Infinite growth cannot be supported

(This letter was published in the Chapel Hill News, 22 October 2006.)

Let us take a moment to appreciate our neighbor, Winston L. Kirby, for the Oct. 11 letter to the editor, “Growth mentality seems unalterable.” Thankfully, what seems to be real is occasionally an illusion.

Such is the case with regard to the growth of the seemingly unalterable and endlessly expanding global economy. On a small planet with limited resources, our children will tell us, the requirements of reality simply make clear that the current scale and rate of economic globalization will soon become patently unsustainable.

Robert J. Samuelson recently indicated that the world economy has expanded by 20 percent since 2001 and, I might add, that this growth cannot continue ad infinitum in a finite world. Is there any conceivable way to continue such maximal, unbridled expansion of big business activities? Are we not depleting natural resources and destroying the environment in the process of growing the economy: that is to say, “the human world” is dissipating “the natural world” much faster than nature can renew itself for our benefit?

The human species is 6.5-plus billion in number and expected to reach 9 billion people within the lifetime of some of us living now. Can anyone imagine a way the resources of this tiny planet will sustain so many people? On Earth today, 3.7 billion human beings exist on resources valued at less than $2 per day for each person. Given the monumental challenges of sustaining humanity in 2006, what is likely to become of life as we know it in our planetary home a decade from now?

We can choose to limit the amount of goods and services we consume and accumulate; we can decide have fewer offspring; and we can organize the human economy so that it functions more like the economy of nature, something resembling a dynamic, steady-state economy.

Steven Earl Salmony
Chapel Hill

6 Comments

  1. Posted January 2, 2008 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    A specific suggestion to Steven, John, Brian, Magne, Dave, Trinifar and others who clearly agree on the dangers of Economic-growthism:

    We need to be aggressive to get the world’ attention. We need to stop being nice guys, comfortable in our ‘alternative economics’ circle.

    We need to get OUT THERE and create a debate, a ruckus in the ‘real economics’ space, which is currently filled with bullshit projections of GDP growth by various nations…. bullshit because these projections do not factor in the ECOLOGICAL & SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS of growth, and the PLANETARY RESOURCE & RECYCLING CAPACITY LIMITATIONS.

    We need to move the Genuine Progress Indicator into the mindspace of governments, administrators, businesses and informed citizens everywhere. Currently, their dialectics and decisions are driven by dreamy-headed theories like the BRIC nation theory promoted by Goldman Sachs (BRIC article at Wikipedia).

    MY SPECIFIC SUGGESTION IS: Please publicly rubbish the BRIC theory and such other woolly-minded thoughts. Please let us launch a concerted attack NOW! Let us all target them through the media.

    Please let us all be the kids who shout aloud, “The Emperor has no clothes on! He is buck-naked.” Because if we don’t, nobody will… and time is running out.

    It would be media-friendly for us to form an Economic Forum, with some sort of formal name and formally declared doctrine, such as ‘Economics that listens to the Ecology?’

    Warmly,
    Krish

  2. Posted January 2, 2008 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Dear Steven,

    As many of us may have earlier discussed, there is an important social principle that is currently being violated by many manufacturing activities: the principle that, while engaged in a profit-making activity, one must not leave a mess behind for the rest of society to clean up.

    This principle is understood in a societal context as common decency, but is continually breached in our economy to such an extent that nobody even objects!

    The easiest example is that of mineral water and soft-drink manufacturers, who sell a product that results in a consumer who usually discards a non-biodegradable PET bottle into the environment in an unregulated manner (at least in India, if not elsewhere).

    We should mobilize citizens to demand legislation that every manufacturer must repurchase/collect and recycle as many tonnes of raw material as he uses on a week-by-week basis. For example, if a mineral-water manufacturer uses ten tonnes of plastics per week to manufacture bottles, he MUST buy back ten tonnes of plastic scrap and safely recycle it. The same goes for automobile manufacturers, who must buy back that many tonnes of metals, plastics, glass etc. every week, and find ways to recycle them. The cost may be met by raising the market price of their product… but the responsibility to make the recycling activity happen MUST be fixed on the manufacturer of every product.

    The same goes for manufacturers of tyres, batteries, plastic goods, newspapers, clothes, chemicals, auto-lubricant oils, etc. The list is long.

    And if this makes some manufacturing and marketing processes unviable, it means that their economic activity was unviable in the first place, and was sustainable only by passing on hidden costs to the environment, to society, to consumers etc !

    Many industrial activities are environmentally and socially subsidized to keep them economically profitable. Let us lobby governments to knock off that subsidy and see how many activities remain sustainable!

