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The steady-state economy and economic degrowth Blake Alcott PhD candidate in ecological economics

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Presentation on theme: "The steady-state economy and economic degrowth Blake Alcott PhD candidate in ecological economics"— Presentation transcript:

1 The steady-state economy and economic degrowth Blake Alcott PhD candidate in ecological economics AGM, Population Matters London, 15 October 2011 Beauty: the orphan of environmental policy

2 square metres? planning George Monbiot (Guardian): No one in their right mind disputes that England needs more homes, especially affordable homes. No one disputes that the planning system should deliver them. The National Trust believes in growth as we all do. NT Dir Gen Fiona Reynolds & Dir of Conservation Peter Nixon in identical words economic growth is axiomatically good for good reason

3 the growth coalition There is panic about growth. When we panic, we revert to type, and our true nature comes out. Andy Atkins, Dir of FoE UK proof: usually-critical NT & Monbiot – who by the way also categorically believes that population is not part of environmental problems Recessionology in the Guardian alone: CBI Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors agreement between Terry Duddy (Home Retail Group) & Simon Jenkins (NT Chairman – present planning doesnt impede growth) : give money to consumers, not the banks Jonathan Freedland – There was a growth-shaped hole in this speech... Cameron offered no plan to get Britain working again & Jackie Ashley – strategy for growth, pro-growth opposition, supports planning reform for growth * * Ed Miliband > Tim Jacksons Prosperity without Growth Tories Lib Dems Labour & everybody *

4 UNELECTABLE 2011: Green Growth Green New Deal Group Larry Elliott (Guardian), Caroline Lucas (GP), Andrew Simms (nef), Tony Juniper (ex-FoE)] Convenor Colin Hines: (Guardian Letter): increase economic activity, tackle this demand deficit, kickstart the economy 2011: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development (Commission on Growth and Development) Lord Browne, Robert Solow... the only thing NOT on the Mainstream Menu is No, Nil, Zero, No Growth like atheism in the 18 th century OLD socialist HOPE: Guardian Letter 14 Sept: No one has yet identified any growth potential that might solve the social problems arising from the increasing disparity in incomes.

5 some assertions Were using up resources faster than nature replenishes them. – fossil fuels, copper..... non-renewables * – groundwater, trees, fish.... renewables Were putting waste into nature, damaging health, climate and other species faster than... – heavy metals, unsightly plastics, GHGs.... Were squeezing more food out of the earth than it provides long-run. – soil degradation, soil erosion.... * no replenishment

6 development logic built-up not built-up developer, maybe a sustainable one political planning fight OK = growth logic logical assertions: nothing can grow forever; no supply is unlimited COMPROMISE

7 no limits to growth after all? new deposits of metals, fossil fuels more efficient use of limited resources nuclear fusion will desalinate water! greenhouse skyscrapers for edible plants decrease consumption (population times affluence) Lets be optimistic.

8 copper, oil Each further gram of copper mined requires more energy than the one before. Tony Hayward: Kurdistan may be the last big on- shore easy oil province available for exploration by private companies anywhere in the world. Lord Brownes gas shale fracking near Blackpool; Alberta tar sands: ratio of energy won to energy invested is on average declining. best is Saudi oil 10:1 18 months!

9 Many watersheds using aquifers are in steady-state. Others must degrow: Ebro, Colorado, Jordan, North China groundwater (aquifers) # litres drawn or # cows on alp rationed for centuries; these are problems of the commons Worlds declining rivers put 5 billion people at risk. (Nature)

10 What should remain steady in a steady-state economy? 1) the amount of natural resources we yearly take from nature and 2) the amount of waste we put back into it i.e., inputs into production and outputs from consumption, in biophysical terms, whose sum is called throughput steady input amounts of water, biomass, animals; steady output amounts ofgases, unhealthy water, degraded soil... and: metals, oil, coal, uranium... ooops! It is just as stupid to sit freezing on a finite pile of coal as it is to use it all up. THE NON-RENEWABLES PARADOX

11 throughput = input + output global ecosystem solar energy heat planetary resources economic subsystem high-grade fossil energy materials, minerals planetary sinks low-grade energy wastes, pollution (The Limits to Growth: 30-Year Update) waste : iron filings, tread-out steps, eroded paint, dead organisms, unfashionable clothes = ecological economics

12 Steady State Economy SSE policy recommendations 1.Stabilise population 2.Cap-auction-trade basic resources 3.Eco-tax reform 4.No fractional reserve banking 5.Reform national accounts (replace GDP) (CASSE : Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy) main tool to shrink to an SSE: physically-defined caps on resources: litres of fossil fuel, number of fish, litres of aquifer water.

