Saturday, November 26, 2016

This May Sound Radical But There's Really No Other Choice

With backward thinking governments still in the neoliberal embrace of constantly growing GDP, a different vision, one based in reality, is beginning to take hold.

There's a new economic movement, "degrowth." From Deutsche Welle:

With the planet reaching its biophysical limits on what it can provide us, a growing number of economists and environmentalists say we need to switch focus from economic growth to human and ecological wellbeing.

...Currently, few question the pursuit of economic growth. From national economic policies to international programs for sustainable development, growth has typically been the goal.

But some economists now argue that on a planet with finite resources, we may have to stop growing in order to survive.

"More economic growth means more and material extracted out of nature, and more and waste after we use these materials," sais Giorgos Kallis, an ecological economist and editor of "Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era."

"With the current level of economic growth - and aspired levels of growth - there is no way to avoid dramatic and catastrophic change of the climate."

Here's what Justin Trudeau, and every prime minister, Liberal and Tory, going back at least to Brian Mulroney, refused to accept.

Man's resource footprint has outgrown the planet by a factor of 1.7 times and that's still growing. We are exhausting the Earth of the resources, renewable and non-, necessary for the continuation of life on our planet. We are now in what is called "overshoot."

This graphic illustrates our problem. Our consumption is already in overshoot well above the planet's carrying capacity which is, predictably, degrading. The evidence is manifest, everywhere. It is tangible, measurable, and it's even visible to the naked eye from the International Space Station. It takes many forms including deforestation and desertification (the exhaustion of farmland and its transformation into desert). It can be seen in dried up lakes and rivers that no longer run to the sea. It takes the form of algae blooms in our lakes and rivers and coastal oceanic dead zones. NASA's tandem Grace satellites reveal surface subsidence caused by our rapid depletion of our groundwater, our aquifers. We see it as our industrial fishing fleet collapses one fish stock after another. The examples go on and on and on.

We have embraced the delusion that our economy, nationally and globally, can exceed the bounds of our planetary ecosystem, our environment. Those who make the argument that intelligent life is self-extinguishing have proof aplenty in that.

Several years ago, renowned British scientist, James Lovelock, said that mankind's survival depended on accepting what he termed "sustainable retreat." But try telling your neighbour that the future of our grandkids and theirs hinges on our willingness to reduce our standard of living by 40 per cent, perhaps more.

The degrowth movement is welcome and long overdue but with our governments in the grip of magical thinking the odds against it are monumental.


Anonymous said...

NASA's tandem Grace satellites reveal surface subsidence caused by our rapid depletion of our groundwater, our aquifers.

Soon after January 20, I expect those satellites will reveal nothing of the sort.

War is peace
Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength


Lorne said...

I'm currently reading a book called Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Coleman, Mound. The premise involves looking at the full 'cost' of the things we consume, depicting production and manufacturing as an ecology with an impact on the natural ecology. One example shows that a cotton t-shirt, from start to finish, consumes 2700 litres of water. I am only early in the book, but he goes on to discuss the toxic and carcinogenic cost of things like the volatile chemicals used in paint that give it its smell. It seems like a terribly complex field, but I think his hope is that when we know the true 'price' of the good and foods we consume, we will make better choices.

Hugh said...

Both levels of Govt are obsessed with growing the economy, every year. But the question is why?

My answer to that is, that is how govt deals with the growing debt load.

The Mound of Sound said...

Cap, I hope you're wrong but that is what they've announced they'll do by blinding NASA's Earth sensing systems.

The Mound of Sound said...

Lorne, what you're referencing is part of "steady state economics." It recognizes that natural capital, public resources such as water, need to be paid for by those that use them, becoming part of the cost passed along to consumers.

Here's an example. Canadian governments, federal and provincial, acknowledge subsidizing fossil energy producers to the tune of just over $3-billion a year. The International Monetary Fund, however, pegs the real subsidy for 2016 at 46 billion.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hugh, this obsession with growth is irresistible to our elected technocrats. It's the way they expand the tax base and it really is the low hanging fruit. The consequences of it are, to use the accounting term, externalized, kicked down the road, bequeathed to future generations. Growth was viable up until the early 70s when our population first hit 3-billion, the Earth's approximate environmental carrying capacity (based on the per capita consumption at that time). That was the time for rationalizing growth but just at that moment along came Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney to force down our throats the poison pill of neoliberalism.