When Degrowth Comes to Our Fair County

I’ve noticed an increase in articles and books lately on the subject of reducing human consumption, steady state economies and what has come to be called degrowth.

For example:

Must We Grow? by Michelle Nijhuis, in the New York Review of Books, and the video, The Great Simplification.

“Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production … and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with social and environmental well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity.”


Here in Our Fair County, we are deeply mired in the consumer growth economy. Garages are rarely used to store cars, with piles of purchases pushing up the rafters with stuff that won’t fit in the house. Store shelves groan under eleventy-bazillion varieties of things that we only need one of, if any. Advertising pervades every medium, exhorting the purchase of things and services we would never have thought of buying had they not been thrust at us unbidden.

The myth of necessary and inevitable economic and human population growth overwhelms our local culture. Our county and city governments are based on the premise of unlimited growth. Our state government passes laws demanding that counties and cities plan for growth with no consideration for local resource limitations, geographical realities or unique histories and cultures.

The cost of housing is increasing astronomically, as home owners and landlords demand sale prices and rent as high as the market will bear, such that only rich people who don’t already live here can afford to live here. Hundreds of people roam unhoused in Our Fair County, unable to afford even a tiny apartment in a real estate industry gone mad with greed.

There are many reasons why the economy of the United States, and most of the rest of the world, is dominated by the mythology of perpetual growth. The Great Simplification video linked above explains the evolutionary and cultural reasons why we humans hoard beyond any semblance of need.

The question is, how to get off this out-of-control treadmill before it collapse in its own inevitability, taking us, and much of the natural world down with it?


There are two ways we can reduce our collective destruction of the natural world:

  1. Reduce per capita consumption
  2. Reduce human population growth

Reduce Personal Consumption

Since most everything in our world encourages us to consume to profligacy, to reduce consumption we must relearn how to live with less, rather than learning to live with more. Here’s a few suggestions. We may not each do all of these things, but we can each do something:

  1. Limit exposure to advertising in popular mass media – broadcast television and radio, newspapers and magazines. Install an ad blocker on computers and smart (sic) phones.
  2. Enjoy walking, bicycling or public transit rather than sitting in a car; travel by train in luxery rather than packed like sardines in an airplane.
  3. Enjoy living locally so you don’t need a vacation. Learn about the natural world that surrounds you and your home.
  4. Learn a skill, profession or craft and engage in meaningful work to produce needed goods and services. Learn how things work, how to diagnose problems and how to fix them.
  5. Learn how to repair rather than replace. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.
  6. Learn gardening and permaculture in your own bioregion. Grow food. If you water it, eat it.
  7. Enjoy simple, nutritious meals made with local ingredients.
  8. Avoid credit cards, loans and corporate investments. Build savings accounts in local banks, where you money supports your local community.
  9. Make a challenge of lowering your utility bills as much as possible:
    1. Learn how to use water sparingly and reuse it whenever possible. Learn to capture rain and fog water for irrigating your gardens. Wash dishes by hand and give the dishwater to plants.
    2. Learn how to use electrical devices sparingly and turn off everything electric when not using it. If it has a light that glows in the dark, unplug it when not in use.
    3. Learn passive solar heating and cooling, window and curtain management, appropriate seasonal clothing, less dependence on automatic temperature management. Live with the seasons.
  10. Share, barter and trade with neighbors and friends. Start a local free table. Frequent Little Libraries and Pantries.
  11. Learn to build and maintain your own housing that creates its own energy, using local and recycled materials.
  12. Participate in local government, in your neighborhood, community, county and state. Let your ideals and principles spread into your community. Spread your joy in living simply.

Degrowth will not only allow our lives to be simpler and more enjoyable, it will go a long way to solving our current problems of high costs of housing, transportation and energy. It will reduce roadway congestion and encourage health and well-being, and reduce human impacts on what little is left of the natural world.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s start degrowing NOW!

Up next on We Live in the Natural World: Reduce Population Hereabouts.

Poverty, War and Climate Change

    I recently responded to a climate change alarmist who claimed that the greatest threats to humanity are “poverty and war.” At first blush this may seem to have nothing to do with climate change. However, this perception is a clear indication of the overall homocentric viewpoint of climate alarmism.

