Monday, July 09, 2012

The case against growth, and other stories

The case against growth: Ted Trainer (UNSW) makes the case that very few people are taking seriously the full economic and political implications of the concept of limits to growth: "The growth problem is not just that the economy has grown to be too big, now depleting resources and damaging ecosystems. The more central problem is that growth is integral to the system. Most of the system's basic structures and mechanism are driven by growth and cannot operate without it. It is not that this society has a growth economy; it is that this is a growth society. Growth cannot be removed leaving the rest of the economy more or less as it is. Unfortunately people in the current 'De-growth' movement tend to think growth is like a faulty air conditioning unit on a house, which can be taken away and the house will function the way it did before."

Peak stuff? Fred Pearce investigates the claim that consumer societies are becoming post-industrial. Based on various metrics that have actually started to decline in many rich countries (for example, car use is waning in most developed countries), some commentators look forward to the "dematerialisation" of the economy proving the silver bullet that saves us from ourselves. As others note, however, such evidence is patchy, and fails to account for the fact that we've still got decades of massive consumption growth if the developing world is to approach our present consumer lifestyles. Even if there is a point at which such development reaches a natural plateau in per capita consumption, it is not at all clear that reaching that plateau won't involve massively overshooting various planetary boundaries (as outlined effectively in the "case against growth" above).

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Climate Change: Brad Littlejohn offers some dark humour reflecting on our obsession with novelty. Discussion in the comments ponder further about the place of novelty and humour in our ecological deliberations.

Fossil fuel glut: Much noise has been made about developments in the fossil carbon extraction business that ensure these companies are not about to go out of business anytime soon, with claims that "peak oil" is disproved or that the US will lead a fossil fuelled renaissance. The reality is that these non-conventional carbon pools are only now economically available due to a high oil price, and that unless the price stays high, they will not be extracted. So we have indeed very likely seen the end of rising production of cheap, easily accessible conventional oil. That doesn't mean we run out of oil, just that energy gets expensive, which still has all kinds of economic implications. And if we insist on remaining addicted to fossil carbon, pursuing non-conventional sources is leap out of the frying pan of energy insecurity into the fire of climate chaos.

Economic growth and ecological health: It has become popular in certain circles to argue that as countries get richer, they clean up their environmental problems and that therefore the solution to our ecological woes is to grow the global economy as fast as possible (sometimes called an environmental Kuznets curve). This piece is a sustained critique of that idea.

How Money Makes People Less Humane. Some really interesting research on the effects of money (either having it, wanting it, thinking about it or even having it subconsciously suggested) on empathy. The upshot is that, statistically speaking, money functions to disconnect us from those around us, making us less caring, less sensitive, more suspicious and more individualistic. Or, as the scriptures would say: "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6.10).


byron smith said...

Jeff Rubin on the end of growth: "But for me, peak oil ain’t what you can drill, it’s what you can afford to burn."

byron smith said...

Grist: A new "golden age of oil" in the US? Don't believe it.