Kenneth Boulding: “Anybody who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”
Limits to growth- running out of stuff and ruining where we live
In 1972 a think-tank, the Club of Rome predicted that output from resources would decline dramatically in the early 21st century. Their predictions appear to have stood the test of time (for example about half the oil and gas resources have already been used and what remains requires increasing energy to extract; it is a similar situation with phosphorous, lithium and rare-earths).
Our economy is based and hugely dependent on cheap energy, primarily oil, but also coal and gas. As supplies diminish, the energy required to extract resources increases; cheap energy is no longer cheap. We are in a time of increasing demand and decreasing supply. Basic economics tells us this leads to price hikes. Because we are in recession, demand has lowered a little; it is likely that when we start to come out of recession, energy demand will go up, as will prices and will push us back in recession. We can’t be sure when we will reach the limits of growth, but we can be certain that it is coming. An award-winning animated video from the Post Carbon Institute tells this best.
Traditional economics suggests that when a resource runs out something will come along to replace it – a new technology for example – and that there will be new innovations in extraction. Of course we do have some new technologies (e.g. renewable energy) and there are new forms of extraction, however:
- The huge risks and devastating destruction involved in fracking and tar-sands styles of extraction show our desperation, not innovation.
- Renewable energy costs money and resources… erm, where do we get that from when the growth economy, based on cheap energy, is over?
- Nuclear energy is non-renewable, expensive, has a huge carbon footprint and creates centuries of dangerous waste.
The fact is, energy isn’t a replaceable side-show in our economy, it is the driving factor and we have designed and built systems upon systems, penetrating every aspect of our life. We have reached the end of growth and a major change is coming whether we like it or not. Will we crash-land, what will the fall out look like, how do we protect our communities and families? Cuba survived peak oil, so we know it is possible. We discuss more in Future.
The human population is 7 billion and rising fast and some think this number is already beyond what the planet can “carry” (supply the needs of). Our rampant western consumerism means we are far more damaging than population explosions elsewhere.
Another huge pressure is the change in demographics in many western countries, where there will soon be more older people, living for longer, than younger people. Pension assets are sold to investors, however there will be more people selling than buying, so pension values are very likely to drop significantly, just as public services are cut.
Before plunging into this topic, which can easily lead to despair and switching off, its worth watching this compelling idea for capturing all the carbon emissions since the industrial revolution, greening deserts and providing food, all at the same time!
There isn’t a single scientific body in the world that disagrees that people are changing the climate. Vested interests have funded climate change denial and find ways to confuse and distract us. It’s such a big subject it is easy to stick your head in the sand, hope that “somehow” we will be OK, or that it won’t affect your own lifetime (so we aren’t worried about our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, offspring of people we love??). In the fossil record there is a rapid climate change triggered by volcanic induced greenhouse gases, which killed 95% of all species and took 100 million years to recover from. We are on that path.
Chaotic changes in weather patterns are affecting the global economy now, by increasing food prices, hiking up insurance costs and damaging infrastructure.
These issues will not affect everyone in the same way immediately, though in the long-term we could all be lemmings heading off the same cliff, the richer societies may be in the back row that’s all. This madness economy in principle just benefits a few in the shorter term. Distribution https://streetschooleconomics.wordpress.com/distribution/ looks at the growing division between rich and poor and the effect it has, in fact, on everyone.
The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute movie unpicking the creation and disposal of consumer goods- well worth a watch. The “toxic trespass” of chemicals into our environment and bodies is explained by ecologist Sandra Steingrabers.
For a long, slow, slap around the face, for us to wake up to what we are doing, this film is excellent and devastating: What a way to go- Life at the end of Empire
Derrick Jenson discusses the premises in his book Endgame, proposing that we should resist on many levels.