13 November 2010
Sourced from The Leadership and Influence Summit, November 2010
Excerpt from Richard Heinberg's new book, due July 2011
'Introduction: The New Normal
The central assertion of this book is both simple and startling: 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.
The economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 was both foreseeable and inevitable, and it marks a permanent, fundamental break from past decades—a period during which most economists adopted the unrealistic view that perpetual economic growth is necessary and also possible to achieve. There are now fundamental barriers to ongoing economic expansion, and the world is colliding with those barriers.
This is not to say the U.S. or the world as a whole will never see another quarter or year of growth relative to the previous quarter or year. However, when the bumps are averaged out, the general trend-line of the economy (measured in terms of production and consumption of real goods) will be level or downward rather than upward from now on.
Nor will it be impossible for any region, nation, or business to continue growing for a while. Some will. In the final analysis, however, this growth will have been achieved at the expense of other regions, nations, or businesses. From now on, only relative growth is possible: the global economy is playing a zero-sum game, with an ever-shrinking pot to be divided among the winners.
Why Is Growth Ending?
Many financial pundits point to profound problems internal to the economy—including overwhelming, un-repayable levels of public and private debt, and the bursting of the real estate bubble—as immediate threats to the resumption of economic growth. The assumption generally is that eventually, once these problems are dealt with, growth can and will pick up again. But the pundits generally miss factors external to the financial economy that make a resumption of conventional economic growth a near-impossibility. This is not a temporary condition; it is essentially permanent.
Altogether, as we will see in the following chapters, there 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.
Despite the tendency of financial commentators to focus only on the last of these factors, it is possible to point to literally thousands of events in recent years that illustrate how all three are interacting, and are hitting home with ever more force.
Consider just one: the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe of 2010 in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
The fact that BP was drilling for oil in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates a global trend: while the world is not in danger of running out of oil anytime soon, there is very little new oil to be found in onshore areas where drilling is cheap. Those areas have already been explored and their rich pools of hydrocarbons are being depleted. According to the International Energy Agency, by 2020 almost 40 percent of world oil production will come from deepwater regions. So even though it’s hard, dangerous, and expensive to operate a drilling rig in a mile or two of ocean water, that’s what the oil industry must do if it is to continue supplying its product. That means more expensive oil.
Obviously, the environmental costs of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill were ruinous. Neither the U.S. nor the oil industry can afford another accident of that magnitude. So, in 2010 the Obama administration instituted a deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico while preparing new drilling regulations. Other nations began revising their own deepwater oil exploration guidelines. These will no doubt make future blowout disasters less likely, but they add to the cost of doing business and therefore to the already high cost of oil.
The Deepwater Horizon incident also illustrates to some degree the knock-on effects of depletion and environmental damage upon financial institutions. Insurance companies have been forced to raise premiums on deepwater drilling operations, and impacts to regional fisheries have hit the Gulf Coast economy hard. While economic costs to the Gulf region were partly made up for by payments from BP, those payments forced the company to reorganize and resulted in lower stock values and returns to investors. BP’s financial woes in turn impacted British pension funds that were invested in the company.
This is just one event—admittedly a spectacular one. If it were an isolated problem, the economy could recover and move on. But we are, and will be, seeing a cavalcade of environmental and economic disasters, not obviously related to one another, that will stymie economic growth in more and more ways. These will include but are not limited to:
- Climate change leading to regional droughts, floods, and even famines;
- Shortages of water and energy; and
- Waves of bank failures, company bankruptcies, and house foreclosures.
Each will be typically treated as a special case, a problem to be solved so that we can get “back to normal.” But in the final analysis, they are all related, in that they are consequences of growing human population striving for higher per-capita consumption of limited resources (including non-renewable, climate-altering fossil fuels), all on a finite and fragile planet.
Meanwhile, the unwinding of decades of buildup in debt has created the conditions for a once-in-a-century financial crash—which is unfolding around us, and which on its own has the potential to generate substantial political unrest and human misery.
The result: we 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.
Why Is Growth So Important?
During the last couple of centuries, growth became virtually the sole index of economic well-being. When an economy grew, jobs appeared and investments yielded high returns. When the economy stopped growing temporarily, as it did during the Great Depression, financial bloodletting ensued.
Throughout this period, world population increased—from fewer than two billion humans on planet Earth in 1900 to nearly seven billion today; we are adding about 70 million new “consumers” each year. That makes further growth even more crucial: if the economy stagnates, there will be fewer goods and services per capita to go around.
We have relied on economic growth for the “development” of the world’s poorest economies; without growth, we must seriously entertain the possibility that hundreds of millions—perhaps billions—of people will never achieve even a rudimentary version of the consumer lifestyle enjoyed by people in the world’s industrialized nations.
Finally, we have created monetary and financial systems that require growth. As long as the economy is growing, that means more money and credit are available, expectations are high, people buy more goods, businesses take out more loans, and interest on existing loans can easily be repaid. But if more new money isn’t entering the system, the interest on existing loans cannot be paid; as a result, defaults snowball, jobs are lost, incomes fall, and consumer spending contracts—which leads businesses to take out fewer loans, causing still less new money to enter the economy. This is a self-reinforcing destructive feedback loop that is very difficult to stop once it gets going.
In other words, the economy has no “stable” or “neutral” setting: there is only growth or contraction. And “contraction” is just a nicer name for Depression—a long period of cascading job losses, foreclosures, defaults, and bankruptcies.
We have become so accustomed to growth that it’s hard to remember that it is actually is a fairly recent phenomenon.
During the past few millennia, as empires rose and fell, local economies advanced and retreated—but world economic activity expanded only slowly, and with periodic reversals. However, with the fossil fuel revolution of the past two centuries, we have seen growth at a speed and scale unprecedented in all of human history. We harnessed the energies of coal, oil, and natural gas to build and operate cars, trucks, highways, airports, airplanes, and electric grids—all the essential features of modern industrial society. Through the one-time-only process of extracting and burning hundreds of millions of years’ worth of chemically stored sunlight, we built what appeared (for a brief, shining moment) to be a perpetual-growth machine. We learned to take what was in fact an extraordinary situation for granted. It became normal.
But as the era of cheap, abundant fossil fuels comes to an end, our assumptions about continued expansion are being be shaken to their core.
The end of growth is a very big deal indeed. It means the end of an era, and of our current ways of organizing economies, politics, and daily life. Without growth, we will have to virtually reinvent human life on Earth.
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.
But Isn’t Growth Normal?
Economies are systems, and as such they (to a certain extent at least) follow rules analogous to those that govern biological systems. Plants and animals tend to grow quickly when they are young, but then they reach a more or less stable mature size. In organisms, growth rates are largely controlled by genes, but also by availability of food.
In economies, growth seems tied to economic planning, and also to the availability of resources—chiefly energy resources (“food” for the industrial system), as well as credit (“oxygen” for the economy).
During the 19th and 20th centuries, expanding access to cheap and abundant fossil fuels enabled rapid economic expansion; economic planners began to take this situation for granted. Financial systems internalized the expectation of growth as a promise of returns on investments.
But just as organisms cease growing, economies must do so too. Even if planners (society’s equivalent of regulatory DNA) dictate more growth, at some point increasing amounts of “food” and “oxygen” may cease to be available. It is also possible for industrial wastes to accumulate to the point that the biological systems that underpin economic activity (such as forests, crops, and human bodies) are smothered and poisoned.
