A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Economic Growth Must End, More!
I dislike repeating myself, and yet, the several years I spent teaching taught me that repetition, constructed in many different designs, is essential for both acquisition and comprehension, to wit:
It is the best considered opinion of the world’s biologists, chemists and physicists (and those specialties arising out of these in ecology, climate science, oceanography, etc.) that the earth’s solar energy distributing systems, as well as life support systems, are being changed extremely rapidly, primarily by human activity. Increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increasing the amount of solar energy being stored up in especially the oceans, but also in the atmosphere and the land.
Chemical changes are taking place in surface waters and the atmosphere at rates to which most living things cannot adapt, and so, complexity in ecosystems will be reduced (this is a ‘polite’ way of saying that many of the earth’s most interesting species will go extinct leaving simplified ecosystems of smaller, fewer, more generalized species).
There is but one way to avoid these effects; it is for human activity to both reduce and change in response to ecological principles. This is so simple that one wonders at the difficulty accompanying its understanding: if the sink is overflowing, turn off the water; if the car is becoming dangerously unstable as you speed up, then slow down.
If economic growth exacerbates all of the human activities that are driving the individual details of environmental abuse, then it must be turned off. Where is the ambiguity? If increasing human numbers and increasing per capita demand on the earth’s productive capacity are the culprits in climate change, extinctions and biodiversity loss, environmental contamination and disruption of geochemical cycles, then they must cease increasing and begin to deduce. Where is the confusion?
And yet all I read is that we must return to “healthy economic growth.” China has “experienced nearly 10% economic growth over the last several years” – and this is a good thing that we should desire. The middle class is being destroyed by the “economic downturn.”
People, whom I otherwise respect, compartmentalize on this issue: yes, we must slow the rate of climate change; yes, the loss of habitat and biodiversity will ruin the quality of life, now and in future; no, we can’t tolerate low economic growth. How crazy is that? And then there are those who say, “How can you talk about the middle class having less when the rich capitalists are the culprits? Aren’t you making the austerity argument for the economic elite? We need to return to the American Dream of economic growth for the common man, not just for the wealthy.”
But, I compartmentalize on this issue in my own life. I have arranged to live my remaining years on social security (a wealth storage system partially based in the commons into which I have been paying since the late 1950s) – about $40 a day in a world where half the people (3.5 billion) are living on $2 a day or less – even though the very construction of the Social Security System is growth based.
I live rather grandly with ample to eat. I am warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer. I have a rather good selection of tools (and what I don’t have my children do – either mine “borrowed” or their own) to repair my old car – that I would rather do without, but the distances and alternatives in the western U.S., almost, require a car. I have a wonderful old motorcycle that I can take apart and put back together on a park bench; and so can go anywhere that a filthy gasoline engine will take me.
My wealth also includes, but is not limited to, two computers, several cameras, many many feet of books with the appropriate shelving, good guitars, two bicycles, a variety of secondhand furniture, camping and other recreational gear and a concession or two to media entertainment. By my own choice I do not have heated water, cable or other connection to the media universe and have almost no association with the insurance or medical systems. My children require that I have a cell phone with data link for my travels.
I am never bored or at a loss for how to spend my time; there has never been enough time in a day for me do, go, try, read, construct, repair, learn about, etc., all that I would like. I would like to think that my accumulations of stuff only support my non-material interests, but that would be fooling myself; no, I am still part of the problem.
If most of the world’s people were to live at my level of “American” simplicity, that would require that either those wealthier than me would have to give up much or most of that wealth to those poorer than me or the world’s economies would have to more than double while devoting the vast proportion of that growth to the world’s poor; something that also has never happened before… and the world couldn’t stand in any case.
Which points out a seeming paradox of economic growth: even as the world’s total wealth has grown, the number of people deeply impoverished, to the level of being developmentally diminished, has grown faster. So, not only has economic growth resulted in the abuse of the environment from which that growth comes, but it has produced and amplified the greatest tragedy of human suffering in human history.
These things are true. There is no alternative data showing that people are actually healthy on low protein, vitamin free, low calorie diets. Starvation in childhood is not an inconvenience that the highly motivated overcome. It is time that we both realize and admit that it is the wealthy world’s pathological attachment to economic growth that is killing the planet and sustaining a measure of suffering that, if summed up as an audible anguished cry, would pierce the souls of all but the most dedicated psychopaths.
Now comes the hard part; so let us ease our way into it. The abuses being suffered by the world’s ecosystems and the abuses being suffered by essentially half the world’s human population are not natural occurrences like the weather, but result from the large and growing size of the human population and the technologically amplified uses of the earth’s productive capacity. If ‘too many’ is the cause, then ‘fewer’ becomes an obvious solution.
But in a monumental and mad disconnection, agreement that ‘too many and too much’ is the cause is not followed by ‘less and less must be our goal’, rather the face goes blank, the eyes spin and pops from the mouth the recording, “We must grow our way out of this.”
Let it become an article of faith: we will not grow our way out of the economic and ecological dilemmas our incredible expansion has created. The ultimate simplicity must become clear: the answer to too much is less, not more.
The only question is how to do less. The tiny disturbance of our present economic systems is a clue; a system that has no way of dealing with slowing and reversing while continuing to perform its function is certain to fail with catastrophic consequences. Just think of any physiological system: run and the heart goes faster, sit down and the heart goes faster, sleep and the heart goes faster, die and the heart tries to go faster!
If every human being who could do with less, essential 2 billion people who have ‘a little more’, were to consciously decide to use less; what would be the consequences? If the great “Middle Classes” were to decide to redevelop the skills that being personally in charge of remaining alive required; what would be the consequences? 
The present tiny economic “downturn”, engineered by the economic elite for their own benefit, is a timely warning with these messages: The first is that most human beings are, by either acceptance or fact, at the (nonexistent) mercy of the present economic system; as long as people in general have no skills appropriate to meeting their actual biological needs, then they are at the mercy of who or what ever will supply them. The second is that the present economic system has no capacity for adjusting down, only up, and is designed to serve the interests of the most insane and inhumane among us. The third is that most people actually understand this at some level and live in socially modulated states of terror (known as consumerism) as a consequence .
The forth is that there are no, zero, nada, efforts being made institutionally to understand or act on this most serious problem in the history of humanity. Individuals, families, communities are on their own. The economic system, and increasingly the political system, is designed so that your own needs enslave you to them. The first steps to emancipation are to use less – beyond tokenism. And then take less from the economic world, less money, fewer products from the most economically and environmentally destructive sources. Fill in the gaps with your efforts and skills. Use and support the commons; parks, forests, libraries, public transportation. Learn the skills to repair your house, your car and other things. Grow a garden and learn to safely store its produce; use community gardens, or help create one if you have no access to land.
The goal is to free yourself from the economic system so that you are no longer a slave. Even nations with more or less humane welfare systems still are growth dependent and require such a response. If enough people try this with some small, consistent success, the economic system will adapt by either discovering ways to slow down without collapsing, or the attempt to be free of the economic system will be criminalized. Either way the next step will begin to come clear.
 There are, of course, the 1% users, the 0.1% users, who are taking the earth’s productive capacity at rates hundreds, even thousands, of times greater than the rest of us; these people are generally not right in the head and will never get with the program – the program will have to get to them. As part of this understanding it should be clear that what we call the middle classes in the developed countries are in no way median or modal in the world.
 You say this doesn’t make sense? Just think about the massive anxiety created by consumer-holidays like Christmas, birthdays, etc. Think about the consumer-riots at reduced price sales.