Poverty and war are symptoms of self-destructive social systems based on imperialism, industrialism, patriarchy, class division, and consumerism. Cultures maladapted to present environmental conditions perpetuate dysfunctional social systems until they can no longer support exponentially growing human populations. Cultures and societies are transitory human emergent structures, that change frequently and are subject to human action and control.

What is most important to the future of all life on this planet are the impacts of present human cultures and societies on the non-human world. Air and water pollution, topsoil loss, species extinction, biodiversity loss, and habitat destruction destroy the viability of all non-human species.

Human domination of natural ecosystems has resulted in functional disruption of the intricate web of interrelationships among species. What we consider “normal” Nature is in reality a depauperate shadow of once thriving ecosystems, in much of the world completely overrun with asphalt, concrete, glass and steel. Industrial monocrop agriculture has eliminated many ecosystems altogether, aggravated by the over-application of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and exploitation of finite aquifers.

These very real and immediate impacts of unlimited human population and economic growth far overshadow any speculative and poorly understood human influences on natural climate variation. Though human societies depend on unnatural conditions of climate stasis, the non-human world has evolved with constantly varying weather and climates for millennia. Climate variation is only a threat to humans.

The present global “climate change/global warming” obsession is an economic and political result of the same cultural and societal systems that result in poverty and war. The Climate Change industry is an attempt to maintain those social systems that have resulted in such devastating impacts on the non-human world.


There’s No Hope

“Opportunities that up-skill, inspire and encourage entrepreneurial thinking in our young people can boost competitiveness and growth in a smart, sustainable and inclusive way.” Dr Susie Mitchell, programme director of Glasgow City of Science.

Source: Budding entrepreneurs aim to tackle air pollution

Where to begin…?

This quote from an article in the Scotsman is so woefully wrong-headed and inextricably mired in impenetrable corporate-speak as to boggle the mind of any reasonable thinking person. It not only reeks of meaningless rhetoric, it is wholly bred and reared in the basic concept of economic growth as the answer to “air pollution” and other environmental ills.

The author of this pitiful statement completely fails to understand that growth is the proximate cause of pollution of air, water and soil, habitat loss, species extinctions and the entire list of environmental problems she proposes to solve. Even worse, she is in the process of inculcating this deadly, mind-numbingly ignorant philosophy into the soft and impressionable minds of young people.

This is a crime against Nature, a denial of cause and effect, an unwillingness to accept the limits to growth of the human species, basic understanding of ecological and evolutionary relationships among all species, and the deleterious effects of human economic growth, resource consumption and expansion onto and into every square inch of non-vertical ground on the planet.

One can only hope that as human “civilization” inevitably declines, the growth maniacs will be the first to feel the effects of destruction of the natural world, “in a smart, sustainable and inclusive way.”


The “Control” of Nature and Other Myths

John McPhee wrote a book called The Control of Nature, published in 1989, about human attempts to control Nature, the Mississippi River, Iceland volcanoes and the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. It’s a good read about human folly in the face of a variable Nature and the impossibility of controlling it.

Harbor beach small
Photo by Jean Brocklebank

It seems that some folks in Santa Cruz, California haven’t read their McPhee, or if they did, they’ve forgotten the lessons the author so well explained.

In 1964, City fathers decided to build a small craft harbor in Woods Lagoon, a natural estuary fed by Arana Creek flowing down from the mountains in the north, on the borderline between the City of Santa Cruz and the unincorporated Santa Cruz County. The harbor was initially dredged with monies provided by the Army Corps of Engineers, and expanded in 1973 to its current 800 slip capacity, soon filled with fishing boats and pleasure craft.

Either the Corps of Engineers (Beaver Corps) didn’t know what they were doing, or they forgot to mention to equally eager City Fathers that the lagoons along this stretch of coastal California are maintained in their lagooness by the eastward longshore drift of sand from rivers and streams emptying out into Monterey Bay, rivers such as the San Lorenzo just west of what once was Woods Lagoon.

The scene above illustrates what happens when humans attempt to interrupt the natural process of longshore drift with piles of rocks “protecting” an artificial channel where a lagoon used to collect sediment from upstream and upshore.

The beach seen on both sides of the channel results primarily from sand washing in from the San Lorenzo River, deposited in the channel at the south end of the harbor creating a sand bar that closes off the harbor during stormy winter months.