But many economists don’t see things this way. That’s probably because current economic theories were formulated during the anomalous historical period of sustained growth that is now ending. Economists are merely generalizing from their experience: they can point to decades of steady growth in the recent past, and they simply project that experience into the future. Moreover, they have ways to explain why modern market economies are immune to the kinds of limits that constrain natural systems: the two main ones have to do with substitution and efficiency.
If a useful resource becomes scarce, its price will rise, and this creates an incentive for users of the resource to find a substitute. For example, if oil gets expensive enough, energy companies might start making liquid fuels from coal. Or they might develop other energy sources undreamed of today. Many economists theorize that this process of substitution can go on forever. It’s part of the magic of the free market.
Increasing efficiency means doing more with less. In the U.S., the number of inflation-adjusted dollars generated in the economy for every unit of energy consumed has increased steadily over recent decades (the amount of energy, in British Thermal Units, required to produce a dollar of GDP dropped from close to 20,000 BTU per dollar in 1949 to 8,500 BTU in 2008). Part of this increasing efficiency has come about as a result of the outsourcing of manufacturing to other nations—which burn the coal, oil, or natural gas to make our goods (if we were making our own running shoes and LCD TVs, we’d be burning that energy domestically). Economists also point to another, related form of efficiency that has less to do with energy (in a direct way, at least): the process of identifying the cheapest sources of materials, and the places where workers will be most productive and work for the lowest wages. As we increase efficiency, we use less—of energy, resources, labor, or money—to do more. That enables more growth.
Finding substitutes for depleting resources and upping efficiency are undeniably effective adaptive strategies of market economies. Nevertheless, the question remains as to how long these strategies can continue to work in the real world—which is governed less by economic theories than by the laws of physics. In the real world, some things don’t have substitutes, or the substitutes are too expensive, or don’t work as well, or can’t be produced fast enough. And efficiency follows a law of diminishing returns: the first gains in efficiency are usually cheap, but every further incremental gain tends to cost more, until further gains become prohibitively expensive.
In the end, we can’t outsource more than 100 percent of manufacturing, we can’t transport goods with zero energy, and we can’t enlist the efforts of workers and count on their buying our products while paying them nothing.
Unlike most economists, most physical scientists recognize that growth within any functioning, bounded system has to stop sometime.
The Simple Math of Compounded Growth
In principle, the argument for an eventual end to growth is a slam-dunk. If any quantity grows steadily by a certain fixed percentage per year, this implies that it will double in size every so-many years; the higher the percentage growth rate, the quicker the doubling. A rough method of figuring doubling times is known as the rule of 70: dividing the percentage growth rate into 70 gives the approximate time required for the initial quantity to double. If a quantity is growing at 1 percent per year, it will double in 70 years; at 2 percent per year growth, it will double in 35 years; at 5 percent growth, it will double in only 14 years, and so on. If you want to be more precise, you can use the Y^x button on a scientific calculator, but the rule of 70 works fine for most purposes.
Here’s a real-world example: Over the past two centuries, human population has grown at rates ranging from less than one percent to more than two percent per year. In 1800, world population stood at about one billion; by 1930 it had doubled to two billion. Only 30 years later (in 1960) it had doubled again to four billion; currently we are on track to achieve a third doubling, to eight billion humans, around 2025. No one seriously expects human population to continue growing for centuries into the future. But imagine if it did—at just 1.3 percent per year (its growth rate in the year 2000). By the year 2780 there would be 148 trillion humans on Earth—one person for each square meter of land on the planet’s surface.
It won’t happen, of course.
In nature, growth always slams up against non-negotiable constraints sooner or later. If a species finds that its food source has expanded, its numbers will increase to take advantage of those surplus calories—but then its food source will become depleted as more mouths consume it, and its predators will likewise become more numerous (more tasty meals for them!). Population “blooms” (or periods of rapid growth) are always followed by crashes and die-offs. Always.
Here’s another real-world example. In recent years China’s economy has been growing at eight percent or more per year; that means it is more than doubling in size every ten years. Indeed, China consumes more than twice as much coal as it did a decade ago—the same with iron ore and oil. The nation now has four times as many highways as it did, and almost five times as many cars. How long can this go on? How many more doublings can occur before China has used up its key resources—or has simply decided that enough is enough and has stopped growing? The question is hard to answer with a specific date, but it must be asked.
This discussion has very real implications, because the economy is not just an abstract concept; it is what determines whether we live in luxury or poverty, whether we eat or starve. If economic growth ends, everyone will be impacted, and it will take society years to adapt to this new condition. Therefore it is important to know whether that moment is close at hand or distant in time.
The End of Growth Should Come as No Surprise
The idea that growth will stall out at some point this century is hardly new. In 1972, a book titled Limits to Growth made headlines and went on to become the best-selling environmental book of all time.
That book, which reported on the first attempts to use computers to model the likely interactions between trends in resources, consumption, and population, was also the first major scientific study to question the assumption that economic growth can and will continue more or less uninterrupted into the foreseeable future.
The idea was heretical at the time—and still is. The notion that growth cannot and will not continue beyond a certain point proved profoundly upsetting in some quarters, and soon Limits to Growth was prominently “debunked” by pro-growth business interests. In reality, this “debunking” merely amounted to taking a few numbers in the book completely out of context, citing them as “predictions” (which they explicitly were not), and then claiming that these predictions had failed. The ruse was quickly exposed, but rebuttals often don’t gain nearly as much publicity as accusations, and so today millions of people mistakenly believe that the book was long ago discredited. In fact, the original Limits to Growth scenarios have held up quite well. (A recent study by Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) concluded, “[Our] analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features of [the Limits to Growth] business-as-usual scenario...”).
The authors fed in data for world population growth, consumption trends, and the abundance of various important resources, ran their computer program, and concluded that the end of growth would probably arrive between 2010 and 2050. Industrial output and food production would then fall, leading to a decline in population.
The Limits to Growth scenario study has been re-run repeatedly in the years since the original publication, using more sophisticated software and updated input data. The results have been similar each time. (See Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update.)
The Peak Oil Scenario
As mentioned, this book will argue that growth is over because of a convergence of three factors—resource depletion, environmental impacts, and systemic financial and monetary failures. However, a single factor may be playing a key role in bringing the age of expansion to a close. That factor is oil.
Petroleum has a pivotal place in the modern world—in transportation, agriculture, and the chemicals and materials industries. The Industrial Revolution was really the Fossil Fuel Revolution, and the entire phenomenon of continuous economic growth—including the development of the financial institutions that facilitate growth, such as fractional reserve banking—is ultimately based on ever-increasing supplies of cheap energy. Growth requires more manufacturing, more trade, and more transport, and those all in turn require more energy. This means that if energy supplies can’t expand and energy therefore becomes significantly more expensive, economic growth will falter and financial systems built on expectations of perpetual growth will fail.
As early as 1998, petroleum geologists Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère were discussing a Peak Oil impact scenario that went like this. Sometime around the year 2010, they theorized, stagnant or falling oil supplies would lead to soaring and more volatile petroleum prices, which would precipitate a global economic crash. This rapid economic contraction would in turn lead to sharply curtailed energy demand, so oil prices would then fall; but as soon as the economy regained strength, demand for oil would recover, prices would again soar, and as a result of that the economy would relapse. This cycle would continue, with each recovery phase being shorter and weaker, and each crash deeper and harder, until the economy was in ruins. Financial systems based on the assumption of continued growth would implode, causing more social havoc than the oil price spikes would themselves generate.
