2 August 2011

Tonight we will be talking with Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute who has an important new book called The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. He discusses why the idea of economic “growth” is obsolete. Heinberg is also author of a book called Peak Everything, where he argues that it’s not a question of whether the good old days of carbon dependency are over, but how we are going to cope with the inevitability of the post-carbon economy.

We also want to link tonight’s discussion of the post-growth economy to the goings on in Washington these past 24 hours. The House and Senate have managed to pass a compromise bill that will raise the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion in exchange for $2.4 billion in proposed cuts as well as the possibility of a constitutional balanced budget amendment. Large cuts to the military are supposed to be a part of the cuts package, and that’s a topic we’ll be exploring in two weeks on this program as we talk with people from the Beyond War movement and the New Priorities Project, which keeps track of how much the military is costing us minute by minute here in the Northstate.

Why are cuts and deficits a topic for Ecotopia? Quite simply (as our guest, Richard Heinberg, will explain), the economic crash is fundamentally linked to resource exploitation and failure of capitalism to include pollution and environmental damage in the cost of doing business. The world has treated Mother Nature as a Santa Claus, and those days are over. Santa’s bag is depleted, and if we continue to steal from Mother Nature’s handbag, we are merely going to exacerbate a decaying human condition.

Listen to the Program

Richard Heinberg is author of a book just published: The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. He is a Senior Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute in Santa Rosa, and author of a number of books about peak oil and resource depletion.

Part I: The End of Growth

–You don’t hide the thesis of the book. On page one you say, “Economic growth as we have known it is over and done with.” Yet every day, even on “independent” media like National Public Radio, we hear discussion of positive economic growth and a “recovery.” Why do you so powerfully refute the notion of economic growth in the near and distant future?

–You write about three causes of the end of growth–exhausted resources, the price of pollution, and financial systems. We were especially interested in the ways you link the current banking, currency, and economic systems to environmental issues. Could you outline a few of those connections?

–You went to press with this book before the current “crisis” over raising the debt ceiling. What’s your view of the debt ceiling and the cuts passed by Congress yesterday. Should we be raising the debt ceiling? Do either the Republicans or the Democrats have a grip on the reality of economic growth? (Can our economy grow without piling up debt? p. 53) (What do you think of calls for a balanced budget constitutional amendment?)

–You also argue that many of the governmental solutions attempted or proposed so far–austerity, cutting taxes for the rich, bailouts, stimulus packages, “Lemon socialism”–are just buying time in the face of the end of growth. Please explain.

–We were also very interested in your point that as energy sources grow more scarce and of lower quality, more capital becomes tied up in the energy system itself, exacerbating the financial crisis. Could you give us an example or two? (We’ve discussed both Fracking and the Gulf Oil Spill in recent programs.)

–You also argue (and have been lead author on a detailed report explaining) that alternative energy sources do not have the potential to close the deficit created by peak oil. Why can’t we just go green? solar on every rooftop? a windmill in every backyard?

Part II: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality

–Let’s talk about adapting to the no growth economy. For openers, you are very skeptical of claims that we can succeed through “efficiency, substitution, and innovation.” (156) Why are you so down on all-American ingenuity to solve our problems? (Perhaps discuss Moore’s Law vs. Murphy’s Law.) Won’t capitalistic impulses and imagination lead to a lean, green post-growth post-carbon economy?

–Let’s explore (your choice of) some of the alternatives you find encouraging:

…”Development” as freedom for individuals (Amartya Sen 218)

…Gross National Happiness (Jigme Singye Wangchuck 255)

…Post-Growth Money (local currencies, non-government)

…Mutual Credit Clearing

…Voluntary Simplicity

and the three you stress in Chapter 7:

…Transition Towns (Chico has a modest effort going)

…Common Security Clubs

…Community Economic Labs

–You’ve created a web site where people can learn about and contribute to solutions to end of growth issues. Please tell listeners what they can find at endofgrowth.com.

–Finally, as we close, we’d like to ask a question we often ask guests on this program, “What will it take?” government regulation? free-market mechanisms? voluntary good behavior? being pushed to (or over) the brink? And, what is your level of optimism at this point?

Richard Heinberg is author of The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality, published by New Society. And you can also get in touch with him by facebook.com/richardheinberg and facebook.com/postcarbon. We’ll post those links along with a recording of this program at ecotopiakzfr.net.