Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The End of Growth

"Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with.

"The 'growth' we are talking about consists of the expansion of the overall size of the economy (with more people being served and more money changing hands) and of the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it. [...]

"[T]here are three primary factors that stand firmly in the way of further economic growth:
• The depletion of important resources including fossil fuels and minerals;
• The proliferation of environmental impacts arising from both the extraction and use of resources (including the burning of fossil fuels)—leading to snowballing costs from both these impacts themselves and from efforts to avert them and clean them up; and
Financial disruptions due to the inability of our existing monetary, banking, and investment systems to adjust to both resource scarcity and soaring environmental costs—and their inability (in the context of a shrinking economy) to service the enormous piles of government and private debt that have been generated over the past couple of decades. [...]
"[W]e are seeing a perfect storm of converging crises that together represent a watershed moment in the history of our species. We are witnesses to, and participants in, the transition from decades of economic growth to decades of economic contraction. [...]

"It is essential that we recognize and understand the significance of this historic moment: if we have in fact reached the end of the era of fossil-fueled economic expansion, then efforts by policy makers to continue pursuing elusive growth really amount to a flight from reality. World leaders, if they are deluded about our actual situation, are likely to delay putting in place the support services that can make life in a non-growing economy survivable, and they will almost certainly fail to make needed, fundamental changes to monetary, financial, food, and transport systems.

"As a result, what could have been a painful but endurable process of adaptation could become history’s greatest tragedy. We can survive the end of growth, but only if we recognize it for what it is and act accordingly."

- Richard Heinberg, "The end of growth".

This article is well worth reading in full. Although Heinberg emphasises peak oil a little more than I do and ecological degradation a little less, it is a good summary of the three interlocking challenges (economy, energy, ecology) that will define the next few decades (even if they are manifest first for some people through secondary effects). If you're not thinking about these issues and how they will (and already are) affecting almost every aspect of your life and the lives of those you know for the foreseeable future, you're not really paying attention.

We live in interesting times.


Mike W said...

Thanks Byron. I found the bit about the 1970's study interesting. If we are going to get anywhere with this we need to take a long view don't we? I'm sure there were some hippies back in the 70's who read the book and tried to start preparing their kids. I wonder if the kids stuck at it?
Which makes me wonder if the patience of christian eschatology has something to offer society here. I know it is dangerous to equate the ecological problem with the end of the world. But Christians have been living seemingly crazy lives in the light of a delayed judgement for quite a few years now. How is it we keep that future (the one we want and the one to avoid) real and influential in the face of such a delay? And could the lessons we have learned be helpful for those around us?
Perhaps a "Polluters in the hands of an angry earth" could help?

byron smith said...

I wonder if the kids stuck at it?
Some of them certainly did, if you follow the biographies of many of the leaders (and members) of the present environmental movement. The small-is-beautiful consciousness that was growing in the 70s was not entirely swamped during the greed-is-good 80s.

Patience - yes, this is an excellent point. What are the practices and beliefs that build Christian patience?

I assume your final question was a reference to Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God"; if so, what does that have to do with patience? Not sure I get it (sorry to make you explain the joke).

jessica smith said...

I like Mike's joke and got it, but jokes are hard to explain. I think he's arguing that Edward's work inspired prudence and helped people see reality. I think Mike's joke was a very cute way of saying how do we transfer some of the tools/concepts that keep Christians living in light of the future to this area.