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The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality Paperback – September 1, 2011
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Heinberg shows how peak oil, peak water, peak food, etc. lead not only to the end of growth, but to the beginning of a new era of progress without growth. --Herman E. Daly, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
By the time you finish this, you will have 2 conclusions: This is the end of economic growth and it is our problem, not our childrens'. It's time to get ready. This book is the place to start. --Paul Gilding - Former head of Greenpeace International
Richard has rung the bell on the limits to growth. Our shift from quantity of consumption to quality of life is the great challenge of our generation. Frightening...but ultimately freeing. --John Fullerton - President and Founder, Capital Institute
Nobody should be elected to federal office who has not read Richard Heinberg's The End of Growth. - William Catton, author of Overshoot.
"Heinberg draws in the big three drivers of inevitable crisis―resource constraints, environmental impacts, and financial system overload―and explains why they are not individual challenges but one integrated systemic problem. By time you finish this book, you will have come to two conclusions. First, we are not facing a recession―this is the end of economic growth. Second, this is not our children's problem―it is ours. It's time to get ready, and reading this book is the place to start."
― Paul Gilding, author, The Great Disruption ,Former head of Greenpeace International
"Richard has rung the bell on the limits to growth. This is real. The consequences for economics, finance, and our way of life in the decades ahead will be greater than the consequences of the industrial revolution were for our recent ancestors. Our coming shift from quantity of consumption to quality of life is the great challenge of our generation―frightening at times, but ultimately freeing."
― John Fullerton, President and Founder, Capital Institute
"Why have mainstream economists ignored environmental limits for so long? If Heinberg is right, they will have a lot of explaining to do. The end of conventional economic growth would be a shattering turn of events―but the book makes a persuasive case that this is indeed what we are seeing."
― Lester Brown, Founder, Earth Policy Institute and author, World on the Edge
"Heinberg shows how peak oil, peak water, peak food, etc. lead not only to the end of growth, and also to the beginning of a new era of progress without growth."
― Herman E. Daly, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
" The End of Growth offers a comprehensive, timely and persuasive analysis of the reality of ecological limits as they relate to economic growth. Filled with facts and figures and very readable, the book makes a rational case while paying attention to nuance and counterarguments. A must-read for anyone who depends upon economic growth, which means all of us."
― Leslie E. Christian, CFA, President and CEO Portfolio 21 Investments
"Heinberg has masterfully summarized and updated the case against economics, and its fraudulent scorecard―GDP. He explains why conventional economic growth is ending now, and why growth of human populations and material consumption will follow suit. Yet we all can still grow in wisdom and continue expanding the knowledge of our universe, while growing greener technologies capturing the sun's daily free photon flow as we transition to the Solar Age."
― Hazel Henderson, author, The Politics of the Solar Age (1981) and other books, President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) and its Green Transition Scoreboard®
"Dig into this book! It is crammed full of ideas, information and perspective on where our troubled world is headed―a Baedeker for the perplexed, and that's most of us."
― James Gustave Speth, author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability
"Read this book and have the light switched on."
― Caroline Lucas, Member of Parliament (UK)
"Richard Heinberg is not one to shy away from difficult topics and The End of Growth is no exception. Heinberg explains today's environmental and economic realities―which are scary to face. But believe me, not facing them is a whole lot scarier. And as Heinberg explains, the sooner we have this critically needed conversation about how to live in a healthy, fair, and meaningful way on this one planet we have, the better it will be for all of us."
―Annie Leonard, author, The Story of Stuff
"A vitally important book―it helps clear away many of the mistaken assumptions that clutter our heads when we think about 'obvious' and 'natural' facts of our economic life. You really need to read it if you want to understand the next few crucial years."
― Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy and Eaarth
"From all my research, I'm come to appreciate how much the expectation of unending growth dominates public policy ― and how ephemeral that goal is likely to prove. Until now, however, no one has had the foresight to address this critical topic. Congratulations to Richard Heinberg for providing such a lucid account of the natural limits to growth and the urgent need for a new economic model."
― Michael Klare, author, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet
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While there is a lot of truth to his analysis, he does not adequately address a 4th factor: that developed countries have thoroughly absorbed a number of basic inventions - the internal combustion engine, electrification, information technologies, etc. - and so have less capacity and need to grow. If for no other reason, this explains both why the US, Europe, and Japan are experiencing lower GNP growth rates (their consumers are sated on certain basic products and their infrastructure is fully developed) and why many industrializing countries, such as China and India, continue to grow at astonishing levels: these latter are modernizing their infrastructure while their consumers are hungry and eager for new products. To be fair, Heinberg briefly considers this, but he fails to develop it to the extent that is necessary to understand the modern economy.
Much of the book is a kind of basic primer on economics, e.g. supply and demand, how banks work and money functions. The explanations are pretty clear, if elementary. I believe the audience he was reaching for was about that of the high school graduate headed for college. Though I found these sections pretty pedestrian, they are unquestionably good background for the uninitiated.
Perhaps it is an impossible task, but I was disappointed in his prescriptions. They were vague and speculative. He sees a future where we must get rid of our current economic system, not just that of global specialization, but our expectation that we will continue to improve our lifestyles by increasing consumption forever. While I agree that we are headed for some kind of fundamental reckoning, perhaps a cataclysmic implosion, the scenarios that Heinberg concentrates on the development of local cooperatives, more modest lifestyles in a "gift economy" and the like. In reality, it is likely to be geopolitical and will wreak unimaginable havoc in wars, famine, and religious fanaticism.
This is a very worthwhile read. If somewhat outdated over the last decade, the concepts are solid and essential. Recommended.