Meanwhile, volatile oil prices would frustrate investments in energy alternatives: one year, oil would be so expensive that almost any other energy source would look cheap by comparison; the next year, the price of oil would have fallen far enough that energy users would be flocking back to it, with investments in other energy sources looking foolish. But low oil prices would discourage exploration for more petroleum, leading to even worse fuel shortages later on. Investment capital would be in short supply in any case because the banks would be insolvent due to the crash, and governments would be broke due to declining tax revenues. Meanwhile, international competition for dwindling oil supplies might lead to wars between petroleum importing nations, between importers and exporters, and between rival factions within exporting nations.
In the years following Campbell and Laherrère’s initial publication, many pundits claimed that new technologies for crude oil extraction would increase the amount of oil that can be obtained from each well drilled, and that enormous reserves of alternative hydrocarbon resources (principally tar sands and oil shale) would be developed to seamlessly replace conventional oil, thus delaying the inevitable peak for decades. There were also those who said that Peak Oil wouldn’t be much of a problem even if it happened soon, because the market would find other energy sources or transport options as quickly as needed—whether electric cars, hydrogen, or liquid fuel made from coal.
In succeeding years, events appeared to be supporting the Peak Oil thesis and undercutting the views of the oil optimists. Oil prices trended steeply upward—and for entirely foreseeable reasons: discoveries of new oilfields were continuing to dwindle, with most new fields being much more difficult and expensive to develop than ones found in previous years. More oil-producing countries were seeing their extraction rates peaking and beginning to decline despite efforts to maintain production growth using high-tech, expensive secondary and tertiary extraction methods like the injection of water, nitrogen, or CO2 to force more oil out of the ground. Production decline rates in the world’s old, super-giant oilfields, which are responsible for the lion’s share of the global petroleum supply, were accelerating. Production of liquid fuels from tar sands was expanding only slowly, while the development of oil shale remained a hollow promise for the distant future.
From Scary Theory to Scarier Reality
Then in 2008, the Peak Oil scenario became all too real. Global oil production had been stagnant since 2005 and petroleum prices had been soaring upward. In July 2008, the per-barrel price shot up nearly to $150—half again higher (in inflation-adjusted terms) than the price spikes of the 1970s that had triggered the worst recession since World War II. By summer 2008, the auto industry, the trucking industry, international shipping, agriculture, and the airlines were all reeling.
But what happened next riveted the world’s attention to such a degree that the oil price spike was all but forgotten: in September 2008, the global financial system nearly collapsed. The reasons for this sudden, gripping crisis apparently had to do with housing bubbles, lack of proper regulation of the banking industry, and the over-use of bizarre financial products that almost nobody understood. However, the oil price spike had played a critical (if largely overlooked) role in initiating the economic meltdown (see Temporary Recession or the End of Growth?).
In the immediate aftermath of that global financial near-death experience, both the Peak Oil impact scenario proposed a decade earlier and the Limits to Growth standard-run scenario of 1972 seemed to be confirmed with uncanny and frightening accuracy. Global trade was falling. The world’s largest auto companies were on life support. The U.S. airline industry had shrunk by almost a quarter. Food riots were erupting in poor nations around the world. Lingering wars in Iraq (the nation with the world’s second-largest crude oil reserves) and Afghanistan (the site of disputed oil and gas pipeline projects) continued to bleed the coffers of the world’s foremost oil-importing nation.
Meanwhile, the debate about what to do to rein in global climate change exemplified the political inertia that had kept the world on track for calamity since the early ’70s. It had by now become obvious to nearly every person of modest education and intellect that the world has two urgent, incontrovertible reasons to rapidly end its reliance on fossil fuels: the twin threats of climate catastrophe and impending constraints to fuel supplies. Yet at the Copenhagen climate conference in December, 2009, the priorities of the most fuel-dependent nations were clear: carbon emissions should be cut, and fossil fuel dependency reduced, but only if doing so does not threaten economic growth.
The Financial Component of Economic Contraction
If limits on resources and environmental sinks were closing the spigots on growth, the palpable pain that ordinary citizens were directly experiencing seemed to be coming mostly from another direction entirely: loss of jobs and collapsing real estate prices.
As we will see in Chapters 1 and 2, expectations of continuing growth had in the previous decades been translated into enormous amounts of consumer and government debt. Americans were no longer getting rich by inventing new technologies and making consumer goods, but merely by buying and selling houses, or by moving money around from one investment to another, or by charging transaction fees as others did so.
As a new century dawned, the world economy lurched from one bubble to the next: the emerging-Asian-economies bubble, the dot-com bubble, the real estate bubble. Everyone knew that these would eventually burst, as bubbles always do, but “smart” investors aimed to get in early and get out quickly enough to profit big and avoid the ensuing mayhem.
In the manic days of 2002 to 2006, millions of Americans came to rely on soaring real estate values as a source of income, turning their houses into ATMs (to use once more the phrase heard so often then). As long as prices kept going up, homeowners felt justified in borrowing to remodel a kitchen or bathroom, and banks felt fine making new loans. Meanwhile, the wizards of Wall Street were finding ways of slicing and dicing sub-prime mortgages into tasty collateralized debt obligations that could be sold at a premium to investors—with little or no risk! After all, real estate values were destined to just keep going up. God’s not making any more land, went the truism.
Credit and debt expanded in the euphoria of easy money. All this giddy optimism led to a growth of jobs in construction and real estate, masking the underlying ongoing job losses in manufacturing.
A few dour financial pundits used terms like “house of cards,” “tinderbox,” and “stick of dynamite” to describe the situation. All that was needed was a metaphoric breeze or rogue spark to produce a catastrophic outcome. Arguably, the oil price spike of mid-2008 was more than enough to do the trick.
But the housing bubble was itself merely a larger fuse: in reality, the entire economic system had foolishly come to depend on impossible-to-realize expectations of perpetual growth and was set to detonate. Money was tied to credit, and credit was tied to assumptions about growth. Once growth went sour in 2008, the chain reaction of defaults and bankruptcy began; we were in a slow-motion explosion.
The effort of governments since then has been directed toward getting growth started again. But, to very limited degree that this effort temporarily succeeded in late 2009 and early 2010, it merely masked the underlying contradiction at the heart of our entire economic system—the assumption that we can have unending growth in a finite world.
What Comes After Growth?
The realization that we have reached the point where growth cannot continue is undeniably depressing. But once we have passed that psychological hurdle, there is some moderately good news.
Not all economists have fallen for the notion that growth will go on forever. There are schools of economic thought that recognize nature’s limits and, while these schools have been largely marginalized in policy circles, they have developed potentially useful plans that could help society adapt.
The basic factors that will inevitably shape whatever replaces the growth economy are knowable.To survive and thrive for long, societies have to operate within the planet’s budget of sustainably extractable resources. This means that even if we don’t know in detail what a desirable post-growth economy and lifestyle will look like, we know enough to begin working toward them.
We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.
The transition to a no-growth economy (or one in which growth is defined in a fundamentally different way) is inevitable, but it will go much better if we plan for it rather than simply watching in dismay as institutions we have come to rely upon fail, and then try to improvise a survival strategy in their absence.
In effect, we have to create a desirable “new normal” that fits the constraints imposed by depleting natural resources. Maintaining the “old normal” is not an option; if we do not find new goals for ourselves and plan our transition from a growth-based economy to a healthy equilibrium economy, we will by default create a much less desirable “new normal” whose emergence we are already beginning to see in the forms of persistent high unemployment, a widening gap between rich and poor, and ever more frequent and worsening financial and environmental crises—all of which translate to profound distress for individuals, families, and communities.'
Sourced from Global Population Speak Out
'Dear Friend and Colleague,
We are contacting you today regarding the Global Population Speak Out (GPSO) of 2011.
