The Ideology of the Cancer Cell

growthAnother unwritten assumption that lies beneath the headlines is the belief that continuing economic growth is essential for a healthy economy. This is the basic assumption of every economist on the planet, with the exception of Herman Daly and his followers at the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

But as Brent Blackwelder points:

“There are physical limits to growth on a finite planet.”

Source: Time to Stop Worshipping Economic Growth « Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

What’s the big secret?

I don’t understand why this is so difficult to understand, but then, I didn’t go to economics school. I chose the hard sciences. You know, science based on evidence and data, hypothesis testing and verification. Science about the hard physical world, not the mushy, social science that changes on a whim as each new economic fad sweeps through your bank account.

All one has to do is look at every other form of life on the planet to understand that unlimited growth is impossible. Even dinosaurs were limited in size and number, until they evolved into birds and flew away. Rabbits, lemmings, starlings and wildebeest sweeping across the Serengeti are all limited in growth by natural cycles of resource availability, subject to population booms and busts that affect not only their own numbers but those of their prey species as well.

The Great Escape

For some reason, humans expect to escape this fate of the lowly animals. It has something to do with faith in human innovation, invention and adaptation, and, truth be told, these mental attributes have served man well for the short time he’s hung around this twirling blue marble. It doesn’t, however, promise eternal escape from the the long spiraling slide down the porcelain parkway of evolution into the sewage lagoon of extinction. Homo sapiens, too, can follow the dodo, and if present trends continue, it won’t be long before the last specimen of our species will be mounted in the remains of the Chicago Field Museum next to the last passenger pigeon.

Enforcing the Rules

This planet we perch upon is a pretty old place and its natural cycles and periodic fluctuations have had a long time in which to build up evolutionary inertia. No upstart species can muscle in over a few measly million years, rough up the neighbors and set up a protection racket among the remaining species without attracting the attention of the ecology constabulary. They’re already starting to gather, tapping their nightsticks and What’s all thissing, as they reach for their climate change handcuffs and their read ’em their rights resource depletion cards.

The fate for species that violate the ecological rules is not a slap on the paw, or a brief stretch in the clinker, it’s solitary confinement, in the hole for the rest of whatever, throw away the key, gone away for to stay, never to be seen or heard from again. Extinction ain’t for sissies. Mother Nature means business.

The only other organism that tries to get way with eternal growth is the cancer cell, and look what it does: suffers attacks of toxic chemicals, radiation and surgical excision, then it kills its host and dies along with it.

No wonder Ed Abbey told us:

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”



Two Realities, the choice is up to us

This article by Richard Heinberg, Two Realities, is so important I want to spread it liberally about cyberspace.

There exists a vast chasm betwixt the environmental reality of the biosphere on this planet, and the infinitely smaller but nonetheless overwhelming reality within the noosphere of economists, Chambers of Commerce promoters, property developers, corporate CEOs, legislators and their pet lobbyists, and government administrators.

Economic growth is viewed as the universal panacea for all human ills, from poverty to environmental destruction, even though it is obvious to all who care to see that economic growth is the ultimate cause of these problems. Anyone who dares rise in objection to the mantra of continued economic growth is met with withering stares, outraged expostulation, public obloquy, and social sequestration.

Unfortunately, all governmental bodies are ineluctably under the thrall of growth maniacs, such that economic growth is unquestioned and unquestionable in public discourse. What passes for media these days are filled with assurances that economic growth is increasing, or bemoaning a lack of sufficient economic growth in the past quarter, with not the slightest question as to whether said economic growth is a good thing for human societies, let alone for the natural world.

The political will does not exist to reassess our growth mania and turn it around, in large part because those who control the economy are the beneficiaries, at least for the moment, of its excess. The populace is largely unaware of the conundrum, concerned with jobs, family and the consumerism necessary to live up to social expectations. Economic growth is viewed as the Great American Dream, despite the looming Great Global Nightmare that will sweep it all away as Peak Oil and climate change begin to seriously erode the fabric of the economic fantasy.

Despite this pessimistic outlook, the incipient proto-mammals of steady state economy are nibbling away at the dinosaur eggs of the growth-at-any-cost status quo. Heinberg has here set out a program of public awareness and funding for study and promotion of alternative economies, that, at the very least, may lessen the shock of global economic collapse on the horizon.

Good economic news at last!

IMF: Global economic recovery ‘weakening’

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” Ed Abbey

There is no basis for continued economic growth in a world of finite resources. We have overtopped Peak Oil, and are sliding down the back slope of oil discovery and production. There will never be as much energy available as there is today.

This is as it should be. Humans are no privileged species with peremptory rights to all resources, as the expense of all other life.

It’s time to take our place in the queue and camly wait our turn.