The Santa Cruz Port District, the quasi-governmental entity that manages the Santa Cruz Harbor, spends about a million dollars a year dredging the harbor channel from the north end where Arana Creek flows into the harbor to the south end. It does this every year, almost continuously, and it must keep this up forever. As we can clearly see in the picture above, even a momentary lapse in dredging would result in the mouth of harbor being closed to boat traffic entirely. To that end, the Port District is purchasing a brand new five million dollar dredge to replace the 30 year old machinery now in operation.

This epic effort to artificially maintain a harbor for pleasure craft and a few fishing boats in a waterway that wants to be a lagoon again is not the result of incompetence or malfeasance on the part of Port District personnel. This is merely one more example of human aspirations and desires blown out of scale beyond the capability of the local environment to support.

The harbor was conceived of and designed by developers looking to make money for themselves and the City of Santa Cruz (mostly for themselves) with no thought of the consequences to the local environment that ultimately would pay the price of this massive restructuring and attempt to control Nature. No studies were attempted to understand the natural systems and processes of the tidal lagoon they tried to destroy. No one studied longshore drift to find out where all that sand on the beaches came from, and what would happen if an impediment was built out to sea to interrupt that flow.

The developers and City politicians assumed, as always, that humans could change the Earth any way that suited them and that they could ultimately control those natural processes that they so drastically modified.

Now the bill has arrived, and its a whopper. In order to attempt to control Woods Lagoon and keep it from returning to its former self, they must find a way keep the dredge operation going indefinitely into the future, an operation dependent on thousands of gallons of diesel fuel to keep the dredge running and removing sand from the harbor mouth. Can’t do it on solar and wind energy. This takes Big Energy to build the massive dredge barge to begin with, and to horse it around the harbor, suck up the accumulating sediment and pump it back out to the ocean downshore.

This is just one example of human society reaching the limits of its ability to grow and to modify the natural world in its own image. Clean water, clean air and energy that doesn’t pollute either of them are in increasingly short supply. Santa Cruz has discovered there’s not enough potable water available for continued economic and population growth. The Port District is discovering they can’t charge enough slip fees to pay for the increasing cost of keeping the harbor open for slip renters to operate their boats year round. The City and the County are discovering that the faster they grow the behinder their budget gets.

As with all things living, there is an optimum limit in size and complexity for human societies, a limit that has been surpassed. The more humans try to control the natural world for our benefit, the more energy and resources we must expend to simply maintain what we already have built.

We cannot control the natural world, we can only learn to cooperate with it.


Putting the Brakes on Population Growth


In my last post, I discussed economic growth as a factor in human impact on the Earth, and suggested that continued economic growth in a world of finite resources is impossible.

Time for a maths break

The reason this is true is due to a simple formula: I = C x P

Impact = Consumption multiplied by Population.

The word overpopulation is inadequate to describe this particular problem, as it throws the focus on human problems rather than the overriding effects of human consumption and waste production on the non-human world.

A more relevant concept is “overshoot,” which applies to all species who increase in population to the point that they consume resources faster than they are naturally replenished, resulting in starvation and population decline, for humans as well as other species.

An Aside

This concept of overshoot was first proposed by Thomas Robert Malthus in his An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1798 and revised in 1803. He pointed out that population increases exponentially, while the food supply increases mathematically, thus inevitably resulting in famine and starvation.

Malthus has fallen into disrepute of late, especially among the young glitterati who aspire to immortality and transhumanism, not to mention transbiologism, the unfulfilled hope that humans can stride out of their feet of clay through technological innovation.

Ecomodernists are particularly contemptuous of Malthusianism as it violates their core principle of decoupling human technology from impacts to the non-human world, through intensification of agriculture, genetically modified organisms and nuclear power production to energize it all.

Critics of Malthus point out, hopefully, that there has been no mass starvation as he predicted (though people in some countries would quibble with that claim), that we grow more food now than ever before, that GMOs provide the promise of increased crop yields and ever new sources of food for a growing human population. Don’t worry, they say, the entire human population could fit in the Grand Canyon, Lake Superior, or some other equally improbable and irrelevant comparison.

Malthus was not just correct in his analysis, he was ahead of his time. The population Big Ben has yet to chime.

