What Zero-Growth Economics Really Means . . . . . Really

Below is a link to a paper (PDF) written by Ted Trainer in 2011. It should be noted that Trainer is considered by many to be a controversial figure for his long-standing opinions favouring utopian, simplistic lifestyles. On the other hand this is a refreshingly honest look at the enormity of both the constellation of crises facing the world and the resistance against attempts to alleviate them.

The radical implications of a zero growth economy – Ted Trainer, 2011

“The magnitude and seriousness of the global resource and environmental problem is not generally appreciated. Only when this is grasped is it possible to understand that the social changes required must be huge, radical and far reaching”.

Another criticism of Ted Trainer is that he writes in a way that will almost guarantee his ideas will be rejected by the majoity of people living in a modern, industrial society. This is probably true but since most writers on this subject, including scientists, water down their language and by extension the seriousness of their ideas in an attempt to retain their audience the apparent scale of the problems is diminished, citizen understanding is crippled and the need for a response by those empowered to make change evaporates. In short, someone has to tell it like it is!

“Our society is grossly unsustainable – the levels of consumption, resource use and ecological impact we have in rich countries like Australia are far beyond levels that could be kept up for long or extended to all people. Yet almost everyone’s supreme goal is to increase material living standards and the GDP and production and consumption, investment, trade, etc., as fast as possible and without any limit in sight. There is no element in our suicidal condition that is more important than this mindless obsession with accelerating the main factor causing the condition”.

One of the growing set of tepid responses to Anthropogenic Climate Change is the use of carbon credits which can be traded in a market and transfer one industry’s excess emissions to another which, often for completely circumstantial reasons, is not emitting up to it’s quota. This is the quintessential example of “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and should also remind us of Einstein’s warning not to use the tool that caused the problem to try to fix it. If you read the paper, you will note that markets are on the things-to-be-eliminated list.

I had been looking for a reasonably comprehensive description of a zero-growth or steady-state economy and this is the best I have found so far. It helps that it corroborates my own thinking about how an economy can actually serve the Earth and the majority of those who use it, rather that serving a tiny minority and causing gross inequity.

Wicked Problems and Wicked Solutions

The case of the world’s food supply

“Facing the complexity of the system, listening to the experts discussing it, you get a chilling sensation that it is a system truly too difficult for human beings to grasp”.

In this case the author is talking about the world’s food supply, However the statement could as easily be applied to the climate, the oceans, soil, economics, forestry, the atmosphere, the web of life, the financial system, health care, waste management – or any of the components of all the crises of the 21st century.

Western thinking is particularly unsuited to dealing with complex systems as we tend to objectify anything that can be individually identified and treat the resulting objects in isolation from each other. This produces a situation like the classic story of the little Dutch boy sticking his fingers into a small leak in a disintegrating dyke; you run out of fingers or ideas before you have a significant effect on the problem.

Eastern thinkers (Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern) and most aboriginal peoples tend to see everything in its context so complex systems, networks and inter-connections are natural to them and easier to understand and visualize. Some academics feel the agricultural revolution was the start of western style thinking as people could specialize instead of playing a full slate of roles as with hunter-gatherer societies. Others lean more towards the ancient Greek philosophers as the main source.

In any case, with the power to make change weighted so heavily towards those who “can’t see the forest for the trees” and don’t understand the need for change, the rest of the 21st century and beyond, if there is a beyond, is liable to be a distopian time to be a human.

The new Alberta-fied NDP view of energy

Rachel Notley follows in Alison Redford’s footsteps with Quebec talks

Energy is a ‘product’ best moved through pipelines. Hafta look elsewhere for 21st century thinking I guess . . .

“[Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard] understands energy continues to be a key driver of economic prosperity not just in Alberta but across Canada and he acknowledged pipelines are ultimately the best way to move that product.”

In case anyone wants to know, here’s a 21st century idea:
Use ‘conventional’ oil, refined as close as practical to the source, to build the necessary infrastructure to power a sustainable energy future. This includes a very smart grid, right to the house/business, electric transportation vehicles, batteries and other storage solutions, solar, wind, tide, wave, micro-hydro, all including R&D. This infrastructure would also require a large on-going workforce for operations, maintenance, retro-fitting and future expansion and upgrading, also including R&D.

Compare this with fracking, steaming, mining, polluting and sending the product through a pipeline and tankers to other nations who will hopefully have entered the 21st century and killed the market for this sort of outdated production. This would provide a few jobs, for a short time and no future.

Intentional and Coincidental Dissociation of Consequences

(If you think the title is a mouthful, wait until the full reality hits you square in the face.)

I am currently reading Invisible Nature – Kenneth Worthy, 2013.

Here is an excerpt about an incident from almost 25 years ago that says a great deal about how Humanity has come to the sorry juncture of the present:

“The stark reality of poverty and degraded environments is illustrated dramatically by an infamous December 1991 leaked memo authored by Lawrence Summers, then the chief ecomomist of the World Bank: ‘Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to LDCs [less developed countries]? . . . I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that . . . I’ve always thought the the under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted.'”

This book talks about how we in the world of globalised consumerism are so dissociated from the resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, marketing and disposal of the goods we purchase, use and throw out that we cannot make moral decisions about how we live our lives. This dissociation includes time, space and understanding. Typically we shift the consequeces of our decisions onto future generations of people who live in other geographical areas. Also, since we often do not understand the processes and materials which are being used, even if we tried we could not act as moral beings.