The Population Institute, based in Washington DC, is seeking prominent scientists, scholars, and other concerned citizens to participate in this international program of action. The mission is to raise awareness in the global community about the current size and growth of the human population on Earth -- and to highlight the challenges this size and growth present as we attempt to achieve planet-scale ecological sustainability.
You are one of a group of important voices we believe can make a difference, and we urge you to speak out in some way during February 2011 on the importance of addressing the current size and growth of human population as a fundamental sustainability issue.
As the discourse of planetary sustainability takes shape and evolves, it is important that people develop respectful, thoughtful and insightful ways to approach and talk about the issue of human population. After all, population will always be a salient issue for people to think about and seek understanding of. Moreover, in the context of achieving sustainable living scenarios with our home planet, the size and growth of human population are of fundamental importance.
Yet, powerful taboos remain when it comes to speaking about population. Unfortunately, vested interests, both economic and ideological, prefer it when population discussions remain controversial and off-limits to a thoughtful society. If these taboos are allowed to dominate, we have little chance of coming together, as a global community, and achieving a truly prosperous, truly sustainable world.
Many of us supporting Population Institute’s GPSO campaign (see below) agree that we are already well into overshoot of the planet’s capacity to sustain us. There are many things that need to be done to remediate this situation. For instance, investing in maternal health, decreasing infant mortality and providing world class reproductive health care to all people on our planet are all sound investments in population stabilization. In turn, they are investments in long-term stewardship of, and sustainable living on, Earth.
We have chosen to publicly demonstrate, with our support of GPSO, that population is an approachable issue, which given proper resources and leadership, can have positive outcomes for both people and planet. That is where we need your help. Please pledge to be part of the Global Population Speak Out in February 2011.
How can you speak up? It depends. You might write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or large scientific journal. Contact a radio or TV station for an interview. Delegate to a staff member a project to publicize the population issue, or even hold a press conference. Write a post on your personal blog. Tweet. Post to all your Facebook friends. Give a lecture on the topic to your class. Hold an essay contest on your website. Shoot a video from your webcam and send it in. Be creative!
The GPSO website contains talking points, resources and other materials you may find helpful in crafting your message. Whatever way you choose to participate, you’ll be in good company during the “Speak Out.” Last year, we had over 400 participants from 39 different countries, and we expect many more this year. Visit our website to learn more.
If you know you’re interested in moving the world towards true sustainability and are willing to speak out on human population to do so, please click: “I pledge.”
Registration is a simple, 2-step process.
- Albert A. Bartlett, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Physics, Author, University of Colorado
- Joseph J. Bish, GPSO Coordinator
- William R. Catton, Jr., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Author, Washington State University
- Gerardo J. Gonzalez Ceballos, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Instituto de Ecologia, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
- Maria Luisa Cohen, Environmental activist, Founder and President of the Assisi Nature Council, Association for Environmental Education and Ethics, Italy
- Gretchen Daily Ph.D., Department of Biology and Woods Institute for the Environment, Author, Stanford University
- Helena Freitas, Ph.D., Director of the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra, Portugal; Coordinator of the Centro de Ecologia Funcional; President of the Portuguese Ecological Society (SPECO); Vice-President of the Board of the European Ecological Federation
- Anne Ehrlich, Sr. Research Scientist, Biology Dept. and Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University
- Paul Ehrlich, Ph.D., Bing Professor of Population Studies, President, Center for Conservation Biology, Author, Department of Biology, Stanford University
- John Feeney, Ph.D., Environmental Writer & GPSO Founder
- Amy Gulick, Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
- Jorge L. Gutiérrez, Ph.D., Grupo de Investigación y Educación en Temas Ambientales (GRIETA); Ciencias Biológicas Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata
- Lisa Hymas, Environmental Journalist and Senior Editor, Grist. United States of America.
- David W. Inouye, Ph.D., Professor of Biology, University of Maryland
- Tony Johnston, Ph.D., Executive Director, Population Communication Africa. Former Director of the UNFPA Program for Population Information, Education and Communication Research Training, Eastern and Southern Africa.
- Laura E. Jones, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Mathematical Biology & Theoretical Ecology, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
- Frederick Meyerson, Ph.D., J.D., professor of Demography, Ecology and Environmental Policy, University of Rhode Island
- Katharine Milton, Ph.D., Professor, Dept. Environmental Science, Policy & Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA USA
- Alexandra Paul, writer and producer of JAMPACKED: The Challenge of Human Overpopulation
- Nitish Priyadarshi, Ph.D., Environmental Blogger; Geologist and former lecturer in Department of Environment and Water Management, Ranchi University, India
- Eugene Rosa, Ph.D., Edward R. Meyer Professor of Natural Resource & Environmental Policy, Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, Author, Washington State University
- Nicole Rosmarino, Ph.D., Wildlife Program Director, WildEarth Guardians
- William Ryerson, President, Population Institute & Population Media Center
- Rahul Singh, Chairman of The Global Media Awards Committee, Population Institute. Writer and Journalist. India.
- Negussie Teffera, Ph.D., Former Director of the Ethiopian National Office of Population; past Chairman of the National Task Force to develop the National Population and Reproductive Health Communication and Advocacy Strategy for Ethiopia.
- Kelvin Thomson, Member for Wills, Federal Parliament of Australia, House of Representatives
- Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice-President Population Institute
- Vicki Watson, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Montana
- Searle Whitney, Ph.D., Founder and Director of HowMany.org
Reposted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November 2010
'She is the woman whose job it is to stop New York City traffic - literally. As transport commissioner of New York, Janette Sadik-Khan was charged with easing the congestion crisis in the Big Apple, which she has done with more than 320 kilometres of bicycle paths, new bus and ferry routes and ambitious projects such as turning the once jammed Times Square into a plaza.
She has been vindicated by a 100 per cent increase in cycling since 2006, a drastic reduction in the number of accidents and faster-moving traffic.
As a guest of the City of Sydney council, which is trying to implement its radical cycle and pedestrian-friendly reform, Ms Sadik-Khan is here to try to convince us that if you can make it happen in New York, you can make it happen anywhere.
''If we're going to make a city that people want to be in we have to prioritise these investments,'' she said.
Hers has been a formidable task in a city as notorious for its bellicose populace as its gridlocked streets, but Ms Sadik-Khan, a former corporate lawyer and cycling enthusiast, did not tread lightly.
The centrepiece of her reforms has been turning Times Square, where the average speed used to be 6.4 kilometres an hour and the defining sound was the car horn, into a safe plaza for the 356, 000 people who visit on foot each day.
Lanes were closed to cars, cycling strips introduced and cafe tables scattered where taxis used to dominate. New York Magazine praised her efforts as ''bypass surgery on the heart of New York''.
''People don't go to Broadway to see the traffic,'' she said. ''Now they have a way to really enjoy it.''
The changes were incremental, a key tactic in winning over her boss, the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the public.
For the lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, to realise her ambition of making George Street a pedestrian precinct, Ms Sadik-Khan advised: ''Try it on weekends, try it at a different time of day, paint it a little different and assess it and report back to the public and say this is what we've found,'' she said. ''That takes a lot of the anxiety out.''
Even so, she has had plenty of critics at home and has been labelled an ''anti-car extremist''. Under the City of Sydney's 2030 strategy, George Street should become a pedestrian plaza with light rail running down its spine.
The state government is undertaking studies on the alignment for a light rail extension in the central business district but has not committed to the council's plan.
''I'm rather envious of Bloomberg. He has greater powers than I do,'' said Cr Moore yesterday.
''To do the sort of thing they have done you need to be able to get on and do the job whereas I need to negotiate with the RTA.'''
