Locked into the suicidal growth-or-die economy

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xraymike79's picture
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Locked into the suicidal growth-or-die economy

"...it has become easier to challenge the supremacy of God than to question the supremacy of the market testifies to the way any group can fall victim to a creation myth — especially when they are rewarded to do so.

Too many technologists, scientists, writers and theorists accept the underlying premise of our corporate-driven marketplace as a precondition of the universe or, worse, as the ultimate beneficiary of their findings...."

----Douglas RushKoff



Last October, an economy that had been running its course for the past three decades was laid to rest. Our country has been on a nearly 30-year credit bubble where we have binged on cheap credit to buy up homes at ever increasing values. This 30-year ascent made us think it could be forever. But this bubble was based upon unsustainable principles and ecological destruction. We destroyed as much land as we could to produce quickly and consume as much food, building supplies, minerals as we could get from the land as fast as possible. We utilize an extremely dense energy source — fossil fuels — to live lifestyles that are historically similar to those that kings lived before. In order to accomplish all this, we have put ourselves in debt for decades to come. We have borrowed from the future to live in the present for far too long....


...Globalization was sold as a way to achieve this utopian vision of a consumerist society, constantly purchasing things on a rotary linear system that sucks resources from vast distances and transports them for fractions of what they truly cost. We have subsidized our present by utilizing credit from our future to pull that demand forward to the now. It is a grave error that we have thought no further past the next quarter or year for profits, not just in our economy but our ecology as well.

We modeled our society on a growing exponential path that had to hit limits. These limits were spoken of at great length at the Club of Rome, a global think tank that met in the late 1960s and released the book  The Limits to Growth (1972). There are limits to our economic desires. There are limits to how much we can damage the ecology. Ecology is the study of home, while economy is the management of home. We need an economy that’s based on our ecological principles.

The turn of the century was a pivotal moment for mankind. Will we fight over the last remaining resources as we reach the peak production of oil and thus limit our resource base use? Hope doesn’t need to fade, though. A local living economy would heal our planet, conserve resources, localize itself to build resilience, and base itself upon biological principles to increase life. Food, water, air are all produced and cycled through nature. To deny nature and turn her inside out would be not only a crime on humanity but ultimately suicide. We must become a sane society once more and recognize difficult times are ahead if we continue on the path we are on. This should be a coming-together moment for humanity. When resources are scarce, we revert to our tribal nature that has within it the seeds of compassion and cooperation that are the bright spots of humanity. The light will shine through the darkness.


The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David Korten speaks about this philosophy. Korten also works on the Earth Charter initiative to educate others about the global sustainable code of ethics. Others such as Thom Hartman agree in his book, Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. These books both identify community as the key to a new society. This society will have a new economy based on local banking and less on large corporate banking. The retail will be more local, selling locally produced products. Farmers’ markets and crafts will have more meaning as the vast global chain stores die under their burgeoning maintenance costs. Localizing the economy further will be local currencies: this will allow money to flow only within the local community that accepts that currency. This is already done legally in such states as Vermont and in the Berkshire region with Berkshares. Think of this as a resource to flow and recycle within the community to reach peak performance instead of being leaked out to franchises and global corporations....[ ]

[ ]...The current economy is being run by economists that bow before their prophet John Maynard Keyenes. He was a British economist who worked to mobilize Britain’s economy during WW2. He also focused on the Great Depression, saying that putting vast amounts of capital into new projects could get our economy out of the depression and back into growth. Mr. Keyenes was one of those economists who lead our society to idealize perpetual exponential growth on a little finite planet. His most brilliant act by far was investing in a German immigrant who was being interned during WW2 to help Britain with its mobilization effort. E. F. Schumacher was his name, a brilliant economist who left Nazi Germany because of his compassion for human life and distaste for the sadistic Nazis....

E. F. Shumacher talks about having a local economy that benefits through compassion. We must realize that dependency on corporations rather than community is destroying this nation. Both on a physical side but on the spiritual side as well. We are losing a battle; our culture is making us nihilistic and un-supportive of one another. What if we cooperated more? Instead of us all owning our own cars and material possessions, we shared. We brought back a barter system for both work and objects, helping neighbors during these tough times accomplish things that are much needed. Being kind to another is the golden rule for much of humanity. We must form our economy to follow that rule as well. A strong caring community gives way to the next important priority: education....


September 8, 2009 at 8:30 am by Eric Stewart


What is Overshoot?

Just like any company, nature has a budget – it can only produce so many resources and absorb so much waste every year. The problem is, our demand for nature’s services is exceeding what it can provide.