13 population doesnt matter reducing population doesnt help consumption per person can simply go up, and were back where we started nevertheless, as David Attenborough says, all problems would be simpler to solve if... and rising consumption for the poor is good, so lower population is good, but not necessarily for the environment Mainly, caps on resource use are just too brutal. We must protect ourselves by limiting our numbers.

14 history: the cowboy economy Kenneth Boulding, 1966 – the cowboy economy vs Spaceship Earth – What has posterity ever done for me? Herman Daly, from 1968 on – sustainable growth an oxymoron – we must live within natures limits Limits to Growth, 1972 (Club of Rome) 1988: International Society for Ecological Economics ISEE

15 earlier debate Adam Smith wrote: (1776) The progressive state is in reality the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different orders of society; the stationary is dull; the declining melancholy. John Stuart Mill answered: (1871) There is room in the world for a great increase of population, but... I confess I see very little reason for desiring it. [wilderness, solitude, beauty] If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.

16 degrowth If we are using up resources faster than theyre replenished, or polluting faster than nature can clean things up, the economy – our ecological footprint – is too big: It must shrink, or degrow since 2004 décroissance, degrowth ouch! What about jobs? What about material prosperity? What about poverty alleviation?

17 population Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam: Fundamentally, you need two things for dealing with population – one is girls education, which gives them power, confidence and knowledge, and then there is easy access to contraception. Most women do not want more than about three to five children – that is from surveys right across the world. G2 2 Sept George Monbiot: Population growth is not [an environmental] problem. Fred Pearce, Lynsey Hanley VHEMT.org May we live long and die out. Our movement hasnt really caught on. People are breeding like theres no tomorrow. > Q & A

18 population economics 2000 Watt Society, Zürich J/per second/person) If the population goes up 10%, the goal must be tightened to 1800W/person. playing lower consumption off against lower population wont do: walk and chew gum at the same time having a baby measure resources, decide on desired quality of life human feedlot vs. quality of life womens health and rights and education: good per se mortality declining as well as fertility (complacency)

19 questions to PM quotas – e.g. one child per person is this something the majority can legitimately decide? is reproductive freedom absolute, not balanced by reproductive responsibility? PM opposes coercive policies, but every law is coercive subsidies – family-friendly tax deductions per dependent child child allowances one-off birth premiums cheaper housing, child-care, etc. tax child-bearing, pay for vasectomies, ban sperm banks? How serious are environmental and life-quality problems?

20 to read Kenneth Boulding, The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth online – "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." Herman Daly & Joshua Farley, Ecological Economics. Island Press, Washington, D.C. the journal Ecological Economics CASSE THANK YOU. COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS?

21 the growth concept till 1970: plain ol economic growth 1972: limits to growth, zero growth 1973: sustainable growth 1974: sustainable quantitative growth: thats an oxymoron 1977: OK then, qualitative growth 1984: But GDP & resource use grow in lock-step 1989: Lets decouple growth and environmental damage! : Sorry, it hasnt happened. steady-state also = steady rate of growth ! sustainable development (no, of course not growth!) 1980, 1987

22 grain production Index: 1950 = total production population grain per person difference between total & per person The Limits to Growth: 30-Year Update

23 2 definitions Daly Beyond Growth p 31. Growth … refers to an increase in the physical scale of the matter/energy throughput that sustains the economic activities of production and consumption of commodities. Daly & Farley p 440 The SSE is the economy viewed as a subsystem in dynamic equilibrium with the parent ecosystem/biosphere that sustains it.

24 If population goes down, each can consume more P A If affluence goes down, population can increase A P If affluence goes up, there might be fewer births, but also fewer deaths... A P If I do without, ceteris paribus others can do with A A If efficiency increases (if T goes down), more can be produced, and P-x-A (total consumption) can rise T A & T P but: right-side interdependencies

25 the interdependencies graphically

26 I = P x A x T If natural-resource quotas (I) are not in place, rebounds will cancel out given reductions in P, A, and T. Thus I = f(P, A, T interdependency ) (Alcott 2010, JCLPR) But: I P is just too brutal, so P work is urgent. Extreme local resource scarcity, starvation: P priority. If P, there is room for A. Isnt this what we want?


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