Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sustainable Growth = CANCER

As the old saying goes, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.  And that saying has never been more true than it is today.

In the long run there is really nothing "sustainable" about growth, either in population or the economy, so let's stop pretending that there is.  Growth by definition requires increasing consumption of resources, and infinite growth on a finite world is literally impossible since it completely defies the laws of nature.  What we have now, and have had since sometime between 1973 and 2000, is better known as uneconomic growth, since it essentially does more harm than good to keep on growing and growing.  Not only has further growth failed to benefit the vast majority of the American people (virtually all of the gains have gone to the top 1%), but we also are starting to run up against the limits of growth.  One recent indicator is the latest UN report on climate change, which shows that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have hit a new record high as we continue to cook the planet with reckless abandon.  In fact, continuing "business as usual" would almost certainly mean in increase of nearly 5 degrees Celsius (i.e. likely to be catastrophic) relative to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, and even if we started reducing CO2 concentrations now, it may be impossible to avoid a significant increase in global temperature since CO2 tends to linger for a very long time.  And that's to say nothing of all the other ecological disasters in the making (deforestation, desertification, pollution, mass extinctions, etc.) that all have essentially the same root cause--our insatiable addiction to growth for the sake of growth.

Scientists are telling us in no uncertain terms that we need to change our ways for good, and quickly.  In order to make such changes, we absolutely must end our addiction to growth, which is the cause of our addiction to fossil fuels and other environmentally unsound practices.  The urgency is far greater than most people realize, and is greater than it was even just a few years ago.  We absolutely must transition toward a steady-state economy that is no longer dependent on growth, and we must also put the brakes on population growth by having fewer kids.  And we must do it now, or else we will get both hell AND high water in the not-too-distant future.  To help make this transition and avert catastrophe, here is a list of things the TSAP recommends:

  1. Create a carbon tax on all fossil fuels in which all revenues are returned directly to the people in equal amounts, a la Carbonomics.  We absolutely must put a price on carbon.  Start it at $10/ton for the first year, and sharply increase it every year thereafter, until the CO2 levels are below 350 ppm.
  2. Implement aggressive carbon sequestration, including biochar (terra preta), to put excess carbon back in the ground where it belongs.
  3. Reduce the other greenhouse gases as well, especially methane via landfill gas capture and farm power.
  4. Set a goal to phase out all fossil fuels completely by 2050, if not by 2030.
  5. Go full steam ahead with renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, biomass, etc.), increase funding for research, and encourage their widespread adoption via feed-in tariffs.
  6. Increase the use of nuclear power, especially the thorium fuel cycle which is much safer and cheaper in the long run than uranium. 
  7. Increase public transportation dramatically, and eventually make all vehicles electric.  In the meantime, improve the way fuel economy standards are done, via the classic "feebate" mechanism.
  8. Levy ecological taxes (similar to vice taxes) on all resource depletion and pollution, and/or alternatively use a cap-auction-trade system for basic resources.
  9. Ban fracking immediately.
  10. Craft a better version of the Kyoto treaty.
  11. Move toward fair trade instead of "free trade", which really isn't "free" at all.
  12. Set not just a minimum wage (at least $10/hour), but also a maximum wage, especially for corporate executives.  Alternatively, raise the top marginal tax rate to at least 50% on each dollar above the first million, with no loopholes this time.  We should focus on sharing the pie rather than making it bigger.
  13. Shorten the standard workweek to 30 hours instead of 40.  
  14. Stop obsessing over GDP as a measure of economic well-being.  Instead, separate it into a cost account and a benefit account, or use alternative measures such as Genuine Progress Indicator.
  15. Stabilize (and eventually shrink) the population by reducing immigration to match emigration, and encouraging people to voluntarily have fewer kids.  The goal should be a TFR of 1.5-1.9, achieved without coercion.
  16. Implement all of the other policies on the TSAP platform, including abolishing the Feral Reserve and creating a public national bank.
  17. Let the planetary healing begin!
So the next time someone talks about the supposed need to increase growth, be sure to remind them that bigger is NOT better.  Better is better.  And in this age of uneconomic growth, further growth will only make us poorer rather than richer.

UPDATE:  The super-typhoon that recently ravaged the Philippines and killed at least 10,000 people was basically the worst tropical cyclone ever recorded in the history of the world.  And these kinds of storms will only increase in the future if we continue on the destructive path we are currently on.  We have all been warned.

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