sustainability

The End of Growth

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book on here. Probably because I don’t have a helluva lot of time for reading these days.

I’m about half way through “The End of Growth” by Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at CIBC and author of “Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller”, and interested enough to blog about it prior to finishing it. He’s painting a pretty dire picture of the state of the world’s economy, with very compelling arguments. The combinations of triple digit prices on oil, the quadrupling of coal prices in recent years, combined with a general anti-nuclear stance around the world (particularly after the Fukushima incident), are flatlining growth in Europe and North America. Add to this mix a voracious appetite from China and India for fossil fuels, and it’s pretty apparent that the era of cheap energy is over.

And without cheap energy, our current system of globalization falls apart. It no longer makes sense to build cheap widgets in China, if the fuel for the boat costs more than the cargo is worth.

Why are we drilling in the arctic? Levelling the boreal forest in northern Alberta and boiling sand to extract bitumen? Because “conventional oil” (the kind that erupts out of a hole in the ground in Texas) is basically tapped out. As oil companies run out of cheap oil, we have to turn to oil that’s harder and harder to find, extract, refine and ship. Which means it’s never going to be cheaper. The price will fluctuate of course, but the days of using cheap energy to shock our economies out of recession are over.

So if growth is dependant on cheap energy (which Jeff makes a pretty clear argument for), and we no longer have access to cheap energy (also pretty evident)….it’s pretty safe to assume that no-growth or very slow growth is our new reality.

There are some pretty big consequences for society, if that’s indeed the new reality. From sovereign debt loads to youth unemployment, to the performance of my RRSP…a world with no growth looks very different than the one we currently inhabit, the one that’s been propped up by cheap energy for the last 200 years. Of course, we know that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) doesn’t influence the happiness and satisfaction of society…so maybe a “no-growth” economy might actually do us some good? I’m pretty sure that’s where the book’s headed.

Either way, it’s looking like it might be time to lock down some more grease suppliers for the ol’ veggie truck

The problem that isn’t.

At a recent teacher’s conference in Edmonton I asked some workshop attendees if addiction is a problem. Everyone in the room nodded and raised their hands.

If I asked you “is climate change a problem?” or “is deforestation, overfishing, water pollution and habitat loss a problem?”, I’m betting that there would be a collective raising of hands and nodding.

Unfortunately, we’re all wrong. Addiction is not a problem, and neither is climate change. Both of those phenomena are symptoms of a solution to other problems.

Take climate change. Scientific consensus points to the burning of carbon based fuels as the primary driver of the greenhouse affect, which induces global climate change. Why do we burn fuels? To transport ourselves and goods, heat our homes and our water, create electricity, etc. When I have the problem of needing to get somewhere, I start the truck and drive there. Problem solved. When the house is chilly and the furnace kicks on, problem solved. When I feel the need to blog about something, on goes the computer. Problem solved.

As long as we’re looking at symptoms as if they’re problems in their own right, we’re limiting both the discussion on how to solve them, and the tools at our disposal. So long as there’s no real incentive for me to upgrade my 32 year old furnace, it’s likely going to keep chugging away, keeping my house pleasantly warm through the depths of winter. Of course, if my problem suddenly became very expensive natural gas…you can bet that I’ll do something about it. We’re hardwired to solve our individual problems, not so inclined to make sacrifices for the broader good. Which isn’t to say that we’re not capable of doing so, just that we don’t often.

If I’ve learned anything from my work with addicts over the years, it’s that change IS possible. It’s just really hard. And if we don’t address the underlying issue driving the addiction (or climate change, et al), we don’t really have a snowball’s chance in hell of solving it.

The first step in an addict’s journey to recovery? Figuring out what the real problem is.

I’ve been getting some requests to run a webinar on change, addiction and system’s thinking. Interested? Follow the link and let me know what day/time works best. If I get enough interest we’ll make something happen. 

Nuclear Energy. Urbanization. GMO. All good, according to…

Stewart Brand, who in the late 1960’s started the Whole Earth Catalogue (definitely a hippy rag). If you haven’t read his book Whole Earth Discipline yet, it’s on my must read list (which probably has fewer than 20 books on it…so you know it must be good!).

This is the first of my “recommended reads” blog posts. I find myself frequently sharing with friends and family what I’ve been reading, so I thought that you might enjoy my thoughts as well.

Brand shakes up many enviro-myths with his pragmatic approach to the environmental problems the world faces. Very convincing, very well researched and grounded in convincing facts and interviews with leading experts from a variety of fields…Brand lays out a clear path to a more sustainable future.

It’s not often that you see Paul Hawken (another great author) giving out his highest compliment to a book, the fact that it “changed his mind”.

“Stewart Brand defines iconoclastic, and has now raised the bar with the most important work of his lifetime, likely one of the most original and important books of the century. As the title connotes, the writing is about disciplined thinking. Shibboleths, ideological cant, and green fetishes are put to the side with the clarity and expertise gained by years of research and forethought, a mindbending exploration of what humankind can and must do to retain the mantle of civilization. The highest compliment one can give a book is ‘it changed my mind.’ It changed mine and I am grateful.”           –Paul Hawken

It certainly changed my mind about a lot of environmental dogma’s (and environmentalists, more on that later!), and hopefully you find it equally enjoyable and enlightening.

At the very least, watch this TED Talk.
http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf