die-off and collapse. However, we’re smart and motivated, with knowledge of our mortality, so hopefully we can find a way out of this spiral and into a sustainably scaled economy and society.
  10. Obama Announces Degrowth, Wins Republican Support – I couldn’t not include this great little post. I talked myself out of doing an April Fool’s day post last year, but in 2010 I was invigorated by a few other fool’s day posts and went for it. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a great post and was well received!

Happy New Year to you all! I think Two-Thousand Eleven has a lot of good in store for us all, and I’m excited to see how we move forward on these important issues facing humanity.

Enough Is Enough

Enough Is Enough
Ideas for a Sustainable Economy

This year we saw the first Steady State Economy Conference held in Leeds, UK and hosted by the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) and Economic Justice for All. While the reports from conference goers afterward were good, for those of us that couldn’t attend there was hope for something tangible to come out of it. Luckily for us, that happened to be one of the goals of the event.

Today is the release of a seminal paper, Enough Is Enough: Ideas for a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, a 130 page report that not only addresses why we need an alternative to growth, but outlines policies to achieve such an alternative: a steady state economy.

Part One of the report covers the problems with growth, and the concept of enough. It open’s with a great quote from Tim Jackson, author of Prosperity Without Growth, and keynote speaker at the conference:

“Here is a point in time where our institutions are wrong. Our economics is not fit for purpose. The outcomes of this economic system are perverse. But this is not an anthem of despair. It’s not a place where we should give up hope. It’s not an impossibility theorem. The impossibility lives in believing we have a set of principles that works for us. Once we let go of that assumption anything is possible.”

Part Two of the report contains the real guts of the report, outlining the most complete collection of policy ideas, tools and reforms in one place. This section has the most weight to it and will make the biggest splash, but Part Three helps to combine these policies with the reality present in Part One: how to get the economy functioning and transitioning to a steady state economy.

The problems are real, the studies numerous, and the evidence richly points to the need for an alternative to growth. A steady state economy represents the best of many solutions: providing a sustainable scale to the economy, as well as providing more prosperity for everyone. This report states the facts, outlines the way out of our economy of “more” and into an economy of “enough.”

Check out the Enough Is Enough page, download the report pdf or the report summary, and watch the many videos also available from the conference.

How Much Is Left?

How Long Will The Bounty Last?

I’m taking the week off to head out of town with the family. I’ve got some drafts in the works, but it won’t be until I get back before I finish them. Expect some posts next week sometime. Until then, enjoy this great interactive inforgraphic…

I’ve been discussing limits in the last few posts. Here is a great interactive infographic put together by Scientific America that shows the limits of what our planet can provide. If we keep growing our economy, producing (mostly) useless junk and waste, how long can we expect to keep it up?

It reminds me of peak oil. Of all the wasteful things we use oil for (fuel is the biggest one – so many other things we are capable of using as fuel and energy that are renewable and sustainable), we are running out of oil incredibly quickly. But there are much more important things that we use from oil, like plastics and rubber for medical supplies, for instance. we would be able to keep these more important (and less destructive) uses of oil longer if we gave up the heavily destructive and wasteful uses like fuel. It’s all about sustainable scale and efficient allocation. We’ve got to make the non-renewable resources last and focus on transitioning to using only renewable resources within their ecological limits.

Have a good week, I’ll be back…

Earth Overshoot & Natural Debt

Earth Overshoot Day 2010
Our Natural Accounts Run Red

Today is the official day of Earth Overshoot: the first day of the year our natural capital spending is in the red. This type of natural debt is far more destructive than its monetary counterpart (natural debt meaning debt owed of natural capital, not a debt that is natural – there is no such thing). Instead of being able to pay back this loan, we’re actually making it harder to pay our bills next year and the year after.

Overshoot is a term used often by biologists to describe a population that consumes more than the system can support. This could be a pack of grey wolves in the Northern Territories that is eating more deer than can possible be born and grow within the year. What does that mean? With less deer this year to breed, there will be less deer next year to eat. The deer the wolves eat next year will deplete their reserve even further. Eventually no deer will be around to eat and the wolves will starve.

We’re doing the same thing today with the Earth. As the Global Footprint Network puts it,

“For most of human history, humanity has been able to live off of nature’s interest – consuming resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate lower than what the planet was able to regenerate and reabsorb each year.