    I propose peaceful demonstrations to remedy this:

    Small groups of citizens should collect the branded packaging material of various manufacturers from the environment, and delivering them in large bundles every week to their corporate offices. It belongs to them, right? So let them have it back!

    A peaceful demonstration like this by as few as 20-30 citizens, sustained over some weeks and months, would make a powerful statement. I think this will make a powerful media impact as well… and thereby, an impact on the consciousness of people.

    What say? I would appreciate your detailed responses to this idea.

  3. Posted January 4, 2008 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Dear Krish Rao,

    I am interested in supporting everything you are doing. Please let me know how I can be of assistance.

    I have noticed your appreciation for the great work of Rotary International. In 2003 at the United Nations Population Awards Ceremonies in NYC, I was seated at a table with Bill Cadwallader of Rotary International and his wife as well as Werner Fornos, President Emeritus of the Population Institute, and his wife, Moyne Gross. Werner received the UN Population Award that year. If there is any way Bill and Werner could be of assistance in this effort, I am confident that they will do as they are able to help.

  4. Posted January 4, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Well Steve, for the past 7 years, I’ve had the good fortune to be very closely associated with one of the mother clubs in South and South-East Asia region. I derive a lot of support and synergy for my work from members of this club. I’m also well-networked at the district level.

    I’ve not been a speaker in past years — only a writer. But I’m currently trying to move
    Rotarians to bring their considerable influence to bear on the core problems.

    But I’m still trying to understand how to deal with problems of ingrained beliefs / perception and the all-too-human tendency to minimize the problems of Global Warming, and to entirely miss seeing the problem of Economic Growthism.

  5. Posted January 4, 2008 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Steve, I have a specific proposal — something that I also made at the GIM site in response to one of your comments. I shall copy-paste it here for your consideration… (and may I request you to email me your considered response and cc the other guys in on it?)

    My proposal:

    As time is not on our side, how about concentrating our propaganda efforts on simply one focal point: A cap on Consumer Credit & Creditcards, and a phasing out of these within 3-5 years?

    Because these are factors that actively encourage overconsumption at the consumer level, overproduction at the manufacturer’s level, and a helluva lot of secondary activity at the service-providers’ level.

    (In case you’ve missed reading my detailed reasoning of this earlier on in this discussion thread at GIM, you may consider reading http://friendlyghost.rediffiland.com/blogs/2007/12/10/Stop-Credit-Cards-Consumer.html .)

    I suggest this as a kind of focal point for all our efforts because:
    i) With less of bank credit circulating in the system, overheated economies would cool down
    ii) The consuming public would see that a state of emergency has been declared.
    iii) We anti-growth activists would effectively have to lobby for only one clear thing: Cap and roll back credit! In other words, we can stop arguing endlessly for a bewildering array of measures/legislations to cap economic growth.
    iv) Progress made on this front is simple and easy to monitor — no ambiguities whatsoever.
    v) Legislation on this front is simple and requires a minimum of justification before the consuming public (who would otherwise debate and bargain every inch of the way if asked to consume less).

    So what say, Magne, Steven, John, Dave, Trinifar, Brian… Can we together move a resolution to just lobby central bankers to put a cap on issue of fresh consumer credit during 2008?

    Given the paucity of time, let us get down to building consensus amonst ourselves on focal points, guys… please!

    Warmly,
    Krish

  6. Posted January 4, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Steven, you wrote:

    “I am interested in supporting everything you are doing. Please let me know how I can be of assistance.”

    In response to this kind offer, may I urge you to join me in trying to forge us together as a kind of formalized Forum of Alternative Economists or a sort of global political party?

    I think that through such an alliance, all of us would gain CREDIBILITY with the local media and the powers that be. Even credentials that are frequently questioned and doubted are better than no credibility at all… which is what I believe all of us currently suffer.

    You may have noticed that I keep trying to forge all of us into an alliance. The reason is, I believe that we have the potential to tremendously reinforce one another by doing so.

    Let us all start marching in some sort of formation, Steve. I believe great things will start happening when we cease to be a bunch of individuals and become a global political party, even if we can never form a government in any country. Even if we formed a sort of shadow-government of the Nation of Gaia (sounds like the comicbook idea of world domination, doesn’t it? Heh heh), the philosophy that we represent would gain a lot of mileage.

    At this point, Steve, I would like to request you to use your persuasive capabilities to forge an alliance around some consensus philosophy with a clear unambiguous name such as Economic Anti-Growthism.

    Warmly,
    Krish

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