Back to Population Growth

The core problem remains 7+ billion human beings and counting; 7 + billions who aspire to live just like the 300 million and counting in the United States: multiple cars, multiple McMansions, unlimited food and water, room sized TeeVees, instant cell phone coverage on every inch of the planet, on demand everything, energy too cheap to meter in unlimited quantities.

This, of course, is impossible. There’s no way in Hell, and that’s what this planet would become, to provide that level of consumption and waste production for 7 to 10 billion people on this finite Earth.

I = C x P

There’s only two ways to reduce human impact on the non-human world to a level that truly qualifies as sustainable, aka able to continue indefinitely.

Either drastically lower consumption and keep it low or drastically lower human population and keep it low. It’s real simple! Furthermore, since reducing consumption only works as long as increasing population doesn’t overwhelm the equation and bring us back to overshoot, the only ultimate solution is to reduce and control human population increase by whatever means necessary.

Some point out hopefully that the rate of human increase is itself decreasing and human numbers will stabilize in the next 30, 50 or 100 years. That’s not good enough. We already consume one and a half Earths every year. We must shrink our economies, reduce our population and permanently reduce our consumption of raw materials from the biosphere, below present levels.

There’s no free lunch, not even a moderately inexpensive snack. Either we decide to do what it takes to control our expanding population, or we start preparing our exhibit in the crumbling remains of the Field Museum:

Homo sapiens

upright, featherless biped

extinct in the 21st Century

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.”



California Drought and Anasazi Transformation

    Lots of arm-waving, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on the Left Coast these days over The Drought. Of course, those whose interests are served, and pockets lined, by spreading fear of GLOBAL WARMING, and other myths, pound on about how climate change is the cause of The Drought, and, of course, humans are the cause of climate change.

    Rather than sorting through the rhetoric, I decided to ask someone who might know about these things, atmosphere, weather, climate, etc. Here’s what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office has to say about the California drought:

    “The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. Key oceanic features that caused precipitation inhibiting atmospheric ridging off the West Coast during 2011-14 were symptomatic of natural internal atmosphere-ocean variability.

    So there we are.

    This doesn’t let Homo sapiens californicus off the hook by any means. There’s still plenty of growth maniacs running wildly about the place, ignoring natural limitations of resource availability, planning new housing developments, industrial parks, airport runway expansions, new dams on rivers, if there are any rivers and creeks left untrammeled. No matter what the human problem is, from poverty to urban crime to childhood obesity, growth is the first solution pulled out of the hat.

    It’s time to stroll down to the local haberdashery and get a new hat.

    What’s needed is a whole lot less growth and development and a whole lot more simple adaptation.

    The Anasazi of 12th Century New Mexico figured it out. When times got tough and rain scarce in the Southwest, they abandoned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon and vicinity and scattered into the uplands, where summer temperatures were cooler, rain more frequent and predictable. They reinvented themselves as Pueblo people and continued to live in place. They’ve lived there for 800 years or so, far longer than the upstart Europeans who repeatedly tried to drive them off or wipe them out, and failed.

   Now it’s our turn to be the Anasazi, if we’re smart enough, if we care enough. The imported European lifestyle just doesn’t work on this coast or this continent. Natural cycles far outspan the puny timescale, unbounded hubris and unrealistic aspirations of American endeavor. If we are to continue as a culture, a prospect looking increasingly doubtful, it will have to be as a very different culture, one which lives as a part of the natural world, not apart from it.

    Not to worry. Those things that can’t go on forever, don’t. Mother Nature bats last. It’s hard and it’s fair.

The Future is the Here and Now – Only More So

The future changes faster than we can keep up.

Here within the confines of our Coastal County, the future is changing so fast that local government officials and institutions haven’t kept up with the way the future was, let alone with what the future is fast becoming.

City and County governments are still responding to the current economic implosion by promoting more and more economic and infrastructure growth, not realizing that it is growth that is creating the local economic implosion.

As I’ve said several times before, bureaucracy plans for the past, rarely for the future.

Our Coastal County has reached a state of permanent diminishing returns, in which continued investment in increasingly complex infrastructure results in an increasing inability of the County to maintain and pay for what it already has, let alone what it continues to build. As complexity increases, non-lineal returns take over, such that historic methods of responding to municipal crises no longer work; even worse, they are counterproductive, producing more problems than solutions.

