Friday, November 23, 2018

We Need to Shrink the Global Economy But Destroying the Environment Can't Be the Best Way to Go About It.



Whether the disciples of perpetual exponential growth like it or not, we're fast heading for a day of reckoning on the global economy.

In theory, at least, mankind should be able to maintain an economy provided it is well within the finite limits of the environment. We've already overgrown the global economy beyond the maximum carrying capacity of the environment by a factor of 1.7 times. We've gotten by through sleight-of-hand measures. We substitute a new resource when an existing resource is exhausted. If there's not enough of what we require, we're very adept at raiding nature's reserves. The one thing these techniques are not is sustainable. You will, eventually, come up empty. We are doing that already.

This all came to mind today thanks to a story in The New York Times warning that climate change will shrink the US economy.
A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.
...in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including recordwildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds.
The survival of our species, perhaps even most life on Earth, depends on how we, as a global civilization, respond to three, tightly interwoven, existential threats: climate change, overpopulation and our rapacious over-consumption of the planet's resources. Those are the Big Three and you can't solve any of them without solving all of them. So far the community of nations is making a farcical effort on the first and failing. We're not even getting into the other two.

Trump, of course, sees efforts to address climate change as some mortal threat to America's economy. Trudeau says the right things but he too places the economy in clear priority to the environment.

Nobody would dare entertain the heresy of actually bringing the global economy back within the safety limits of the environment. The hard truth is that the economy has been rigged so powerfully that we are mortally dependent on a growing supply of resources the Earth simply does not have. We're already deeply in Overshoot (think of it as environmental overdraft) and we're showing no signs of changing course. The resource path we're following is plainly nihilistic, eventually, but we seem to have a tolerance for nihilistic practices these days.

It's a simple predicament that we avoid acknowledging. Either mankind learns to live in harmony with the Earth or the mechanisms of the Earth will destroy us. Some choice, eh?

10 comments:

Lorne said...

The myth of sustainable perpetual growth is one that almost all politicians adhere to, Mound. Anything else is unthinkable, as it would require sacrifice and shortages. Expect it to continue until the bitter end.

The Mound of Sound said...


Unfortunately, Lorne, I think it will be a mortal fetter, certainly until the age of neoliberalism is over. I had a chuckle today to read Simon's piece about "Trudeau haters." He fancies himself a progressive it seems. That's a term that is badly abused by the near-right who claim the mantle by virtue of nothing more than being ever so slightly to the left of the neo-Conservatives.

What these people fail to understand is that progressivism has a meaning and principles that are antithetical to the neoliberalism practiced by both major parties in Parliament. If you're a Liberal, particularly in the post-Dion era, you're not a progressive. You support neoliberalism. The corporate sector, especially the energy giants, hold pride of place in Trudeau's government as they did in Harper's. No attempt is made to rein in corporate power and harness it into service to the public.

That said I distinguish Trudeau from a Conservative by Justin's focus on uniting Canadians and he's to be commended for it. The Conservatives are a force of division. Social cohesion is not a Conservative priority. They seek to set us against each other. Curiously enough, so does Simon with his unceasing anti-Conservative vitriol.

Troy Thomas said...

Was thinking today, the language is, "the abolition of carbon fuels'. The carbon fueled economy must be brought to a halt much as the slavery plantation economy was done over a 150 years ago. The arguments on both sides are much the same. The actors are much the same. Hell, Trump is the new age Buchanan. However, what's missing is solidarity. A radical left to provoke dialogue/dispute between moderates.

the salamander said...

.. Watching CBC's Power & Politics shiw this evening (Friday) there was a segment regarding the 'oil crisis' - the stunning perspectives of ms Notely & mr Trudeau.. vis a vis, the shocking price differential, the pipeline shortage.. the well you know where this goes..