11 November 2010
'Time, as they say, is money. In fact, one of the most important aspects of our lives - what we do for a living - involves exchanging our time, in the form of labour, for money.
Yet, millions of Australians 'donate' unpaid overtime to their employers on a regular basis.
Like money, time is vital to personal wellbeing. We need enough time to keep healthy, exercise, relax, sleep, develop and maintain relationships - in other words, to live a balanced life.
But there are a range of demands on people's time that can stop us from getting enough time to do these other things. If these demands are excessive, we can say that someone is suffering from time poverty.'
'Planet Won't Be Destroyed Because God Promised Noah' - Politican Bidding to Chair US Energy Committee
For those of you of faith, of any kind, this is not an attack on faith - in fact, there are very many faith and religious groups who are working towards sustainable futures and acknowledging the need for humanity to act as stewards of the Earth, for other species, future generations etc.
But I think it is fair to say - we need a bit more than this at this stage of the game.
It would be very funny, worthy of Monty Python, if it were not so damn frightening.
Excerpt from the Daily Mail, 10 November 2010
'A Republican congressman hoping to chair the powerful House Energy Committee refers to the Bible and God on the issue of global warming.
Representative John Shimkus insists we shouldn't concerned about the planet being destroyed because God promised Noah it wouldn't happen again after the great flood.
Speaking before a House Energy Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing in March, 2009, Shimkus quoted Chapter 8, Verse 22 of the Book of Genesis.
He said: 'As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.'
The Illinois Republican continued: 'I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that's the way it is going to be for his creation.
'The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.'...
The Committee on Energy and Commerce, to give it its full title, is one of the oldest standing committees of the United States House of Representatives having been established in 1795.
It takes a central role in formulating U.S. policy on climate change and global warming....'
10 November 2010
Reposted in full from Footprint Network News, 10 November 2010
'As world leaders prepare for the next round of climate talks in Cancun, it is time to put to right a misperception that for too long has shackled our approach to this vital issue. The error is simply this: Taking action is a burden some nations will need to shoulder for the good of the world – rather than the single best action each nation can take to further its own long-term interests.
The question by governments of “What’s in it for me?” has up to now been a major stumbling block to international agreement. But if leaders and their administrations truly understood the underlying resource dynamics, they would have the exact opposite approach. They would see it is in their self-interest to act quickly and aggressively, whatever the actions taken by their global neighbors. In fact, each country’s own actions will become more urgent and valuable the less others do.
Why would it be in any individual country’s interest to address a problem whose costs are ultimately born by all of humanity? Consider the nature of the carbon problem.
Climate change, first and foremost, is a consequence of high fossil fuel dependence. Even though climate change is a global problem, the fossil fuel dependence that contributes to it carries growing economic risks for the emitting country. Working our way out of this addiction takes time, and the longer we wait to radically rethink and retool our societies, the less chance we will have to alter course.
But there is another important piece of the picture beyond fossil fuel. Climate change is not an issue in isolation, but rather, a symptom of a broader challenge: humanity’s systematic overuse of the planet’s finite resources.
Our natural systems can only generate a finite amount of raw materials (fish, trees, crops, etc.) and absorb a finite amount of waste (such as carbon dioxide emissions). Global Footprint Network quantifies this rate of output through a measure called biocapacity. Biocapacity is as measurable as GDP – and, ultimately, at least as significant, as access to basic living resources underlies every economic activity a society can undertake.
Up to now, we have treated biocapacity as an essentially limitless flow, to the point that our demand for nature’s services now outstrips biocapacity by 50 percent, according to Global Footprint Network’s latest research . This approach has been an integral part of the climate crisis, as with every hectare of forest we clear for raw materials, built-up land or other land-uses (such as grazing or cropland), we reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb CO2 and regulate climate.
Ecological trends suggest, however that we will soon be facing another crunch: biocapacity.
Consider this: No matter which way the future goes, whether we avoid climate disaster or we continue with business as usual, increasing consumption, population and CO2 emission, the pressure on biocapacity will escalate— and having access to biocapacity will earn ever higher premiums.
The Climate Accord vs. the Runaway Scenario
The US President, European heads of state and other G-20 leaders have affirmed the need to stay within a 2º Celsius climate alteration (at a minimum) to avoid widespread calamity. Some climate models point to a 350 ppm limit for CO2 in the atmosphere in order to achieve this – less than the carbon concentration we have today. Yet even if we aim for the more conservative target of 450 ppm, this would call for shifting out of fossil fuel, and a wholesale restructuring of the way we produce and use energy. But hardly anybody admits this mathematical truth.
Even with significant development of wind and solar power technologies, if we want to have the amount and ease of choice around energy availability we have enjoyed up to now, we will need to rely to some extent on fuels from biological sources. Add to that the resources needed to provide for a growing population, a swelling middle class, and the two billion alive today who lack enough to meet basic needs. It is clear, even with a strong climate accord, biocapacity will be under pressure as never before.
And what if we don’t succeed in heading off climate change? Biocapacity will become even more vulnerable and, in all likelihood, subject to staggering declines. With crops failing and drought widespread, the failure of international cooperation to have met the climate challenge will set a poor stage for negotiating the distribution of dwindling resources. Those countries whose economies depend most on access to massive amounts of resources – especially resources from abroad – will find themselves particularly vulnerable.
Winning – or Losing – the Earth Race
In a world facing a biocapacity crunch, the winning economic strategies will be preserving biocapacity on the one hand, and reducing demand for it on the other. And here’s a bit of good news: those also happen to be leading strategies for minimizing climate change.
Many believe the race to develop green technology – what columnist Thomas Friedman has dubbed the “Earth Race”— will bring the spoils of the future to the early movers and adopters, and secure innovative nations and enterprises with positions of advantage on the global stage. This is the carrot pushing green innovation. But there is an even more powerful stick. Those countries and cities trapped in energy- and resource-intensive infrastructure will not be able to adapt in time to meet the emerging resource constraints.
In the face of a failure to reach agreement at Cancun, individual countries will have to do more to curb their resource demand in order to assure their long-term stability and security. The lack of agreement won’t give us a break from taking action—on the contrary, it will force us to work significantly harder.
If our leaders understood this, the discussion at global climate talks would take an entirely new direction. We are not asking leaders to go to Cancun simply ready to do what’s needed for other nations. Rather, we are asking them to come to the table mindful of what they must do to responsibly serve their own.'
'...we need to give these designers a challenge they can rise to, and do what they do best - innovate. Already, some of them are realising they are too smart to be dump designers...'
Sourced from The Story of Stuff, 9 November 2010
'...this November, Americans are expected to spend over $8.5 billion on consumer electronics, motivated by enticements to buy gizmos we don't really need or to replace gadgets that are still working with slightly newer versions.
The thing is, making all these devices takes an enormous environmental and public health toll: mining the metals trashes communities from Congo to Indonesia; assembling them uses huge amounts of water and energy and exposes workers to a host of toxic chemicals; and getting rid of them when we're on to the next, newer, better model creates mountains of e-waste.
The good news is that while the production, consumption and disposal of short-lived, toxics laden electronics are a really big problem, the solution is pretty simple: Make 'em Safe, Make 'em Last, and Take 'em Back.'
09 November 2010
Excerpt from James Howard Kunstler's (author of 'The Long Emergency')'s blog, 8 November 2010.
Check out a comment he received from someone on this post:
"My boy gave me a copy of your book, The Long Emergency. I won't look at it because I don't believe in conspiricies. If this peak oil nonsense was true, don't you think the Bush/Cheney people would of told us? Not that I'm a big fan of them, but, wake up!! - they were IN the oil business. You think they would of known."
