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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility Theorem by Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend (1993)

Economists will complain that growth in GNP is a mixture of quantitative and qualitative increase and therefore not strictly subject to physical laws. They have a point. Precisely because quantitative and qualitative change are very different it is best to keep them separate and call them by the different names already provided in the dictionary. To grow means "to increase naturally in size by the addition of material through assimilation or accretion." To develop means "to expand or realize the potentialities of; to bring gradually to a fuller, greater, or better state." When something grows it gets bigger. When something develops it gets different. The earth ecosystem develops (evolves), but does not grow. Its subsystem, the economy, must eventually stop growing, but can continue to develop. The term "sustainable development" therefore makes sense for the economy, but only if it is understood as "development without growth"—i.e., qualitative improvement of a physical economic base that is maintained in a steady state by a throughput of matter-energy that is within the regenerative and assimilative capacities of the ecosystem. Currently the term "sustainable development" is used as a synonym for the oxymoronic "sustainable growth." It must be saved from this perdition.

Politically it is very difficult to admit that growth, with its almost religious connotations of ultimate goodness, must be limited. But it is precisely the nonsustainability of growth that gives urgency to the concept of sustainable development. The earth will not tolerate the doubling of even one grain of wheat 64 times, yet in the past two centuries we have developed a culture dependent on exponential growth for its economic stability (Hubbert, 1976). Sustainable development is a cultural adaptation made by society as it becomes aware of the emerging necessity of nongrowth. Even "green growth" is not sustainable. There is a limit to the population of trees the earth can support, just as there is a limit to the populations of humans and of automobiles. To delude ourselves into believing that growth is still possible and desirable if only we label it "sustainable" or color it "green" will just delay the inevitable transition and make it more painful.

That's 17 years ago, so he had reason to feel that we would make the transition in time.

More recent article by Herman E. Daly paints a picture of a sustainable economy:

Read the whole thing

And yet another one:

One problem for the SSE already raised by the demographic
transition to a non growing population is that it necessarily results in an
increase in the average age of the population—more retirees relative to
workers. Adjustment requires either higher taxes, older retirement age, or
reduced retirement pensions. The system is hardly in “crisis”, but these
adjustments are surely needed to achieve sustainability. For many
countries net immigration has become a larger source of population
growth than natural increase. Immigration may temporarily ease the age
structure problem, but the steady-state population requires that births
plus in-migrants equal deaths plus out-migrants. It is hard to say which is
more politically incorrect, birth limits or immigration limits? Many prefer
denial of arithmetic to facing either one

A Steady-State Economy

Brother George sparked an ah ha moment

As if I weren't depressed enough Brother George sent me this article that articulates my feelings on:

  • fear that my grandchildren will inherit a badly damaged Earth

  • grief over the gulf oil spill

  • seemingly never ending bad news from the economy coupled with the growing debt

  • A nearly complete abdication by MSM to perform their most important function

  • realization that government is totally inept

This compressive deflationary collapse is not the kind of cyclical "downturn" that we are familiar with during the two-hundred-year-long adventure with industrial expansion - that is, the kind of cyclical downturn caused by the usual exhalations of markets attempting to adjust the flows of supply and demand. This is a structural implosion of markets that have been functionally destroyed by pervasive fraud and swindling in the absence of real productive activity.
The most confused of any putative authorities are the academic economists, lost in the wilderness of their models and equations and their quaint expectations of the way things ought to go if you can tweak numbers. These are the people who believe with the faith of little children that if you can measure anything you can control it. They will go down in history as the greatest convocation of clowns ever assembled, surpassing all the collected alchemists, priests, and vizeers employed in the 1500 years following the fall of Rome.

I suddenly realized we're not getting out of this! There isn't any way out of it, never was, and we're fooling ourselves to think we will invent ourselves an escape.It's like watching an asteroid striking the earth in very slow motion.


22 notable floods this decade

12 notable floods last decade

List of Floods

Pakistan currently experiencing record flood

It's not nice to fool Mother Nature

Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000 -
Rob Watson

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thank you for choosing Earth

HT The Cost of Energy

Who's Counting

Nothing Grows Forever

MJ article by Clive Thompson Nothing Grows Forever is very worth the read.

We grow or we languish: This assumption has become so central to our economic identity that it underpins almost every financial move our leaders make. It is to economics what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is to physics.

In essence, endless growth puts us on the horns of a seemingly intractable dilemma. Without it, we spiral into poverty. With it, we deplete the planet. Either way, we lose.

Economics doesn't account for things it can't price, and nobody could easily put a number on the cost of, say, polluting the Great Lakes, or driving a species to extinction by clearcutting its forest habitat.

"This whole idea that we could have a constantly growing economy that doesn't use natural resources is just crazy, and the last couple of decades have basically proven it," Daly says

The vexing reality is that the no-growth thinkers simply don't know how things would shake out. We don't have any realistic examples to learn from, after all. In the past, the only no-growth societies were agrarian or consisted of hunter-gatherers.

Daly, who's been arguing his case for four decades, has begun to think that only the Earth itself will compel people to act. In a few decades, if basic resources become scarce, prices spike, and climate change is causing global conflict, no-growth thinking could arrive whether we like it or not. "It'll be forced on us," he says. In the end, when it comes to determining the shape of our economy, the planet may possess the most powerful invisible hand of all.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Be Afraid

Read the article, but here are highlights
Underestimates and Missed Projections
Ice free Arctic by 2013 instead of previous projections of 2050 or 2070. “Recent satellite data from the U.S. Space agency NASA indicate that sea ice in the Arctic and Greenland is melting at a faster rate than previously projected.

