How Does the World Work?

  • See the About page for a description of the subjects of interest covered in this blog.

Series Indexes

Global Issues Blogroll

Blog powered by Typepad

Comment Policy

  • Comments
    Comments are open and welcome as long as they are not offensive or hateful. Also this site is commercial free so any comments that are offensive or promotional will be removed. Good questions are always welcome!

« A Retrospective of My Early Work on Brain Modeling | Main | Happy Winter Solstice »

December 16, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Nathan Chattaway

Amazingly, I bought this very same book three days ago! I haven't read it yet. I also bought "The Transition Handbook - From oil dependency to local resilience" by Rob Hopkins at the same time and chose to read this one first.
Thanks for a detailed and insightful review. I am very much looking forward to reading it. I bought it in the hope that it would present some useful ideas about setting up for the future. I don't need convincing of the reasons, just good material to share with neighbours in my bioregion.

Nathan Chattaway

Also, your use of the term "Limits to Growth" reminded me of the 1973 Limits to Growth study. The model developed to produce this report has been updated in 1993, 2004 and is due for a 40 year update in 2012 with a new book to be published by the team. Each time they refine the model and calibrate it with the actual statistics. But - and here's the bit that makes me think there will be no top down solution to our problems - no government or corporations are taking it seriously. We've wasted the 38 years since this report was first published, in which time something could have been done to prevent the worst case scenarios from occurring.

I think the only way forward now is going to be a big die off, radically localised existence and hopefully a future stabilising of our climate at some level compatible with human life.

Phil Henshaw

My problem with Tim's model, that we've talked about some, is though it's the best of the bunch, just like the other dozen popular no-growth models, he *still* doesn't see why it would be necessary to have financial savings climax at the same time wealth does.

That's the point Keynes is making in the "Widow's cruse" idea, that at the time material growth becomes uneconomical the accumulation of savings in investment funds has to stop too. The choices available are to have that happen by 1) the average returns on investment dropping to zero (a not good thing at all) or 2)investors with earnings spending them.

Having zero average investment returns is like having and EROI of below 1. The economy is pushed into bankruptcy. Everything stops, or at least breaks up thoroughly. The only escape for a market system is for people with unearned income to stop multiplying their un-earnings, choosing to spend them rather than saving them to continually compound.

I think our failing to notice that curiously "unhidden" problem, and so allowing ever growing distortions result from adding ever more obligations to generate earnings for passive investors than the economy can generate is driving the whole system and everyone in it completely mad. The Fed is printing money you know, by the trillions, with no hope of unwinding it. Our government has gone berserk too, becoming slashers.

Look at societal history.... happens all the time.

Phil Henshaw

Oh... but I left out a NICE recent development, finding a group of business and UN people networking with Peter Brown the economist with Quaker roots, Fritjof Capra and Hazel Henderson. The latter pair put together an alternate economy model based on natural balance principles, that was passed to me for comment. growth capra-henderson essay - april 2009_rs.pdf

My comment was:

Thanks for that link. I read the Capra-Henderson piece carefully and think it works fine for linking to my work, as it centers on the natural succession from quantitative to quantitative growth. So, I guess that marks the first time I’ve seen that as a key feature of a general model for sustainability from a recognized leader of new thinking on the subject.

I would so much like to have some of the details more closely match my physical science views of the practical choices and steering mechanisms, but it’s just great that there are at least two [oops… three w/ FC + HH] of us, now, saying that using the method that natural systems regularly demonstrate to finish their changes in scale but keep changing in kind, switching from quantitative to qualitative growth, seems clearly the way to solve our problem.


Molly Radke

Yes yes, one can build all sorts of verbal symphonies playing out rational alternatives to the current doomed economic system, but it has always seemed to me that the inescapable bottom line is quite simply that infinite growth in a finite system is a logical, real, actual impossibility. Alas we are not a species attracted in large numbers to rational analysis and logical adaptations to clear inevitabilities. So,,,folks can develop their reasonable, fact based alternatives to the current system based on its absurd irrationalities and enjoy to their hearts' content their alternative, fact based notions of "replacement" economic systems, but given the inability of the ruling and ruled classes to think outside their "faith-based" capitalist boxes, rational change ain't gonna happen.