'...The unvarnished truth of our predicament is that all pathways now lead to the same destination: a falling US standard of living as measured conventionally. What's unknown is how swift and severe this decline might be, exactly what all its implications are for the social order and geopolitics, and whether it might present itself in a form that could be called collapse. For the moment, one question is: do we go broke the standard way by having less money, or the trick way by destroying the value of our money so that folks (as President Obama might say) have lots of it, only it isn't worth anything. There is even at this late date much debate between the inflationistas and the deflationistas - that is, those who think the economy ends in a bang or a whimper.
I am stumped out loud, frankly, though an exogenous ill wind has me leaning just a bit in the "de" direction. The untold tonnage of bad financial paper out there, rotting away like so much herring stuffed in the bilges of a cosmic Flying Dutchman, would tend toward an outcome of wealth vanishing from our system - and money, which represents wealth, with it. Yet, there's no denying that the prices of everyday things such as food, gasoline, cotton, and steel are shooting up just now. Surely some of this is due to the sheer operations of finance, in which herds of believers in this-or-that stampede one way or another, in this case from bonds to commodities. But herds might get spooked by something (anything!) and suddenly reverse direction, seeking safety in cash and its equivalents. Really anything might happen in the stock markets, too, at this point, they are so detached from their former reality as a price discovery mechanism.
I like the formulation of John Michael Greer that we're about to see something called hyperstagflation, which would amount to sharply rising prices in an economy going nowhere fast. But if it's based on anything like the stagflation of the 1970s, that journey also ends in an inflationary fiasco, and logically some hyper version of it, which would kill the US government as we know it. Much as I loiter in the precincts of thought experiment, I don't really relish that outcome. But, sadly, we seem to be in one of those times when events outrun personalities and their meager abilities to react.
It's been my contention for weeks now that criminal mischief on the mortgage scene - all those lost, doctored, forged, robo-signed documents - will slow foreclosures (and even plain vanilla transactions) to the extent that the real estate market will choke on un-sellable property, leading to suffocation of the big banks and ultimately generalized thrombosis of the system. Hence: Dr. Bernanke appears on the scene with the defibrillation paddles of quantitative easing, hoping to goose the circulation of money through the quivering bodies of BAC, Citi, and their croaking cohorts. They may stagger back into their beds in the intensive care unit, but their fate has only been postponed.
Back in the real world, outside the hospital for ailing banks, it's harder and harder to get paid by anybody for anything, so the circulation of money slows in the everyday economy. Accounts receivable go unreceived. Payrolls can't be met. Pink slips are issued. Mortgages won't get paid. Credit card bills lie unopened on the kitchen table while the late fees, penalties, and other cockamamie charges rack up, and one day some suspicious looking fat men in mullet hair-doos and wife-beater shirts, with flames tattooed on their necks, show up with a tow truck and start hitching your car to it and you wonder for a moment how you managed to park illegally in your own driveway - wait a minute...!
Don't worry folks, that sound of heavy breathing you hear is the exhalations of the big banks reviving on their IV drip lines of financial liquidity. Pretty soon, the nurses will bring them Kansas City strip steak dinners, with truffled mashed potatoes, asparagus flown in from Chile, and even a nice year-2000 Clos Du Val reserve cabernet. You - you can go down to the food pantry and get yourself some government cheese. Melt it over some ranch-style Doritos and hunker down with Fox News where a dry drunk will explain to you the morbid workings of the Trilateral Commission and how the Rockefellers are scheming to take over the National Football League for the greater glory of Karl Marx while selling your daughter to Albanian white slavers. You'll think you understand the world. You'll feel fulfilled and easy in your mind.'
'Fossil fuels have powered human growth and ingenuity for centuries. Now that we're reaching the end of cheap and abundant oil and coal supplies, we're in for an exciting ride. While there's a real risk that we'll fall off a cliff, there's still time to control our transition to a post-carbon future.
A deeper analysis of the crises we face, and possible solutions we can work on right now can be found in the Post Carbon Reader.'
...we have a great new logo thanks to Mouse Designs, my sister's logo and graphic design company!
Check out my latest original at Post Growth, 8 November 2010
'It is difficult to determine whether the authors of the article ‘Population bomb still a fizzer 40 years on’ (The Australian, 8 November) are mischievous attention-seekers or ill-informed myopics....
Contrary to the authors’ claims, the vast majority of people who identify as environmentalists are not misanthropists – they are absolutely concerned with humanity.
Maintaining our natural capital, our natural asset base, is a non-negotiable prerequisite for securing human survival and wellbeing.
Whether or not anyone ‘worships nature as a goddess’ is irrelevant – what we should be interested in is physics and biology 101, which is that ecosystems and biodiversity are (aside from their own intrinsic worth) the life support systems of humanity....'
08 November 2010
Sourced from YouTube
07 November 2010
Sourced from TED, February 2002
Excerpt from transcript
'...people are interestingly resistant to the idea of applying evolutionary thinking to thinking - to our thinking...it's ideas...that hijack our brains. Now, am I saying that a sizable minority of the world's population has had their brain hijacked by parasitic ideas? No. It's worse than that. Most people have. There are a lot of ideas to die for. Freedom...Justice. Truth. Communism. Many people have laid down their lives for communism, and many have laid down their lives for capitalism. And many for Catholicism. And many for Islam. These are just a few of the ideas that are to die for. They're infectious.
Yesterday, Amory Lovins spoke about "infectious repititis." It was a term of abuse, in effect. This is unthinking engineering. Well, most of the cultural spread that goes on is not brilliant, new, out-of-the-box thinking. It's infectious repetitis. And we might as well try to have a theory of what's going on when that happens, so that we can understand the conditions of infection. Hosts work hard to spread these ideas to others. I myself am a philosopher, and one of our occupational hazards is that people ask us what the meaning of life is. And you have to have a bumper sticker, you know, you have to have a statement. So, this is mine.
The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it. Most of us - now that the "Me Decade" is well in the past - now we actually do this. One set of ideas or another have simply replaced our biological imperatives in our own lives...It's not maximizing the number of grandchildren we have. Now, this is a profound biological effect. It's the subordination of genetic interest to other interests. And no other species does anything at all like it.
Well, how are we going to think about this? It is, on the one hand, a biological effect, and a very large one. Unmistakable. Now, what theories do we want to use to look at this? Well, many theories. But how could something tie them together? The idea of replicating ideas; ideas that replicate by passing from brain to brain. Richard Dawkins, whom you'll be hearing later in the day, invented the term "memes," and put forward the first really clear and vivid version of this idea in his book "The Selfish Gene." Now here am I talking about his idea. Well, you see, now, it's not his. Yes - he started it. But it's everybody's idea now. And he's not responsible for what I say about memes. I'm responsible for what I say about memes.
Actually, I think we're all responsible for not just the intended effects of our ideas, but for their likely misuses. So it is important, I think, to Richard, and to me, that these ideas not be abused and misused. They're very easy to misuse. That's why they're dangerous. And it's just about a full-time job trying to prevent people who are scared of these ideas from caricaturing them and then running off to one dire purpose or another. So we have to keep plugging away, trying to correct the misapprehensions so that only the benign and useful variants of our ideas continue to spread...
