The last four years have created what economists call a “natural experiment” in economic policy. As a consequence of deregulation and globalization, Britain and the United States experienced the financial crisis of 2008 in much the same way. Large parts of the banking system collapsed and had to be rescued; the real economy went into a nosedive and had to be stimulated. But after 2010, the United States continued to stimulate its economy, while Britain chose the stonier path of austerity. So what does this experiment in economic policy tell us?
In 1992 world leaders signed up to something called “sustainability”. Few of them were clear about what it meant; I suspect that many of them had no idea. Perhaps as a result, it did not take long for this concept to mutate into something subtly different: “sustainable development”. Then it made a short jump to another term: “sustainable growth”.
And now, in the 2012 Earth Summit text that world leaders are about to adopt, it has subtly mutated once more: into “sustained growth”.
This term crops up 16 times in the document, where it is used interchangeably with sustainability and sustainable development.
But if sustainability means anything, it is surely the opposite of sustained growth. Sustained growth on a finite planet is the essence of unsustainability.
The Energy Trap
Many Do the Math posts have touched on the inevitable cessation of growth and on the challenge we will face in developing a replacement energy infrastructure once our fossil fuel inheritance is spent. The focus has been on long-term physical constraints, and not on the messy details of our response in the short-term. But our reaction to a diminishing flow of fossil fuel energy in the short-term will determine whether we transition to a sustainable but technological existence or allow ourselves to collapse. One stumbling block in particular has me worried. I call it The Energy Trap.
A New View of Work
Many of us have been raised according to the “Protestant work ethic.” That is to say, we were encouraged to work hard and thus become a successful and productive member of society. But what if this advice is wrong? As the economy reaches and breaches the limits to growth, working long hours causes market failures, giving weight to the idea that governments should intervene to reduce average working hours.
It was a radical challenge which, like many of the ideas of the late 60s and early 70s (feminism is another example), were gradually adopted and distorted by the ongoing voracious expansion of consumer capitalism. Niche brands such as The Body Shop in the UK or Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream in the US attempted to build a “small is beautiful” model of economic enterprise that put relationship, craft and environment at the heart of their way of working. They were later snaffled up by corporate giants. Small became cool but only as part of a branding strategy which masked the ongoing concentration of political and economic power. Gigantism has triumphed.
Smart Growth in Transition: Sustainable Communities in the Rust-Belt
Environmental studies professor David Orr has set out to turn the aging rust belt town of Oberlin, Ohio, into a laboratory for sustainability. In the process, he has drawn interest from unlikely places: Experts from the military and in national security see the Oberlin Project as a compelling plan to focus on vulnerabilities in the nation’s food, energy, and socioeconomic systems. They and others, including leaders of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington research group, see it as a model that communities across the country could follow.
The November Edition of the Monkerai Review looks at Degrowth.
“Is degrowth essential for just transition?”
Degrowth (décroissance, decrecimiento, decrescita) is a critical interrogation of growth-based economics.
Degrowth thinkers and activists advocate for the sustainable contraction of economies as the core means of addressing long term environmental issues and social inequalities.
While degrowth can frame discussions on the failures of and alternatives to the status quo, its advocates recognise there is no theory of contraction equivalent to the growth theories of economics. Whether or not a theoretical foundation is necessary is an ongoing point of creative tension within its social-grassroots movement, at least within minority, wealthy countries. Its key advocates, such as Professor Serge Latouche and Peter Victor promote it as a wide-ranging economic solution, others are more sceptical of its co-existence with continuing capitalism and its tendency towards personal-community scale change as opposed to systemic transformation.
"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, a transition from decades of growth to decades of economic contraction."
— Richard Heinberg, Peak oil, oil depletion, and steady-state economy scholar (via rethinkcapitalism)
Reblogged from Reblogging for reference.
Ecological footprint pioneer William Rees on: ‘How to Convince People to Face Reality’
(Credit: Post Carbon Institute)
Tags: /biodiversity /climate change /culture /energy transitions /food security /global change /growth /human activity /human systems /legal action /peak oil /planetary boundaries /pricing /reality /resource consumption /resource depletion /social learning /sustainability /video
Reblogged from Human Scale Cities.