“The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] warns that the planet is warming faster than previously predicted.

2007 worst case scenario forecast of 2 ppm annual increase in CO2 levels already exceeded in 2008 by a 2.5 ppm annual increase.

2020. Original target year (since revised from 2020 to the year 2009) China was predicted to surpass the U.S. in carbon dioxide global warming emissions

The Bolivian Chacaltaya glacier forecast to disappear in 2020 disappeared in 2009-2010.

But Paul Epstein, a physician who worked in Africa and is now on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, said that, if anything, scientists weren't worried enough about the problem. ‘Things we projected to occur in 2080 are happening in 2006. What we didn't get is how fast and how big it is, and the degree to which the biological systems would respond,’ Epstein said in an interview in Boston. ‘Our mistake was in underestimation.’” (Doug Struck, Washington Post Foreign Service “Climate Change Drives Disease To New Territory - Viruses Moving North to Areas Unprepared for Them, Experts Say,” The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006, p. A16)

And then we get his sillyness

Climate change linked to possible mass Mexican migration to U.S.
As many as 6 million by 2080. That's not even worth the headline.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Repost Really informative video

By the late Stephen H. Schneider

HT Dorothy at


If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

Who Cooked the Planet?

Things need to cost what they cost, but that would reduce demand, so big oil and coal have decided that the well being of world's population takes a back seat to profits... and to me that's evil.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I'd do anything

Reading Climate Wars. It needs to be required reading... globally!

It's horrifying to think of the reduced quality of life my two grandchildren will have because we in the here and now have buried our collective heads in the sand.

If setting myself on fire on the White house lawn would make Obama and congress address global warming fiercely and immediately, I would.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Our gutless dems and blind gop.

What event would need to occur before the GOP recognizes how dangerous this climate change is? What evidence would they need that the event was the result of climate change? How many would have to die?
I'd say drought in Africa causing tens of thousands to die is on the horizon. Will the GOP ignore that because it's in Africa (like they've ignored Darfur)?

How bad does it have to get before our "leaders" rank human security at a higher priority than the next election.

On the death of the climate bill

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Repost: Why we need to all become vegetarians

Been Thinking

As population growth flattens out, the demand for cars, homes and food will also will flatten. We've relied on our homes to provide for our comfort now, and in retirement, we'd use the equity. If demand is flat, I'd expect the value would remain unchanged.
This has all kinds of consequences... not the least of which the 6% charged by real estate agents to sell a house.

New innovative produces will see growth. Think cell phone 15 or 20 years ago. I'd expect the technologies that allow us to take advantage of wind and solar power will be growing for the foreseeable future.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The lense through which you view the issue

The debate about whether population growth is an issue that demands our attention depends upon what problem you are concentrating on.

The only thing is that in Africa they're already stressed for resources, which will only get worse as the world warms, and it's there that the birth rates are so high.

So if your issue is human suffering, population growth is a big component.

Audio: Is the population bomb ever going to explode?

UN World Population Graph

And guess what... doing the right thing has real rewards.

Global population growth: Hans Rosling on

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Black Death, new Birth?

Was the Renaissance ignited by the huge loss of population of Europe due to the Bubonic plague? Suddenly natural resources were more plentiful...

Friday, July 16, 2010

I've been saying this for years

Things ought to cost what they cost.

Of course population is still a problem

Robert Walker writes a rebuttal to Fred Pearce's declaration that population growth is no longer a problem.

Earth to Fred: 2 billion more people is a lot of people to a world that is already struggling to feed 6.8 billion people. It's a lot of people to a biosphere that is threatened with what leading biologists refer to as the Sixth Mass Extinction. And it's a lot of people to a planet that is already threatened with the effects of climate change. And while "population momentum" (i.e., large numbers of people entering their reproductive years) may account for some of the projected increase in human numbers, much of it is being driven by the fact that fertility rates in many developing countries around the world are still well above the "replacement rate."

Of course population is still a problem

I wonder if the world is ready to watch thousands die for lack of food and water in the coming years as the climate warms.

But by 2050 Chad, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Burundi and Malawi - all among the poorest nations in the world - are projected to triple in size. Nigeria will have become the world's fourth-biggest country. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia will have vaulted into the top 10 for the first time. Nearly one in four of the world's population will come from Africa - up from one in seven today

High birthrate threatens to trap Africa in cycle of poverty

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My hero is Dr. Hansen

Read this
The Threat to the Planet

The elephant in the room

Here’s the elephant in the room nobody is talking about.
Our definition of economic health is growth. However, growth cannot be sustained indefinitely. Population growth is slowing and in some regions is shrinking. Population growth is a major factor in business growth… more customers.
Without new customers, the only other possibility is innovation and new products. Once the market is saturated however one cannot expect much growth (unless you plan obsolescence)
In addition our consumption at current levels is killing us. The world is running out of resources and the planet has a fever. We cannot celebrate consumption in the face of this.
So we need to remodel our economy. A sustainable economy developed in parallel to development of clean and sustainable energy.

Please watch Arithmetic, Population, and Energy