Tags: degrowth*

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  1. an endlessly growing population is not sustainable, even if they live like peasants.

    That said, overpopulation is not, in my view, the main driver of planetary collapse today. The main driver is capitalism. The human population has roughly tripled since WWII. But our consumption of resources has multiplied many many times greater than population growth: We use something like 6 times as much steel as in 1950, 15 times as much aluminum, thousands of times more plastic and on and on. That ravenous overconsumption of resources, and its associated pollution, is overwhelmingly driven by the requirements of capitalist reproduction, the ceaseless invention of new needs and so on, not by human reproduction. Yes we need to reduce the human population, if only to give other life forms some space and resources. But there are easy ways to do so without using force like the Chinese government. Instead of building grandiose blingfrastructure and space shots to glorify the Communist Party, China’s so-called communists could have prevented their current overpopulation problem if they had spent that money on providing adequate old age pensions and social security so that peasant farmers don’t have to raise multiple kids in the hopes that one or two will live to support them in their old age. Amazingly, this is still the “social security sytem” for hundreds of millions of Chinese.

    So overpopulation is a real problem. But if we don’t overthrow capitalism, Mother Nature is going to solve the overpopulation problem in a hurry, but in a most unpleasant manner. That’s why I don’t concern myself much with the population problem. I don’t mean to ignore it. But I think its very much a secondary driver compared to capitalism.
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  2. Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

    Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

    It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

    This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy — thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

    Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors — food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

    “The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity.

    A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”
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  3. Millennials are threatening dozens of industries.

    They don't buy napkins. They won't play golf. They aren't buying homes or cars. And they're not even eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.

    Millennials' financial decisions have been heavily covered by media organizations — something that has infuriated many of the generation, as news that "millennials are killing" another industry has become a common headline.

    "This is just some more millennial-blaming B.S.," one reader wrote in response to a recent Business Insider article with the headline "Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's."
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  4. CNNMoney spent a week in the Detroit metro region talking to current and former manufacturing workers. Almost all said the same thing: It's not the robots that took U.S. jobs, it's NAFTA.
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  5. There’s a problem, however. De-growth solves the sustainability challenge by shifting the burden onto a much more challenging issue, which is to design and implement a de-growth economy. Nobody has the slightest hint as to how to render viable a world economy that would be structurally de-growing while ensuring social balance, individual and collective satisfaction, and peace between the large states. Even the slow-growing economy (at a less-than-1% growth rate) that results from my earlier demonstration remains an unsolved challenge, since we still don’t know how to ensure employment, innovation, useful investments, and even democracy at such a low pace of economic growth. Just think back to the social structures and the kinds of international relations that prevailed across the world before industrialization.
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  6. why do some fail? And why San Diego County, of all places, which nurtures the perfect climate for hard-to-find fresh produce like artichokes and abundant, succulent tomatoes and citrus?

    To get to the heart of the spiny question, I turned to another region that is world-renowned for its farm-to-table programs: the Province of British Columbia, Canada.

    farm_to_table_grapes_Kelowna09British Columbia doesn’t grow quite the same kinds of crops as Southern California, but its economy is bolstered by just as many (probably more) small farms and ranches that provide a bevy of local produce to cities like Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Penticton and surrounding areas. It also has an additional caveat: a vibrant tourism business that draws business from around the world, just like San Diego.

    B.C.’s farm-to-table movement got its start in the famed Kelowna area, a city at the heart of the Okanagan Valley, the province’s key wine-producing region. As in San Diego, farm-to-table programs make sense in the Thompson Okanagan. The region supports a $1.7 billion regional tourism industry and, in addition to several picturesque cities, is populated with more than 5,000 different farms. Many of those small farms are located within an agricultural land reserve that ensures B.C.’s vital produce and wine industries continue to flourish.

