The End of Economic Growth

What a title!  Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that this is where we are at.  What does it mean?  It means we have finished one phase of human development and we are about to enter another phase, that of the steady-state economy.  It is also increasingly clear that if we don’t adopt this approach, we will overshoot the Earth’s carrying capacity (indeed we already are in many respects) and cause long-term ecosystem collapse, taking us all down with it, along with many forms of higher life.

So it’s adapt or die time.  Does it feel like it?  Probably not; the sun is shining, life is busy, all feels normal – it’s just another day.  But we are on an exponential growth curve and the doubling effect has mind-boggling consequences, which are not apparent for many years.  To illustrate:  take a chess board.  Place a single grain of rice on the first (say bottom – left) square.  Place double the number of grains on each subsequent square; easy, right?  Wrong.  There are NOT ENOUGH grains of rice in the whole WORLD to fill the quantity needed for the last square.  This is exponential growth; by the time you get to the vertical bit of growth (where we are now) the consequences are catastrophic.

Human population is doubling every 35 years. In the last 35, we used 25% of the planet’s resources; in the next 35 years, we will demand 50%.  Now you can see plainly the consequences of our current trajectory.  We will crash, unless we change course.  Changing course is as easy as us all, or at least enough of us, deciding to do so.  It’s also as difficult as that, and looking at our short-sighted natures and inbred politics, what will actually happen is anybody’s guess.  And plenty are guessing…

I was travelling on the tube the other day and saw an advert which said: “Limits? I don’t think so!”, you know, said in that kind of voice.  This is a part of our cultural problem: we see limits as an affront to our personal freedom, our right to be who we are.  We are told to expect more; actually, we’re told to consume more.  All current economies depend on consumption, because consumption means debt, means interest, means growth based on debt.  I read somewhere recently: whenever you see the word credit, scrub it out and replace it with debt; that way, you understand more what is involved.  We’re all in debt, to our credit cards, banks, mortgages and lease agreements.  Next month marks a personal milestone: I will no longer be in any kind of debt.  We have to become personally resilient, and I would urge you to remove yourself from debt as fast as you can.  Easier said than done, as I know too well.

What do we do, once we have no debt?  Grow veggies, insulate your house – make it off-grid if possible – move if where you are is not conducive to independent living and build community, wherever you are. I’m working at the second-to-last and rubbish at the latter.

Most of all, we have to understand and talk about steady-state economies, energy decline and resilience. These subjects can make you unpopular, but doing nothing is not really an option.  I’m going to post some reviews on books I’ve been reading soon,  there’s some good stuff out there.  We have to be active, aware, doing something to change our lives.  Chances are we’ll all be better people for it anyway; closer to nature, closer to our communities, less demanding of the Earth’s diminishing resources, grateful even, for the simple bounties of life…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.