The Growth Economy Can’t Continue Forever

December 6, 2012 at 11:38 pm Leave a comment

The current global economic system has to grow in order to remain healthy – that’s just the way it’s designed. During the past century, however, the world economy has grown as never before, coinciding with the ever increasing availability of cheap energy.

Author Richard Heinberg predicts that fossil fuels will be just one of many rapidly depleting resources this century. In his book Peak Everything, he predicts either a decline or an end to growth in population, grain production, uranium production, fresh water availability, agricultural land, wild fish harvests, and extraction of metals and minerals such as copper, platinum, silver, gold, and zinc. He argues that it’s no coincidence all these peaks are happening at this time, as all are related in a classic self-reinforcing feedback loop fueled by cheap, abundant energy from fossil fuels.

cycle

FACT: Growth in population and consumption cannot continue unabated on a finite planet.

Declining availability of cheap oil is expected to seriously challenge the rates of economic growth. While improvements in efficiency, the introduction of new technologies, and the shifting of emphasis from basic production to provision of services can enable some economic growth to occur without increasing energy consumption, over the long run, a static or falling energy supply must be reflected in economic stasis or contraction. Energy, fresh water, and food will become less freely available over the coming decades.

The 20th century saw the greatest and most rapid expansion of the scale, scope, and complexity of human societies in history; the 21st will see contraction and simplification. The only real question is whether societies will contract and simplify intelligently or in an uncontrolled, chaotic fashion.

Fortunately, there are ways to reform our economic system peacefully if there is enough political will. Political goals can be changed to focus on social well-being rather than growth of economic activity. Governments can stop allowing the negative consequences of economic activities, now dismissed as “externalities”, to be separated from prices and borne by the public at large. With such changes, basic economic activities would become more localized and business practices would become more socially and environmentally responsible.

Addressing the economic, social, and political problems ensuing from Heinberg’s looming peaks will require an enormous collective effort to educate and motivate people on a massive scale, using a positive vision of a future worth striving toward. The Transition Movement provides a model and process for beginning the great task of navigating around the peaks by unlocking the creative genius of our communities.

Transition Initiatives challenge the idea that we need to get back to economic growth, as it is currently measured. Transition proposes new ways to regenerate the economy by relocalizing and really cutting down on how many of our businesses and services depend on fossil fuels. This could have an enormous economic benefit to our communities, with considerable potential for more local skills and employment.

Transition Initiatives are the foundation of new local economies where neighbors once again know and look after each other, where we know where our food was grown, where we invest in our friends’ and neighbors’ businesses, and where we participate in the basic productive and administrative activities that make community possible.

No amount of borrowing or spending will return us to business as usual. A new economy must emerge – one that fits within earth’s limits. Rather than an economy characterized by limitless growth, we need a steady-state economy in which “growth” is measured not in dollars spent or goods purchased, but by the health, happiness and intelligence of the people, the safety of communities, and the integrity of ecosystems.

Read more…

Reliable Prosperity – Reliable Prosperity website

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Entry filed under: Economy.

Peak Oil Peak Oil + Climate Change

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