What was fascinating (OK! frightening) was how hosts, experts and politicians.. not to mention CBC or the rest of mainstream media can 'report' on the oil crisis without using the term diluted bitumin, dilbit.. or related pollution terms such as methane or CO2, or extirpation of species due to habitat destruction or fresh running waters and water table toxification. Remediation is another term that must not enter the conversation.. verbotten !

We need to shame and accuse, even humiliate media.. and certainly each and every 'public servant' that fails to recognize the scope, context and reality of the 'oil crisis' .. It can't just be about the stock market price of benchmark sweet oils.. ie the best or purest oils on the planet, requiring the most minimal refining.. Brent (offshore North Atlantic) or West Texas Intermediate

The Mound of Sound said...


Hey, Troy. I think the two mainstream parties have drifted so close that, on many issues, they're indistinguishable. Harper put social conservatism more or less in the closet while the late era Liberals did something along the same lines with their party's progressive element. It saddens me to have to agree with Lorne. We'll be overtaken by events before we ever shake loose of these neoliberals.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sal, it's been impressive how the energy giants and their political courtiers along with their media minions so effortlessly seized control of the narrative on bitumen. They've convinced many Canadians that bitumen is just another form of oil. They've conned everyone, including themselves, that getting ever more dilbit in the belly of an armada of supertankers will get their garbage-grade bitumen trading competitively with clean oil. And that, as Andrew Nikiforuk revealed, is on the strength of one pro-pipeline report commissioned by Kinder Morgan before they unloaded the TransMountain pipeline on the Canadian taxpayers. One report. Pulled straight out of some consultant's overpaid ass. And now it has become "conventional wisdom." We all buy it.

the salamander said...

.. Well, Mound.. in the complete absence of an obvious or even 'aspirational' solution re the fatal aspects per your timely blog.. I am putting my angry, even vicious focus on mainstream media and mainstream evangelicals as well as our misguided political animals and related political parties. Yes.. I can do 'aspirational' .. or even exasperated.. even wicked dirtbag nasty

When any of these slugs talk 'oil crisis' or 'The Economy' or 'Jobs Jobs Jobs' re the 'oil patch' or crude lr heavy crude or unfair 'discount' or differential.. I want to hear - Dilbit - Diluted Bitumin - Synthetic Crude - Tar Sands - Remediation - Taxpayer Paid - Benchmark - High Sulphur Content - Petcoke Residue - Extirpated Species - Big Oil Subsidies - First Nation Consultation - Foreign Owned - Abandoned Wells - Methane Escape - Freshwater Toxicity .. and what did I leave out ? ? Letting Big Energy be self regulated or donate $ to captured political parties ?

If we want to pin a tail on the ass.. Jason Kenney is a prime target.. a perfect reprehensible representative. He represents essentially every one of my above grieves. So does his dark lord, Stephen Harper.. and here cometh Justin Trudeau, now bringing up the rear. Who gives a fluck about Grassy Narrows or the ever extending tar sands 'ponds' where the pretend buffalo will roam.. could be, maybe.. no never ever will roam.

BC is currently subsidizing natural gas for export.. for more than they take in as royalties. That takes 'royal' into astonishing territory eh? Gee, is that where taxpayer dollers are going.. are you kidding or just insane ? BC is paying to have their resources stripped and delivered ? No wonder they view Alberta as 'an ally' .. c'mon in Alberta.. welcome to 'tidewater' .. BC is your oyster, help yerself ..

Deary me, Mound.. observing from Ontario.. I'm far beyond astonished.. and well into outrage.. now into blowaway anger

Owen Gray said...

We have long passed the theoretical stage. If we don't deal with those three pathologies, we're doomed.

Anonymous said...

The question is...we need to find a word that describes human made climate change that grabs the Canadian public's imagination like "aridity". The message? If this continues...we will be living with impoverishment, meagerness and barrenness ....it already has begun. Anyong

Anonymous said...

4:41...you listened to the "Ideas" program on CBC as I did. Anyong