In 2009, humanity is projected to use about 40 percent more than nature can regenerate this year. This problem (using resources faster than they can regenerate and creating waste such as CO2 faster than it can be absorbed) is called ecological overshoot.

We currently maintain this overshoot by liquidating the planet’s natural resources. For example we can cut trees faster than they re-grow and catch fish at a rate faster than they repopulate. While this can be done for a short while, overshoot ultimately leads to the depletion of resources on which our economy depends.

Humanity first went into overshoot in 1986; before that time the global community consumed resources and produced carbon dioxide at a rate consistent with what the planet could produce and reabsorb. By 1996, however, humanity was using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply, with Earth Overshoot Day falling in November. This year, more than two decades since we first went into overshoot, because we are now demanding resources at a rate of 40 percent faster than the planet can produce them.

In 2008, Earth Overshoot Day was reached on September 23.

How is Earth Overshoot Day Calculated?

[ world biocapacity / world Ecological Footprint ] x 365 = Ecological Debt Day

Put simply, Earth Overshoot Day shows the day on which our total Ecological Footprint (measured in global hectares) is equal to the biocapacity (also measured in global hectares) that nature can regenerate in that year. For the rest of the year, we are accumulating debt by depleting our natural capital and letting waste accumulate.

The day of the year on which humanity enters into overshoot and begins adding to our ecological debt is calculated by calculating the ratio of global available biocapacity to global Ecological Footprint and multiplying by 365. From this, we find the number of days of demand that the biosphere could supply, and the number of days we operate in overshoot.

This ratio shows that in 2008, in just 267 days, we demanded the biosphere’s entire capacity for the year. The 267th day of the year is September 23.

BeMoreEco » Loz


Earth is reaching its breaking point, U scientists warn

U scientists join others in warning that people may have the planet near environmental breaking point.

By TOM MEERSMAN, Star Tribune

Last update: September 23, 2009 - 11:52 PM


Human pressure is pushing the planet's food, water and environmental systems to the breaking point, say more than two dozen leading scientists, including two from the University of Minnesota.

Their conclusions, published Wednesday in an unusual paper in the journal Nature, are the first attempt to define the physical and biological limits of Earth as nations increase development and populations.

"For lack of a better phrase, the Earth becomes a bit more like Humpty Dumpty," said report co-author Jon Foley, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. "You push it, it falls over, and it breaks. You can't put it back together again."

If systems unravel, he said, the planet will survive but there could be huge costs and disruption in the world's economy.

Foley said the unprecedented study, "Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity," is not a typical research paper in which a small team of scientists focuses on a narrow band of research. The idea emerged, he said, when 28 scientists in different fields started to notice the same thing: Ecosystems can collapse when put under too much pressure.....[ ]


...The western way of life is unsustainable, unjust and often vacuous. The global problems battering our shores cannot be solved by consumer capitalism or endless wars. As Ted Trainer argues there's zilch possibility of the living standards of everyone on earth rising to rich world per capita levels of consumption: think energy, minerals, timber, water, food, phosphorous etc. It is our reckless gorging that generates the alarming tapestry global crises. How many of us have truly grasped the magnitude of the overshoot? Such a lavish lifestyle would not be possible if rich countries relaxed their grip on world resources which we wont so most of the world's people are condemned to deprivation....
....the more you bone up on the range of threats facing humanity, the more you feel the horsemen of the apocalypse breathing down your neck, even if you don't believe they exist. -- Richard Neville


The Law of Receding Horizons dispels the contention that non-conventional fuels become economic in time. The truth is, alternative fuels never become more economic in time. They remain out of reach, but occasionally appear to be accessible especially during periods of accelerated petroleum prices increases.

What happens is that as oil prices rise, all the associated mining and production infrastructure necessary for extraction of the non-conventional fuels (that was built under previously lower prices) represent a cheap petroleum subsidy that is very short lived.

People who dispute the law of receding horizons believe that, as oil prices rise, their costs will magically remain where they were. The fact is, the rising cost of infrastructure causes the project’s costs to balloon until it is no longer economical.

Any time we hear that oil has to be over a certain figure per barrel in order for some marginal energy project to make sense economically, we should instantly be skeptical. This is because when oil does get to that cost per barrel, the project’s costs often turn out to be based on the cost of infrastructure back when they made the estimate. But now, because of that very rise in infrastructure costs, the project is still too expensive to make sense, as all the equipment necessary for production of the alternative fuels is ultimately tied to oil prices. And yet the cost overruns are always called ‘unexpected.’