But approximately three decades ago, we crossed a critical threshold, and the rate of human demand for ecological services began to outpace the rate at which nature could provide them. This gap between demand and supply – known as ecological overshoot – has grown steadily each year. It now takes one year and six months to regenerate the resources that humanity requires in one year.

The bummer here is that we can’t migrate to a new territory: there’s only one Earth. There will only ever be one Earth. One Planet. That’s how much we’ve been given, best we figure out how to use it well. We need to create a sustainable scale to our society and economy.

Gas Tank
Maxed Out: Earth Doesn't Have Give Out Credit

Overshoot is directly related to carrying capacity – and biologists know that when a population consumes more than the system can renew, this overshoot often leads to a mass die-off.  We’re already watching the most massive extinction since the dinosaurs, our biological diversity is dwindling at unheard-of rates. Perhaps this should be seen as a warning to our own existence? After all, we are part of nature.

Celebrate Earth Overshoot Day by donating your car and buying a bike, calling your congressman, writing the president, trading your oil company job for a green job, building resiliency in your local community and supporting your local economy. Have a great anti-Holiday!

See my cross-post on Post Growth and out my guest post on Green Growth Cascadia about Earth Overshoot Day. Image Credits: Global Footprint Network.

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.

Top Ten Steady State Posts of 2009

I’ve been super busy lately, but I have not lost the urge to write. I have some 7 posts in draft, but that has become the usual in the last couple months. Since we’ve crossed a bit of a milestone, and Steady State Revolution is one year old, I wanted to highlight some of the better posts from the last year.

This is a list of the top ten posts in the last year, chosen by me but with influence from feedback as well. For those of you that are new to this blog or haven’t checked out the archives yet I hope this list is helpful for you!

2009 Top Ten Posts

  1. The Creation of Money and the Illusion of Wealth – The banks we give our money to and rely on for loans are the very ones contributing to continued inflation. In fact, they create money out of thin air in order to gain a profit. This illusion of wealth (the creation of money instead of real wealth) will be the downfall of our society if we’re not to careful.
  2. Local Currency and Bartering – Money is a part of our daily life. However,any of us m rarely think about where our money goes when we make a purchase. When we buy from a large chain often our money feeds a wealthy few far away. When we buy locally, with currency that supports only local businesses, we in turn support our local economy. Each dollar spent locally is four times as beneficial than a dollar spent in a global owned business. In a sustainable future a flourishing local economy is the more reliable and logical choice over a unstable global one.
  3. Sustainable Scale – In order to create a sustainable way of life we must realize that the economy on Earth must also be sustainable. This requires us to create a sustainable scale.
  4. Fair Distribution: Ending the Wealth Gap – In order to create a sustainable world we must acknowledge the fact that continued growth does not solve one of the most severe problems: inequality. The top 20% of the world’s wealthy receive 74% of the yearly wealth, while the bottom fifth receives only 2% of the yearly wealth. This disparity must be addressed if we are ever to succeed in eliminating poverty or creating a stable, sustainable society.
  5. Carfree Day Leading to a Carfree Lifestyle? – On Worldwide Carfree Day I made an adjustment to my commute that resulted in a few bus transfers and a longer trip, but a much happier one all around. Since then I have cut the car out of most of my commuting. Free yourself from your mobile prison!
  6. Why Emissions Must Be Cut Now, Not Later – The concept is simple, the rate of emissions doesn’t matter as much as the total amount of emissions. Think about it this way: we’re in a race towards the apocalypse and the US is in the lead. Not because the US has the fastest car, but because we had the largest head start.
  7. Earth Demands a Steady State Economy –  Our planet is finite and as such cannot support a continued increase in resource consumption. If we wish to continue being supported by this planet we must acknowledge it’s limits.
  8. Carrying Capacity Reached: The Need for Population Stability – One of the three large issues confronting a sustainable way of life is continued population growth. Obviously, this growth is more disruptive when it comes from developed nations because we make, per capita, the greatest impact. But nonetheless, we can only support so many people on this planet, and only so many at a given level of affluence. In order to maintain certain standards of living in the future we must control the growth of our population and provide sustainable limits to our numbers and our consumption.
  9. Uneconomic Growth – Growth is commonly referred to in the neoclassical economics as “economic growth.” However, this implies that it is providing benefit when in fact we’re no longer benefiting from a growing economy. We have past the point where the benefits outweigh the costs and our growth is now uneconomic.
  10. Post Growth Reading List – This is a list of books and articles relating to the sustainable, post-growth economics. Both an introductory list and an advanced list are presented. This is a favorite of a few people.