Thu Apr 15th, 2010 at 08:01:36 AM EST
McKibben's latest book confronts the problem of the human enterprise directly: the cult of growth, the idea that we can grow our way out of problems, is almost over. Now what?
front-paged by afew
In a review entitled "Too Big to Succeed"
the reviewer comments:
As I’ve campaigned to get my own community, as well as the world, into a recovery program for growth addiction, I’ve learned there is nothing in our modern world as sacred as growth. While the famous Club of Rome report, Limits to Growth in 1972 began a global dialog about the unsustainability of economic growth, over the last few decades most of the mainstream environmental movement decided economic growth was too revered to even try to dismantle. It became politically incorrect to question continued, perpetual economic growth.
Today that’s evidenced by all the talk about green jobs. In order to jolt us out of our carbon-intensive ways, the environmental movement has resorted to greenwash. We can combat climate change and put everyone back to work – in the new green, clean-energy economy. McKibben bravely acknowledges, we've seized on green growth as the path out of all our troubles.
He writes that in a hot, post-growth world, decision making needs to slide toward local levels. We need to scale down. Growth was about big, about centralization. Now it’s time for localization. He observes the failure rate of big banks during the recession has been seven times greater than that of small banks. American states and cities have done far more than the federal government to fight climate change. Small, family-owned and managed farms are making a comeback, and we’re learning how to grow better food with less machinery and fertilizer.
Meanwhile, I just paid my US taxes -- unwillingly, for fear of force majeure. I read that 53 percent of my federal tax payment will go directly into the US military, to support and promote the fossil-fueled growth cult. Here at home in Canada, Chinese and Euro companies are buying big shares of the Alberta Tar Sands Boondoggle to shore up their own fantasies of never-ending growth.
Ever since Jimmy Carter first hinted at it in the 1970s, we’ve been desperate to flog our economy back to life. We deregulated, never mind the pollution. We cut taxes, never mind the gross inequality it created. We handed out cheap mortgages, never mind the headache we know was coming. We have, in short, goosed our economy with one jolt of Viagra after another, anything to avoid facing the fact that our reproductive days were past . . .
It is still "incorrect" to question endless growth, insane as that seems. How do we bring that question into the mainstream discourse? I think it's pretty clear that for "the economy" (of the industrialised nations) to keep growing, billions of people have to be killed or allowed to die. After all, if we convert the acreage that once fed them to bio-fuel plantations, what will they eat? if we steal/contaminate their water for industrial processes, or melt their snowfields with CO2 buildup, what will they drink? if we poison their arable land and rivers with mining and drilling activities -- not to mention undermining the ocean food chain at every point -- then how can they fish or grow food? At this point "the economy" (industrial activity) grows only at the expense of life in general, which includes human life -- Georgescu-Roegen's prediction coming alarmingly true. The point of diminishing returns was a long time ago.
For those unfamiliar with G-R's work, here's the relevant quote:
Every time we produce a Cadillac, we irrevocably destroy an amount of low entropy that could be used for producing a plow or a spade. In other words, every time we produce a Cadillac, we do it at the cost of decreasing the number of human lives in the future."
"The future" probably seemed a comfortable way off in the distance to most people who read these words on their first publication. It no longer seems comfortably far off to me personally, dunno how the rest of y'all are feeling.
What does a steady-state human culture and economy look like? Obviously more ploughs and spades and fewer Cadillacs. After several millennia of expansionism and the astonishing blip of fossil-fueled bloom, what now? Can we even imagine a economy and society not built on debt, speculation, and a bottomless purse of "resources" to loot for big, quick returns on investment?