Production of the oil shale deposits in Colorado provide an example. Once you factor in the future cost of all the energy that it will take to mine these low-density non-conventional sources, it never works out. The standard joke in the area is: “Shale oil - fuel of the future... and always will be.”

Additionally, facilities in Alberta, Canada produce oil out of tar sands. Production of oil in Alberta has not surpassed 1.2 million barrels per day for several years in spite of much more expensive oil prices. Their limits are many, including local environmental opposition, water supplies, and waste disposal facilities called tailing ponds. But the real issue is that the natural gas necessary to liquefy extract, transport, and hydrogenate the tar sands into oil is becoming limited in supply. In this way, tar sand oil prices are tied directly to the cost of natural gas. Natural gas in North America is growing ever-scarcer, and its price has more than doubled within the last few years.

The Law of Receding Horizons tells us that the cost of everything, including non-conventional energy sources such as tar sand oil, is pegged to the cost of primary energy sources, such as oil and natural gas. Just when we think that tar sands are economical the cost of everything goes up. First diesel, then equipment repair, then new heavy machinery.

The Entropy Law shows us that producing alternative energies can, in most instances, be compared to turning "gold into lead" in the sense that you are converting a higher grade energy (oil) into a lesser-grade energy (alternative fuel). Remember - when converting one form of energy into another form, some energy is lost in the conversion, and you are left worse off for the trouble.

For additional information on alternative energy sources, go to the Solutions & Alternatives to Resource Depletion page.

Microsoft PowerPoint - Peak Everything-Population Oil (2)

 - 11:58amFile Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML
Aug 30, 2009

...however, population growth is not the most immediate issue: another sector is expanding much faster. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation expects that global meat production will double by 2050 - growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers. The supply of meat has already trebled since 1980: farm animals now take up 70% of all agricultural land and eat one third of the world's grain. In the rich nations we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk per capita as the people of the poor world. While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent....

Resource: Population growth is a threat. But it pales against the ...

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
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Re: Locked into the suicidal growth-or-die economy


Interesting reads.

Looks like it should be renamed "Growth-AND-Die Economy"

xraymike79's picture
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Re: Locked into the suicidal growth-or-die economy

There's one more piece of info I want to post on this, but can't find it at the moment...will have to waite. At any rate, if I was an alien looking down on the petri dish Earth, I'd be thinking those Earthlings better start modifying their behavior very soon.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Like bacteria in a Petri dish

What do a culture of bacteria in a
Petri dish and Humankind have in common? That both die off in a sea of their own waste.

That's what Andy Coghlan ponders at New Scientist: like bacteria, we also use up all resources available voraciously and like the Petri dish Earth has boundaries that we cannot practically overcome. We are just doing exactly what our distant unicellular relatives, and all other species do: consume voraciously. But unlike other species, humans do not anymore have effective competitors or predators that could control our size. We have also become so terribly efficient that we consume at rhythms and amounts inconceivable for other species.

We have achieved all that thanks to our unique intelligence and the technological achievements derived from it. But we seem unable to use these unique advantages to control ourselves. Certainly not within a Capitalist context.

Other comparisons mentioned in the Ecological Conference of Albuquerque, just liken our species and our cities to a cancer. After all cancer are just feral cells, so to say: cells that have gone wild and do not anymore respond to the needs of the body but to their primal unicellular instincts.

Quite worrisome is that a very nearby date: 2025, 16 years from now, is mentioned as an absolute limit.

But it's not just our wild instincts, it is also the crisis of Capitalism: a crisis that has been "solved", actually just delayed and complicated, several times by a political decision leading to over-consumerism:

According to Rees, the change took place after the second world war in the US, when factories previously producing weapons lay idle, and soldiers were returning with no jobs to go to.

American economists and the government of the day decided to revive economic activity by creating a culture in which people were encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their status in society and their self-image.

.......[ ]

And while it's not mentioned by this name, the only solution is in fact capping individual consume, what is exactly as getting rid of the upper (and middle) classes and begin again to live in much less pretentious way. A way that can perfectly produce happiness anyhow, because once the essentials are satisfied, greater consumption only produces minimal amounts of happiness, exactly like an addict who can barely get any pleasure anymore from the drug he/she is slave to.

But there is good reason for pessimism:

Pararelli is even more pessimistic. The only hope, he says, is a disaster of immense scale that jolts us out of our denial. "My sense is that only when the brown stuff really hits the fan will we finally start to do something."

The next years and decades will be decisive: will we die off like the lab bacteria or will we learn and radically correct more than a century of brutal abuse of our motherland, our only motherland: Earth.

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