Robin Datta

Debt is a promise to make restitution at some future time of goods and/or services (or their symbolic representation - "money"). It presumes the future availability of those resources over and above the baseline needs of that time. If the needs of that future time are presumed to continue in a steady state from the present, the excess resources have to be the result of "growth".

Occupations that direct energy flows to modify ecological cycles to meet human needs do not need "growth" to sustain such occupations. This was true of hunter-gatherers from the first emergence of Homo sapiens sometime close to 200,000 years ago until the adoption of agriculture some 10.000 years ago. The growth resulting from excess production from agriculture was constrained by limits such as arable land, water resources, distribution systems and limits to energy inputs until the inception of fossil fuel usage some two centuries ago: this permitted overcoming those constraints by the direction of greatly increased energy flows.

If GDP refers to Gross Dollars Printed, the limitations are the production of paper, ink, replacement of the plates and machinery, and the energy needed to run the printing presses. If those dollars are Programmed rather than printed, the resources needed will be substantially less. The seigniorage on the product helps cover the deficit while debasing the currency. Claims for the "growth" are based on the symbols of the tertiary economy (instead of the resources of the primary economy and the goods and services that actually produce goods - the secondary economy), Any such "growth" declared recently "achieved" is predicated on the presumption of future growth in a measure that will not only fulfill the expectations for such future growth but will backfill and make good the ostentation of this recent "growth".

The myths and stories of cultural and societal traditions craft the receptivity of humans: later new information and ideas poured into that receptacle take its shape, being moulded to conform to the accepted norms. The simple decantation of new ideas and concepts is unlikely to change attitudes or behavior: the more substantial impact needed to shatter the moulds and free the thinking not only may carry the cost of social disruption, but it may also open up a vulnerability to autocratic or totalitarian influences.


Robin said:

Occupations that direct energy flows to modify ecological cycles to meet human needs do not need "growth" to sustain such occupations.
Yeah. Amen. Things could indeed run as idyllic - given they get the population growth thing.


George. I fear that your pessimism and cynicism are all too justified. The UK's last Government did all it could to bury Tim Jackson's report. The present one cut all funding from the Sustainable Development Commission, which produced it. A major and painful calamity will definitely not be averted if this kind of thinking prevails.

Tim Jackson appeared on a BBC business programme about growth last month. Listen to the depth of thinking displayed by "Ferraris for All" author Daniel Ben-Ami and weep.

If there is anything encouraging about the programme, it is that it did begin to address the role of energy - unlike a previous programme in the same series which simply dismissed the idea of no growth with incredulity.

Mind you, where John Kay of the FT gets the idea that the UK consumes less stuff from, I don't know. Perhaps he is using the trick of ignoring the energy and materials used in China but imported into Britain.

George Mobus


Sorry for such a long delay. I've barely been able to keep my head above the rising waters. Between my regular job teaching, the bulls**t politics foisted on us by administrators, the book deal and, let me see what have I left out? Oh yeah, home. Time has been short!


Hope you are finding the book useful. And I fully agree, the top down approach ain't gonna happen. Any top down activities are likely to be harsh and over reactive, potentially making matters worse rather than better.


Would love to take a look at the Capra/Henderson paper, but the link is not working as given.


That is why I don't think we are going to fix anything and why I advocate that we make sure that high sapient individuals have resources to build lifeboat communities (and the sooner the better) so that they provide the seed of a more fit race of humans in the distant future!


"Gross Dollars Printed". I love it!


The gruesome reality: population will be taken care of. My latest post talks about human biomass and the need for energy to support it. Take away the energy and...


Thanks for the comment. That trick about ignoring inputs because the final product was made somewhere else is done by everyone who imports.


The comments to this entry are closed.