For example, the recent $6.5 million permanent pink permeable pavement shortcut through Arana Gulch, rammed through the City Council as a Public Works make-work project, has resulted in an expanded physical infrastructure handed over to City Parks and Recreation, who have no funds, staff, resources nor even any desire to adequately maintain it. The two extravagant (“wandering beyond”) bridges and their connecting cement umbilicus will remain a financial drain on County coffers until they crumble in well deserved decay and return to the earth from whence they came.

As William Howard Kuntsler tells us, eloquently: “The future is telling us very clearly: get smaller, get finer, get more local, get less complex, get less grandiose, do it now.” (The Broken Template)

This means get off the growth wagon, tell AMBAG what they can do with their continued, unrealistic demands that the County accommodate growth in a world of finite resources. There’s not enough water here for the people who live here now. “Water neutral development” is just a poor euphemism for increased efficiency and reduced per capita consumption, which is held hostage and ultimately overshadowed by population increase. We cannot optimize our way out of the reality of finite resources. Ocean water desalination is no answer either, as finite energy is as restrictive as water, in the long run more so. The post-fracking future bending toward us is the death knell of cheap energy and the inevitable long slide down the muddy slope of energy availability.

The future is less, not more.

And that’s a good thing. Without the distractions of the new and bigger and glitzier, we can relearn to be content with the present, the adequate and sufficient, the resilient, the modest, the tried and true.

We can settle into our own and become indigenous to this place where we live. 

The Nature of Humans

As I’ve commented before, I’m wary of distinguishing between “Nature” and “Not-Nature” with regard to human beings.
Humans are part of “Nature,” that is, Homo sapiens is a species of animal that co-evolved with all other species. It’s important that we internalize this reality. 
When we deny the reality of our basic “Nature-ness,” we allow ourselves to engage in behavior that is destructive to the world of Nature. We ignore the fact that what harms Nature harms us as well. We give ourselves license to take from Nature without giving back, to take from Nature faster and in greater amounts than can be naturally replenished. We allow ourselves to create waste and “throw it away,” into Nature, faster and in greater quantities than can be naturally assimilated. We forget that there is no “away.”
It’s also important to understand that humans cannot bring about the “End of Nature.” Even if humans fail to end our profligate ways, resulting in global environmental “collapse,” Nature will abide. It may be that Nature will change to a form that does not support intelligent (sic) upright featherless bipeds, but it will still be Nature and natural systems will continue to operate as they have since the beginnings of life on this planet.
Nature Bats Last is not just a bumper sticker.
There’s no getting around the bitter fact that we can’t do anything we want and get away with it. We might as well get over it and get on with the task of becoming responsible members of the community of life on this tiny, much abused, whirling mudball we call Earth. Our friends and neighbors on the planet will welcome us with open arms, legs, wings, flippers and pseudopodia.
An article in Mother Earth News, Coming Home to Nature, speaks elegantly about the unity of humans and Nature.

A River (of Opportunity) Runs Through It (TR)

A River Runs Through It: Santa Cruz alliance working to re-brand the San Lorenzo – Santa Cruz Sentinel

The insufferable irony of this headline and story is overwhelming.

“A River Runs Through It” is a magnificent novel by Norman Maclean telling the story of the relationship of a man to a free running river. It is not a story about co-opting a river for personal aggrandizement and profit.

The San Lorenzo River was first “branded” by ignorant humans who built a town on the floodplain, then whined when the river reclaimed its own. They “re-branded” the river by building levees along its course to keep it out of their living rooms. They “re-branded” the most biologically productive estuary on this part of the coast by filling it in and building an amusement park and parking lot in its place.

Now, yet again, ignorant humans want to “re-brand” what’s left of the river, making it into an extension of the Boardwalk amusement park, just another fun ride indistinguishable from the green monstrosity dominating the mouth of the river.

No matter that the river is already populated by wildlife that must flee in the face of a flotilla of fun seekers.

It’s all about growth. It’s all about business. It’s all about turning the entire world into commodities for human consumption and profit.

What does economic development have to do with this “coastal watershed”?

Humans are not the only species on Earth. We just act like it.

“Man is the only animal that blushes… or needs to.” Mark Twain