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.

Economic Equality Aboard the Titanic

We see it in the headlines every day, especially with the run-up to Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. 
We are told we “need” 3% economic growth worldwide per year to provide jobs for our growing population, seven billion now and still increasing rapidly. 
We are told we need to develop economies in emerging and “underdeveloped” countries, so they can meet the demands of “climate change” brought about by fossil fuel burning in developed countries. We are told continually that poorer nations must be allowed, even encouraged and facilitated, to grow to the level of other nations so that all seven billion + of us can have access to all the goods and services that everyone has in every other country.
We are told overall that all this growth and development must be “sustainable,” which, according to the United Nations, means “growth that meets present needs without compromising those of future generations.” 
An Experiment
When I was in high school, I did a science project that involved running white mice through a maze while on dextroamphetamine (the mice, not me. This was the early 60s. It was relevant then.) Since I lived in a small town in Nebraska, I had to raise my own white mice to have enough subjects for the tests.
This biological experiment quickly turned into an economic experiment, as I soon learned the lessons of exponential population growth in a closed environment. I was very quickly overrun by white mice. I couldn’t give them away fast enough to disperse the growing population of my experimental subjects. I eventually had to turn the bulk of them out into a cold and unforgiving world, where they lived out the remainder of their brief and exciting lives as prey for local predators.
The lesson stuck with me through my college years and beyond. Unlimited growth in a world of finite resources is impossible.
The Problem
The underlying problem is that international development agencies such as the United Nations are run by economists rather than biologists. 
Economists are master illusionists who rely on a set of fictions, fantasies and forecasts that emanate from a core magical mantra of Perpetual Growth that goes untested year after year.” Paul M. Ferrill, Myth of Perpetual Growth is Killing America.
Economists think that the only species on the planet affected by human growth is Homo sapiens itself, when, in reality, all species are negatively affected by habitat destruction and pollution caused by a growing overabundance of a single species, that same Homo sapiens.
Ed Abbey once told us that unlimited growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. This was never more true than today. Rather than oncologists, our world is run by cancer proponents, who want every human being on Earth to have cancer, thus committing humans to long term pain, misery and death in a world depauperate of resources, quiet and desperate of all other species.
The United Nations was conceived of as an international body of governmental representatives convening to address problems and solutions common to all humanity. Conceived and implemented as a social organization, dealing primarily with fascism, imperialism, war, international health and economic equality, the UN has always been an exclusively human centered organization. Missing in the charter and focus of the organization was any realization that humans are but one of many species on this planet, and, as such, Homo sapiens has no inherent prior claim to exclusive exploitation of natural resources at the expense of all other life.
This overemphasis on human economic equality, in the form of “sustainable” economic growth, is like arguing on board the Titanic that all passengers should get an equal refund for an incomplete voyage. There are simply too many people, consuming too many resources on this planet already. Insisting that all seven billion of us, and counting, should have equal access to all resources and equal opportunity for economic growth is an insane philosophy that could only have come from economists who have lost their grip on reality.
The Solution 
We cannot buy our way out of this mess by shuffling the deck chairs of wealth from First Class to Steerage. We must reduce the passenger load, repair the ship and steer a new course into a rational future based on biological and geophysical realities of life on this the only planet we have, to sustain the only source of Life we know.
It’s time to think or thwim.

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.

Right for all the wrong reasons

The hue and cry in Copenhagen is emotional, largely sincere, opportunistic and political. Science is but a shrinking handmaiden in service to more powerful forces. Protesters are demanding changes in the way humans organize their economic efforts throughout the world and especially in developing nations. Though they are demanding positive change, they may be doing so for all the wrong reasons.

There are two basic camps in the discussion. On the one hand are the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) proponents, claiming that climate change is caused by anthropogenic CO2 production, and we must reduce atmospheric CO2 in order to avoid a climate catastrophe. On the other hand are the climate change deniers, who claim that climate change does not exist, and is a conspiracy of environmental groups, developing nations and one-world government supporters. Somewhere in the wilderness between these two camps are climate change skeptics, those who examine the data, methodology and conclusions of climate change research and dare to cast doubt on the “consensus” reality of both camps.

In fact, these are only the black and white extremes of a multicolored reality that masks the true nature of the political, economic and social forces at work in the climate change debate.

The AGW side claims we must act quickly to reduce atmospheric CO2 in order to reduce anthropogenic CO2 forcing of global warming. Yet, we do not understand the complex interaction of greenhouse gases of all flavors (methane, water vapor, CFCs, etc) and their relative contributions to global positive energy imbalance. Nor do we understand
the role of solar magnetic fluctuations, cosmic rays, global cloud formation and oceanic heat in long term cycles of climate fluctuation. We don’t even know what causes ice ages, let alone decadal temperature fluctuations.

It is premature to assume that anthropogenic CO2 is solely responsible for the observed upward trend in global average temperatures, if indeed such a concept as global average temperature has any meaning at all. And it could be a grave mistake to assume that by lowering CO2 levels in the atmosphere to a certain arbitrarily determined level that we are safe from climate fluctuation for ever and ever, Amen.

The danger is that we are proposing to put all of our climate mitigating eggs in one CO2 basket, while ignoring all the other factors involved in climate fluctuation evident throughout geologic history, and failing to prepare for the effects of climate change on our societies, regardless of its ultimate cause. We are proposing to commit our economic effort to one end, assuming that will be the solution to our problems.

What happens if we are wrong? We have cast our fate to the winds of of CO2 reduction, and abandoned any other approach to dealing with climate change.

If instead, we work to reduce ALL human economic activity in ALL societies in the world, we would then reduce all factors in human society that are contributing to environmental imbalance. We would reduce CO2 production, as well as production of all greenhouse gases and pollutants. We would reduce habitat loss, deforestation, desertification, resource depletion, topsoil loss, salt water intrusion, fresh water depletion, ocean dead zones, species extinction. We would begin to degrow our societies to fit within the carrying capacity various bioregions of the earth in a gradual, designed decline, rather than a precipitous crash.

It is not CO2 production alone that threatens human societies across the
globe, as well as all other life. It is the unrealistic and unsustainable neoclassical economic concept of perpetual economic growth that is driving human societies to social and perhaps even species extinction.

Without abandonment of the concept of economic growth, it doesn’t matter what level we reduce atmospheric CO2 to, even if that were possible. The human economic growth juggernaut will overcome any such simplistic band-aid approach.

Degrowth, economic contraction to a steady state economy, is the only viable solution to the natural environmental constraints on human economic activity.

If we don’t choose to do it ourselves, Mother Nature will do it for us.
And we won’t be happy with the outcome.