    Perhaps opening the door for new business concepts is the first step. But creating ways to incentivize accountability by making sure that farm-to-table programs give credit to both the producer and the benefiting presenter is critical to ensuring a growing and sustainable leisure and hospitality industry.
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  7. The successes in Saxapahaw and Kinston are as undeniable as they are laudable, but that does not mean they meet farm-to-table’s more ambitious claims of investing in the entire community. Perhaps there is some model—like the nonprofit Benevolence Farm, near Saxapahaw, which employs women recently released from prison—that provides viability while ensuring more equitable investment. But the lesson of Saxapahaw and Kinston seems to be that farm-to-table, no matter how idealistic, is not yet able to create the community change it promises—not for the entire community, anyway.
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  8. A second approach is to get out of the lamps market altogether. At the end of May, Philips spun off Philips Lighting into a stand-alone company, acknowledging in the I.P.O. documents that the traditional lamps market will decline. Germany’s Osram—another of the world’s biggest lighting brands—has also calved off its two-billion-dollar lighting business to form an independent company, Ledvance, which is now for sale. And last October, G.E., the company founded by Edison, made a similar move, breaking up G.E. Lighting to leave behind a rump firm—the light-bulb division, essentially—that would be easy to sell off.

    Watching companies that have been selling bulbs since before the Phoebus cartel turn their backs on the light-bulb business is startling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting out of lighting entirely. Instead, a more sophisticated L.E.D. industry is under development, focussed on placing L.E.D.s in products where obsolescence remains the rule of the day, and on expanding the ways that lighting is used. Osram will continue to provide L.E.D. components, for example, in sectors such as the automotive and electronics industries. And while G.E. appears set to leave residential lighting behind, it will continue to develop its commercial-scale L.E.D. business with “smart” products, such as streetlights that alert authorities whenever a built-in sensor detects gunshots in the area.
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  9. Today’s mainstream proponents of the circular growth economy are mostly (and, let’s assume, with very laudable intentions) contributing to the denial of this conundrum. Somehow, they suggest, businesses and industries will be able to still divert their engineers’ efficiency-seeking talents into making more profit (what else could they want to do?) — but now they’ll finally start being able to do so while at the same time consuming fewer and fewer resources not only per unit produced, but overall. That, at least, is the claim. It flies in the face, however, of the reverse phenomenon that economists seem to be uncovering at present: namely, that the only way for environmental impacts to decrease over time in a capitalist market economy such as ours is for the “engine of growth” to slow down and stop working.

    This is not an insight that business consultants and industry-financed think tanks on circular growth economics will welcome. Nor is it good news for most engineers: Their present or prospective employers may no longer be so enthusiastic about hiring bright minds to design efficiency-boosting technologies if the possibility of producing and selling more doesn’t follow. After all, businesses frankly don’t care about efficiency as a way of securing lower environmental impact — they care about it only as a way of economizing on unit costs in hopes of boosting total sales and total profits, as well as total output (lest all monetary gains be due to mere price inflation rather than higher sales volumes).
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  10. “Material growth must be less, or even considerably less, than 1% per annum (growth rate of global production of each raw material, primary + recycled). The recycling efficiency rate must be greater than 60%, or even 80% (proportion of material contained in waste which is actually recycled). The rate of addition to stocks must be less than 20%, meaning that the economy must discharge as waste at least 80% of the quantities of each material it consumes. The path is narrow and challenging, demanding a strict balance between three fundamental parameters, failing which it would simply become impossible to find a solution to the problem of sustainable management of non-renewable resources.

    … The richer countries therefore, as regards resource management, can and should consider and implement a ‘quasicircular’ growth: an economy with a very low level of material growth, accumulating as little as possible, and therefore proportionally generating a large quantity of waste which is largely recycled.

    … a ‘permanently sustainable’ economy cannot, to be perfectly honest, rely essentially on material growth. … our analysis acknowledges the need » to work on a transition towards a sustainable economy and to set environmental limits on human activity, in the shape not of theoretical criteria, but of criteria related to the economy’s statistical values.”
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