Memes are like viruses. That's what Richard said, back in '93. And you might think, "Well, how can that be? I mean, a virus is - you know, it's stuff! What's a meme made of?"...A virus is a string of nucleic acid with attitude. That is, there is something about it that tends to make it replicate better than the competition does. And that's what a meme is; an information packet with attitude. What's a meme made of?...They're made of information, and can be carried in any physical medium. What's a word made of? Sometimes when people say, "Do memes exist?" I say, "Well, do words exist? Are they in your ontology?" If they are, words are memes that can be pronounced.
Then there's all the other memes that can't be pronounced. There are different species of memes. Remember the Shakers? ...they're basically extinct now. And one of the reasons is that among the creed of Shaker-dom is that one should be celibate. Not just the priests. Everybody. Well, it's not so surprising that they've gone extinct. But in fact that's not why they went extinct. They survived as long as they did at a time when the social safety nets weren't there. And there were lots of widows and orphans, people like that, who needed a foster home. And so they had a ready supply of converts. And they could keep it going. And, in principle, it could've gone on forever. With perfect celibacy on the part of the hosts. The idea being passed on through proselytizing, instead of through the gene line.
So the ideas can live on in spite of the fact that they're not being passed on genetically. A meme can flourish in spite of having a negative impact on genetic fitness. After all, the meme for Shakerdom was essentially a sterilizing parasite. There are other parasites which do this - which render the host sterile. It's part of their plan. They don't have to have minds to have a plan.
I'm just going to draw your attention to just one of the many implications of the memetic perspective, which I recommend. I've not time to go into more of it. In Jared Diamond's wonderful book, "Guns, Germs and Steel," he talks about how it was germs, more than guns and steel, that conquered the new hemisphere - the Western hemisphere - that conquered the rest of the world. When European explorers and travelers spread out, they brought with them the germs that they had become essentially immune to, that they had learned how to tolerate over hundreds and hundreds of years, thousands of years, of living with domesticated animals who were the sources of those pathogens. And they just wiped out - these pathogens just wiped out the native people, who had no immunity to them at all.
And we're doing it again. We're doing it this time with toxic ideas. Yesterday, a number of people - Nicholas Negroponte and others - spoke about all the wonderful things that are happening when our ideas get spread out, thanks to all the new technology all over the world. And I agree. It is largely wonderful. Largely wonderful. But among all those ideas that inevitably flow out into the whole world thanks to our technology, are a lot of toxic ideas. Now, this has been realized for some time. Sayyid Qutb is one of the founding fathers of fanatical Islam, one of the ideologues that inspired Osama bin Laden. "One has only to glance at its press films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars and broadcasting stations." Memes.
These memes are spreading around the world and they are wiping out whole cultures. They are wiping out languages. They are wiping out traditions and practices. And it's not our fault, anymore than it's our fault when our germs lay waste to people that haven't developed the immunity. We have an immunity to all of the junk that lies around the edges of our culture. We're a free society, so we let pornography and all these things - we shrug them off. They're like a mild cold. They're not a big deal for us. But we should recognize that for many people in the world, they are a big deal. And we should be very alert to this, as we spread our education and our technology, one of the things that we are doing is we're the vectors of memes that are correctly viewed by the hosts of many other memes as a dire threat to their favorite memes - the memes that they are prepared to die for.
Well now, how are we going to tell the good memes from the bad memes? That is not the job of the science of memetics. Memetics is morally neutral. And so it should be. This is not the place for hate and anger. If you've had a friend who's died of AIDS, then you hate HIV. But the way to deal with that is to do science, and understand how it spreads and why in a morally neutral perspective.
Get the facts. Work out the implications. There's plenty of room for moral passion once we've got the facts and can figure out the best thing to do. And, as with germs, the trick is not to try to annihilate them. You will never annihilate the germs. What you can do, however, is foster public health measures and the like that will encourage the evolution of avirulence. That will encourage the spread of relatively benign mutations of the most toxic varieties.'
Sourced from the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
Click on the links below to navigate to the individual workshop pages and learn more about the speaker(s), chair, and rapporteur for each workshop, and also read the policy proposals:
'One of the few good things about the current financial crisis is the extent of serious soul-searching about the right way to deliver economic success. Britain has been among the worst-affected countries, losing perhaps five years of economic growth following the pricking of the credit bubble – predicted with precision by Ann Pettifor in her 2006 classic, The Coming First World Debt Crisis. Unemployment has soared, public-sector deficits have ballooned and a new age of austerity beckons. Business, politicians and the media are all calling for a rapid return to growth to create jobs, repair public finances and pay for a creaking welfare state.
Yet this regrowth option lacks conviction. It’s not just that finance – the vanguard sector of the last wave of growth – is still structurally challenged, or that debt-burdened consumers look unlikely to act as economic shock-troops once again. More profoundly, there is a dawning recognition that the growth model adopted by the industrialised countries over the past half-century no longer works. Our model of growth has simply become uneconomic, with more stuff not only failing to bring additional wellbeing in the so-called rich world, but also storing up impending environmental shocks, most notably peak oil and runaway climate change.
In his latest book, A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, Nick Stern calmly sets out the reasons why “high-carbon growth will eventually destroy itself”, as fossil fuel prices rise and the physical impacts of climate change start to bite. In spite of Copenhagen, a new economic race is under way: to deliver low-carbon growth. According to Climate Solutions 2 (a pioneering report on low-carbon industrialisation), some 20 clean energy, energy efficiency, low-carbon agriculture and sustainable forestry sectors will need to grow by 20–24% every year for the next four decades if greenhouse-gas concentrations are to be stabilised. Only three of these sectors are currently on track.
Yet one paradoxical outcome of the current economic crisis is the degree to which key governments have recognised low-carbon growth as one of the key routes out of recession. South Korea, for example, is investing 2% of its gross domestic product (GDP) over the next five years in its ‘green growth’ plan, with a clear intention to gain the economic and employment benefits of these emerging sectors.
Simply painting growth green doesn’t do the trick, however. We know that growth in GDP is a lousy measure of performance. It fails to distinguish between income and capital, thereby enabling both the liquidation of natural resources and the build-up of unsustainable levels of credit to be treated as growth. It fails to capture the social dimensions of economic activity, thereby enabling vast gulfs in inequality to be masked by per capita statistics. And it takes market valuation of prices as its touchstone, something that the credit crunch has taught us to be deeply wary of.
Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth is perhaps the most elegant exposition of a route out of this maze. The spectre of growth has haunted environmentalism since the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, with sustainable development emerging in the 1980s as an uneasy way of reconciling economic expansion, social justice and environmental resilience. Jackson helps break through some of the entrenched positions that have encumbered this debate, by placing his attention squarely on the ends of economic activity: expanding our capabilities for flourishing as human beings. Growth in incomes and consumption still remains an important component of such prosperity for most of the world’s peoples. But Jackson questions whether growth is still “a legitimate goal for rich countries”, for reasons of human happiness as much as ecological necessity.
Jackson challenges the belief of technological optimists that strong policies can effectively decouple growth from environmental impacts. Taking climate change as a case in point, he demonstrates that average global carbon intensity would need to be 130 times lower by mid-century to meet climate goals in an equitable world of steady population and economic growth – falling from around 770 grams of CO2 per dollar of output today to just 6 grams by 2050. The apparent absurdity of this scenario should not cloud our minds to the theoretical possibility of this ‘super green growth’ scenario. As Paul Ekins has argued, “the sacrifice of the environment to economic growth is not ineluctable”.
Jackson’s focus on an extended notion of prosperity means that he is at least as interested in the weakening connection between rising incomes and wellbeing as he is in environmental limits. A range of international surveys show that beyond an annual income level of US$15,000 per head, life satisfaction barely changes between countries with quite different levels of GDP. There appears to be a clear point beyond which extra income does not deliver extra wellbeing.
