Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Managing without Growth" vs. "The End of Growth"

Earlier in the year I had the chance to listen to former Canadian bank energy economist Jeff Rubin talk about his new book "The End of Growth - but is that all bad?" .  His new book is a follow on from his excellent "Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization".

In his new book Jeff Rubin continues to demonstrate that he has a very good sense of the broader dynamics of the current changes underway in the global economy, including the balance , broadly sharing in the same world-view as Niall Ferguson  (The Ascent of Money) and Ian Morris (Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History, and What they Reveal About the Future).

Based on his talk at the Toronto Metro Reference Library  (and hence my impression of the new book which I've not yet read) is that Rubin is (one of) the first neo-classical economists who appears to be starting to reach the same conclusions as the "steady-state" ecological economists - i.e. he's starting to sound like he believes in what Ecological Economists call Strong Sustainability*.  BUT his reasons for doing so, i.e. price signals based on supply and demand in the monetary economy are deeply flawed.   

I believe Rubin will eventually start to see the flaws in his thinking.  Hopefully someone will give Jeff a copy of Peter Victor's book excellent "Managing without Growth, or get him to listen to Peter lecture or discuss the important differences in their thinking.
  • Victor, P. A. (2008). Managing without growth : slower by design, not disaster. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. 

Aside: In the interests of transparency, Prof. Peter Victor was my  Ecological Economics prof at York (ES/ENVS6115) in the winter 2011 (You can read my Term Paper: How Will Firms React to Limits on Bio-Physical Flows - An Exploration of Possibilities).

A summary of Peter's book, that uses systems dynamics models to explore the impact of strongly sustainable macro-economic policy decisions on the Canadian economy, can be viewed in the presentation Peter gave at the 2010 NetImpact conference at SchulichClick here for the slides which accompany this presentation.

Also Peter participated in CBC Radio 1 Ideas debate broadcast (from UofO) "Green Growth or no Growth" can be found here: (it was sponsored by this interesting group: - a video of the debate is available on this page).  

* "Strongly Sustainable" is a term used by Ecological Economists to indicate the impossibility of substituting natural capital with human, manufactured, social or financial capital in time frames which might help mitigate the worst effects of climate change and other anthropomorphic impacts as described by the IPCC and other bio-physical science. This implies the need for organizations to balance the achievement social, environmental and monetary goals.  
  • Neumayer, E. (2010). Weak versus strong sustainability :exploring the limits of two opposing paradigms (3rd ed.). Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA : Edward Elgar

Monday, January 7, 2013

Silence Descends

I was inspired... and wanted to share...

I just finished reading (as my little bit of leisure right now) a short (95 page) sci-fi Novel published in 1997 by Canadian author George Case*: Silence Descends - the end of the information age - 2000-2500.  It is available from the Toronto Public Library (it was just "on the shelf" in my local branch when I stumbled across it).

This book is the first serious attempt I've read that considers what an evolved human species might look like which is not based on ecological modernization theory (i.e. that technology will save us from our messing up the planet and that Ray Kurtweil's singularity is inevitable).
Rather George Case suggests a spiritually oriented alternative "Community of Soul" (significantly) extending some thinking from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

For the story tellers amongst you you might like the focus on how IT intervenes and dumbs down the story telling process!

Below a quote from the last couple of pages... since it contains the lead up to the wonderfully inspiring reflection on our life today in the early 21st century indicating just how much further we can and could go.   This aspirational book suggests that in addition to the well understood spatial exploration (into the wider universe as suggested by the majority of Sci Fi) a perhaps larger (and more realistic) exploration is that of ourselves and our potential individually and more important collectively.  Wow!
At last the wind dies
Now a stillness calms the trees
Now silence descends (Japanese poet and engineer - 1990-2043)
Was Information's regime a dark age? (referring to the early 21st Century)  Not altogether. Over its course the women and men of the planet became far more known to one another than ever before-the phrase "global village" originated then-and far more learned in the symbiotic nature of their relationships. They reached levels of education and mental acuity that were virtually unthinkable to their predecessors. They had all the ingenuity and inspiration that had built up in the thousands of years before them to draw on. And, for good or ill, let them claim one superlative for themselves: never before or since has the human race been as informed as it was throughout their span. The Age of Information is aptly named.

But how slight an honour that now stands! What small triumph merely to be informed, to  tell and be told flimsy little scraps of truth in steady, stuporous gibberish! Dazzled by and dependent upon their inventions, the citizens of Information were blind and deaf to the invisible, wordless realities in their midst. It was not just their amusements that were illusory and escapist-this they admitted to themselves-but so were their solemnities; they were equally trifling, equally marginal to permanent questions of spirit and cosmos. Not a dark age, then, yet dim and lusterless, noisy with echoes of echoes, flickered with shadows of shadows of shadows.

Was it a failure? Time does not judge this way, does not see itself as glibly right or wrong. The Information Age is better described as the gloom before the morning, as a requisite bridge, into a firmer future. Its final centuries give it a taint of doom and error, but we might more charitably regard it as a natural cycle of growth and decay. The worst we could do would be to repeat its mistakes and boast of some lasting perfection, to presume our¬selves and our ways to be the apex of civilization forever-as the people of the Information Age did. They thought they had achieved the crowning destiny of the world, that they had harnessed eternity. They had not. They had only begun to prepare for the coming stillness, and to withdraw themselves into the roaring, receding distance.

Finally this brings to mind the works of (radical?) feminist / LGBT sci fi authors:
  • Nicola Griffith - most specifically Ammonite which is amazing - mixing both typical science fiction space exploration (by women) AND the inner exploration which George Case focuses on (Slow River is good too) and
  • Melissa Scott - most specially Dreaming Metal - also amazing;  the best exploration of the art and culture of a future society (the technology just "happens to be there") that I've read;  Then on top the story explores how that culture deals with the emergence of an AI (badly), created in part by the re-purposing of some technology in the cause of art and performance!
* Check out George Case's Blog here.