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The end of economic growth - how to prepare
If you get depressed thinking about the long running economic crisis and pending ecological meltdown, then Richard Heinberg’s book “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” is probably not for you.
Within a succinct 288 pages Heinberg provides an update on the Club of Rome’s 1972 critique of the ludicrous oxymoronic notion of perennial economic growth. He also covers at length the impact of resource scarcity on society (not only fossil fuels but other resources including precious minerals, water and soil) and the negative impacts of pollution on the biosphere.
As the book contains page after page of depressing statistics, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through it during my summer break. It was only over Easter that I finished the book.
I’m pleased I did as it is in the last two chapters that Heinberg sets out his prescription for citizens to respond to the end of growth.
If you don’t want to read through all the hard stuff, you can view a dazzling infographic presenting the book’s core thesis. Allow six minutes to get the heart of “The End of Economic Growth” on YouTube.
It might seem alarmist, but I’m convinced that if we (ie humans) don’t consciously plan for a no-growth future, we’ll hit a wall. I’m not terribly keen to witness a crisis unfold, so I was particularly interested to understand what Heinberg’s rates as the top priority for action by citizens.
Number one is everyone making and sustaining meaningful connections with neighbours, friends and family in the area where they live. In other words, build social capital. Heinberg also suggests there are some big picture policy oriented measures within global financial markets that could buy some time, and things for individuals and families to do to get prepared.
For those committed to playing an active role in social change he suggests a number of areas to build connectedness. This isn’t really a prescriptive list of things we must do. It’s more an offering from a seasoned thinker, and doer.
The main initiatives he proposes are:
- joining or setting up initiatives like Transition Towns, Resilience Circles, Common Security Clubs
- supporting or running local, independent people-centric initiatives, which are described as Community Economic Laboratories. A few of these types of initiatives are already operating in different ways, for instance Toronto's Social innovation center.
Given the magnitude of the changes confronting us, I find it hard to hold at bay my cynicism about relying on community initiatives.
From past experience I know how much it takes to successfully run things at the grassroots. There tends to be an over reliance on a core group, who won’t be taken for granted forever. Despite easily used, free tools, it takes a lot of effort to communicate within loose groups or networks. All this happens in a context of people with full-on home and work lives.
Yet, deep down I know this is the way to go. I’m drawn back to Mark Roseland’s work on sustainability, which I’ve quoted before:
To a considerable extent, the environmental crisis is a creativity crisis. By soliciting the bare minimum of public ‘input’, rather than actively seeking community participation from agenda-setting through to implementation and evaluation, local and senior-decision-makers have failed to tap into the well of human ingenuity”.
(Quoted in a think piece I wrote in “An e-government response to the climate change crisis: tapping into citizen creativity”, 2007.)
Getting bit about where these global concerns intersect with what I can do. It’ll come as no surprise, but to sustain and inspire my creativity I go online. Through the web I get fresh ideas, get challenged see things from all sides and learn from projects, successful or not. Examples I've come recently include The Story of Stuff and Do the green thing.
Part of the reason I decided to write this (long) post was an increasing sense of urgency about taking action. This is particularly so given the current political climate which I’d describe as being about BAU until our head, neck, torso, legs and feet are all in the sand.
I’d be the last person to urge anyone to read such a difficult book as “The End of Growth”. However, I’d say it’s important to engage in the ideas, Heinberg presents. Have you had the a chance to think about where we (ie humans) are heading? What does it mean for you? your family? friends? Is building social connectedness the key, or other there other priorities? This conversation didn't start with this book (or post), but I hope it carries on with some vigour.
[This is a reprint of the blog post that first appeared on my blog on 10 April 2012.]