How to Respect the Rights of Nature

The City of Santa Monica recently passed an ordinance, directing the City to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish,” joining a rapidly growing international “Nature Rights” movement. “Nature Rights” recognizes that healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are critical to all life on the planet, including humans, and human priorities do not automatically take precedence over natural habitat and ecosystem health.
Undeveloped lands in Santa Cruz City and County are rapidly diminishing, even those lands designated as Greenbelts and Natural Areas, such as Arana Gulch targeted for development by the City, ironically in the name of environmentalism. Although Arana Gulch is designated Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant, the City has successfully argued that human desire for a paved bike route is more important than protection and preservation of undeveloped natural habitat.
It’s time for the City and County of Santa Cruz to recognize that it cannot destroy natural habitats in its jurisdiction without severe consequences to the web of life that sustains us all. There is no department in our government bureaucracy that speaks up for non-human consideration in planning development projects. Regional regulatory bodies are increasingly dominated by development interests, resulting in an accelerating loss of natural habitat. The County’s Commission on the Environment is an advisory body for the County Board of Supervisors and has no regulatory powers to protect natural habitats in the County.
In order to maintain a balanced regulatory environment, we must have City and County Environment Departments, just as we have Planning, Public Works and Economic Devlopment Departments. The job of the Environment Departments would be to see that biodiversity, natural habitats and undeveloped lands are not diminished, degraded or lost to human economic development, guided by City and County regulations similar to that of Santa Monica and other enlightehed municipalities.
Recognition of Nature Rights would not stop human development, but would place consideration of the health of non-human species on par with human economic growth.

Toward a Post Growth Society

This is an important concept, well articulated in the article: Toward a Post Growth Society.

Economic growth is viewed as the ultimate panacea for civilization. Grow or die; if you’re not growing you’re stagnating. No other species on the planet lives this way or can possibly live this way. Any species that outgrows its resources declines and ultimately dies. There’s no way around it.

Continual economic growth in a world of finite resources is impossible. At some point, human growth must stop. And yet, human societies seem bent on pushing this natural limit, well… to the limit.

A truly rational and sane species, such as Homo sapiens is supposed to be, equipped with a brain, supposedly capable of projecting the consequences of our actions into the future, able to contemplate our own demise,  would indeed see the inevitability of natural limits to economic growth and would rationally decide that enough is sufficient and by golly, we’d better find a way to develop a steady state economy before we destroy our ability to exist on this, the only planet we have at our disposal.

For many very complex cultural reasons, the dominate human societies on this planet are caught up in a story of how to be a functioning human being that is radically dysfunctional in the real world we inhabit. This story tells us that we are disconnected from the natural world, that there are no consequences to our actions, and that we can continue in this state indefinitely.

This turns out not to be the case.

There are indeed limits to human growth. The resources on which we have built human societies are finite and limited. There are consequences to human actions in this world, consequences that will turn on humans if continued much longer.

It may be possible for humans to develop a steady state society that can continue into the future without destroying it, but I see no reason for optimism on that score.

Economic Growth in a Finite World

 A Changing Business Community

This blog post by Tom Honig is an example of an antiquated, human-centered perception of economics. In this day of climate change, Peak Oil, habitat loss and depleted water and soil, this kind of thinking leads to economic collapse for all species, especially our own.

“they want a bike path across vacant land at Arana Gulch.”

Arana Gulch is not vacant land. Arana Gulch is a verdant living ecosystem chucky-jammed full of life. This is a comment made in ignorance attempting to minimize the damage caused by development of a paved 12 foot wide bike road through critical habitat for endangered and sensitive species.

“economic growth does a lot of good things. Jobs, tax revenue for local cities and the county, opportunity for all ages and even a relief for the need to commute elsewhere for jobs, goods and services.”

Progressive economists are learning that economic growth does a lot of bad things, chief among which is destruction of natural habitat and despoliation of natural resources.

See Czech, B. 2009. Ecological economics, in Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems. Developed under the auspices of UNESCO-EOLSS Publishers, Oxford, UK

At some point (now would be a good time) humans must grow up and join the rest of the world as contributing members of the web of life, not selfish takers considering our desires foremost above all else.

“Jobs” is not the answer to our economic woes. “Jobs” is the problem. “Jobs” require continuous growth and expansion in a world of finite resources. This is impossible.

What we need is meaningful work in exchange for, clothing, housing and social support. There’s plenty of work to be done in our communities, enough for everyone who wants to live here on the terms set by the local bioregion. Those who want more than the local environment can provide must look elsewhere.

“Continuous growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell.” Ed Abbey

Economic growth is the Problem, Not the Cure

European Activists Against Economic Growth

Europe has suffered under unbridled capitalism far longer than the United States. Here’s what they’ve learned:

“…degrowth emerges as the only economically viable formula, not just in benefit of nature but also “to restore a minimum of social justice, without which the world is condemned to destruction.”

Here in the United States, the growth maniacs are still in control, and economic growth is the elephant in the living room. And it’s billed as the main attraction, the only attraction. Stand up in a city council meeting anywhere in the country and question the concept of economic growth and count the uncomprehending stares. You’ll be branded as a crank, as unrealistic, as an idealist.

Growth is the water that our economy swims in. We can’t see it and we can’t know that it is drowning us.