In their inspirational book The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that “we have got close to the end of what economic growth can do for us” in terms of quality of life. Within the industrialised world, it is income inequality rather than absolute levels of GDP that explains differences in a range of health and social outcomes (such as trust, the status of women, mental health, drug use, educational attainment, murder rates, life expectancy and obesity). And inequality even constrains the time we have to ourselves: “People in more unequal societies do the equivalent of two to three months’ extra work a year. A loss of the equivalent of an extra eight or twelve weeks’ holiday is a high price to pay for inequality.”
If growth is to be dethroned as the primary goal of policy in the rich world, what should take its place? Jackson’s book is a brave attempt to develop a new ecological macro-economics, setting out a framework for scaling up investments in resource efficiency, clean technologies and ecosystem enhancement. Just as the welfare state of the 20th century – with its investments in health and education – laid the foundations for today’s knowledge economy, then investing in the quality of our natural resource base will form the basis for the next wave of innovation, employment and, yes, growth.
Rich countries dedicate at least 15–20% of their GDP on investments in human capital through spending on health and education; absurdly, spending on the entire environmental foundation of our wellbeing is less than a tenth of this. The problem with current discussions of the green economy is not that the proposals are too expensive, but that they are not expensive enough as a share of economic output.
The task of confronting the human costs of growth has barely begun, however. For Wilkinson and Pickett, this means consciously focusing on reducing inequality as a way of improving wellbeing for everyone. For Jackson it also involves dismantling the culture of consumerism (for example, through controls on advertising). Perhaps the clearest strategy of all comes in the new economics foundation’s The Great Transition, ably supported by its subsequent reports Growth Isn’t Possible and 21 Hours, its call for a 21-hour working week.
One of the great failures of the past three decades has been how the enormous improvements in labour productivity generated from new technology have been reaped by a very small part of the population, increasing inequality and stress. Cutting the amount of working time is a way of sharing these benefits, breaking the cycle of work and spend, and liberating that most non-renewable of resources, time: for family, friends and sheer enjoyment.
What is refreshing about this crop of books is the shared confidence that an economics that puts growth in its place will be more prosperous, healthier and sustainable. Some of the specific recommendations may not be especially new, but taken as a whole, a clear strategy for social and environmental transformation is starting to emerge. As T.S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding in the middle of the Second World War, “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.'
'..."I hate making TV documentaries," he says with feeling. "Because it takes quite a lot of energy to know that you're going to get your arse kicked and people will hate you, or fight you, for large proportions of time. You know when I did School Dinners I got so much abuse for a year and a half, and the people who were getting in the way of some of the biggest progress...you know, once the show was broadcast, all of a sudden it was 'authentic'. But until then it was just lots of – well, people hate change. So I don't particularly enjoy doing the stuff I'm most proud of."
...You know that government advertising campaign, Change4Life, cost £20m on billboards? I could have built over 100 Ministries of Food in towns all over the country for that. The public doesn't need to know that we're in a f*cking state, that we need five a day. What it needs is skin on skin, it needs beacons locally where you can find out stuff for free, and have lessons. It's the only way forward, and it won't blossom through cuts."
Jamie's Ministries of Food have been established in four cities now, where the public are taught basic cooking skills in a bid to wean them off processed food and ready meals. But the future of the original Ministry in Rotherham is now in doubt, threatened by cuts, and Oliver is incredulous.
"The reason why I'm so passionate about the Ministry of Food is that we're fully booked, and if we had another staff member we could put another third on the numbers. We do about 8,000 people a year from one little cheap £130,000 setup grant from Rotherham council. We're fully booked, we're busy. It works. But they're all looking at me now for money, and the thing is I don't have it. I haven't got dough sitting in banks for me or for anything else."
Some readers may think come off it, you're really rich, I suggest. His wealth is routinely reported to be anywhere between £25m and £45m; could he not write a cheque for £130,000?
"I can't. I can't. I just can't, it's as simple as this. I've got my businesses that I look after, I don't have venture capitalists swoop in and pay for everything. Basically everything I've got funds my restaurants, the vulnerabilities are all mine. I've got 18 months of wages for my staff in the bank, but I'm not spending their money."
Oliver has recently extended his campaign to America, where he made a series called Jamie's American Food Revolution, set in the nation's most obese town. It won him an Emmy, and has been recommissioned, but far from celebrating, Oliver is still recovering. "The town didn't react very well to me being there, and there was one fellow on the radio who did a lot of shit-stirring that caused basically six weeks of aggro for me. No one really wanted to get involved or help, they thought we wanted to make them look stupid." With hindsight, I ask innocently, does he feel he made any tactical errors?
"No," he shoots back, "it was brilliant. You know, change is very hard – structures, organisations, businesses, people, anyone really. And if you're shining a light on one of the most unhealthy places in the world, it has to be a car crash, there's no pretty way. I knew what I was flying over there for, I knew it would be horrible, but I hadn't done horrible without my family. When you have shit days you need to be able to go and hug your kids, do you know what I mean? I didn't have that, and it was hard, really hard."
And yet, I say, it's these documentaries which make us love him. "But there's still lots of people who don't like me," he counters straight away. "You can tell that if you go on any blog. I annoy lots of people. You know people often don't like the good guys, and I try to be a good guy, I'm consistent. You know, I've been consistent in my direction, the beliefs that I have. And people hate that."..."No one understands me. No one. My wife doesn't even understand me in terms of what I want to do. Everyone thinks everything's about money. You think I'm going to America to make money? That is probably the worst financial use of my time in the world, going to America next year, cos there's no money in TV, and they don't buy books. I don't want to break America, I don't want to move there, I'll be there for three months next year but I don't want to be making that show, I want Americans to be making that f*cking show. I'm not pleased I got the Emmy cos I got the Emmy; I'm pleased because it will get other people to make these shows, and get the public active, and get McDonald's to start doing some other shit instead of the shit they are doing.
"I have a fairly low regard for money to be honest, it doesn't really add that much to a lot of the things that give me pleasure in life. However, if you have an idea, and you've got it, you can do it. If you haven't got money and you've got a great idea, it's hard to get it done. So for me I want to get in a position where I can do stuff myself. I want to be able to go into Essex and say: 'I want all your schools.' I want to set up a company that would be not for profit; I want to set up a company that would be like the government used to be, where we train dinner ladies militantly, where we'd fit the kitchens out and deliver on budget. But it's not just Essex, you see, it's trying to create things that can be rolled out elsewhere. But it all comes down to money."
In the end, Oliver believes that change will only come through public pressure. "Although they don't know it, the public is still king. So what I try and do is shit-stir. In America, what hasn't happened yet is the public haven't really told business what they want. For instance, McDonald's America and McDonald's UK are totally different. You've got one public that's fairly well informed, which is here, so you know you've got organic milk, 100% free-range eggs; they do a huge amount of salads, they've done a huge amount of inward thinking in the last five years. So although they've been the enemy for many years, you've got to take your hat off and say well done, and carry on. America hasn't even done that, they've done nothing in comparison. The only difference is the public ask for more."
So if he had to choose only one element of his empire – the cookery shows, the restaurants, the books, Fifteen, or the campaigns – which one is closest to his heart?
"I'd love to be elitist, cos that's where my heart is – I'm a food geek. But it's f*ck-all use to anyone, absolutely no use to anyone, it doesn't change anything really. I really want to get school food sorted, and it ain't going to get sorted by the government. It needs investment, entrepreneurialism, expert management – and it's not going to happen, cos they'll never put their hands in their pockets or be there long enough to change anything."'