If things you hear create a sense of dissonance for you--like seeing a dead in the water economy and a president and congress who keep telling you how things are getting better. Or watching people you know go through bankruptcy while bankers get record bonuses. Or simply that empty feeling you get when you hear politicians and businessmen alike talk about getting America "back to where we were" and you think, "Really?", then this book is for you.
Heinberg painstakingly lays out the case for "the end of growth". He acknowledges the policy errors that compounded it but simply points out that we are past the point of peak oil, peak minerals and our environment is maxed out. We have to live with a reality based construct of what we have.
Now having read the book you are forever struck by the fundamental error in thinking exhibited by virtually all of the policy creating world (with some exceptions). This book deepened my despair at America's failure of leadership at the recent Environmental conference in Durban.
But Heinberg makes an argument for the fact that a less-consumption oriented culture can still be a very happy, more locally based culture.
Not unimportantly the book fundamentally helps you see where you want to go next in your own life. It helps you plan for your real future (though I have no desire to paint it as a handbook for the future) in a reality based way.
Paradigm shifting is not an entirely comfortable process. It was uncomfortable to read this book though I was already familiar with some but not all of the main ideas. But it is well worth reading.
Top international reviews
In fact it is complete nonsense.
We live on a planet of limited reserves and even worse, they are being consumed fast. Not only can we not grow, we are reaching the point where contraction will be forced upon us because we'll have run out of essential commodities or they will become so expensive to mine, we can't afford them.
To be honest, in some ways, the message of the book is too overwhelming as it ties together so many different strands of our everyday lives and shows that even if we dodge one bullet, there are a succession of others waiting to get us.
Because of this, you might find it helpful to read Life After Growth: How the global economy really works - and why 200 years of growth are over first. This does a great job of explaining that we live in two different economies that should run parallel to each other - a money economy and an energy economy. Unfortunately they are diverging fast and that means a sharp shock downwards in prosperity.
My only criticism of these books are that they are big on problems, short on answers. To be fair, we must all understand the problem before we will accept the political and economic consequences of the viable solutions.
It's easy to ignore the messages of these books because we don't want the outcomes to be true.
I don't want it to be cold and wet tomorrow but I'll go out prepared with a thick coat and an umbrella just in case.
Anything positive and helpful we do in advance of being forced to react to the crises will help.
Read this book. It's time to be very worried about the future.
About my book reviews - I aim to be a tough reviewer because the main cost of a book is not the money to buy it but the time needed to read it and absorb the key messages. 5 stars means that I think that overall it has some vital messages in it.
"The Keynesians still see the world through the lens of the Great Depression. During the 1930s, industrialised countries were in the early stages of their shift from an agrarian, coal-based, rural economy to an electrified, oil-based, urban economy--a shift that required enormous infrastructure investments (in new highways, airports, dams, and power lines) that would ultimately pay off handsomely for a nation on the verge of realising a consumer utopia. All that was needed to initiate the building of that infrastructure was credit--grease for the wheels of commerce. Government got those wheels rolling by taking on debt, with private companies increasingly taking the lead after World War II. The expansion that occurred from the 1950s through 2000, as that infrastructure was built and put to use, easily justified the government pump-priming that initiated the process. Future payments of interest on the government debt could be ensured through growth of the tax base. Now its different. . . . both the U.S. and the world has a whole have passed a fundamental crossroads characterised by increasing scarcity of energy and minerals. Because of this, strategies of growth that worked reliably in the mid-to-late 20th century-via various forms of business and technological development-have reached a point of diminishing returns. Thus the Keynesian spending bridge today leads nowhere. . . . the Keynesian remedy does not cure the ailment but merely extends the suffering (while increasing government debt to truly toxic levels) . . . There is no "silver bullet," no magic solution that will turn back the clock to an era of abundant resources and easy growth. For now, all that governments can do is buy time through further deficit spending- ideally, using that time to build infrastructure that will continue to function in the coming era of reduced flows of energy and resources." p100-102
The early parts of the book present a background critique of how mainstream economics has omitted to value natures finite capital and non renewable resources. Then Heinberg is obliged to detail the well documented flaws and extravagances which led up to the credit crunch / recession. He seems to recognise that many of these ideas, though essential to his narrative, are already familiar to us, and therefore trots through them nimbly, while of course placing extra emphasis on energy and resource issues. One quality of this book, which adds to its already authoritative feel, is that many good data sources and graphs of the sub-prime crisis / debt / government stimulus are provided.
The mid part presents the data and discusses the trends regarding the core issues of finite cheap energy and non-renewable resources. Then the various contemporary arguments which down play these constraining factors are dealt with. Some frightening statistics regarding China's growing energy and resource consumption are presented, which although not proving that net world economic growth is ending, do illustrate that economic growth for the rest of us will probably get harder.
One small gripe I have is that in a section titled "Currency Wars", Heinberg includes a citation which points out: " It's inconsistent for the Americans to accuse the Chinese of manipulating exchange rates and then to artificially depress the dollar exchange rate by printing money" p207. But surely it is a question of degree? The final conclusion as to who is the biggest offender must hinge on whose currency is actually the most under-valued, and China still easily comes top on this measure.
The latter part of the book is more recognisably a 'green' read. There is a comprehensive list of stances and suggestions which include many that most would regard as sensible, and a few that some would regard as perhaps idealistic or ineffectual.
Although Heinberg arguably could be over egging the present effects of energy and resource shortages, the questions of environmental depletion and non-renewable resources in the long term easily trump all other considerations, especially in view of developing countries like China being able to consume more and more due to their manufacturing and exporting prowess. Therefore it is hard not to strongly agree with the central thesis of this book.
But if elites in the West are going to abort a Keynesian style return to consumer led growth as the author seems to wish, and instead settle for an austere non-growth economy, I believe they have to offer the low income working population / unemployed more than a chance to grow their own food, join co-ops, and do odd jobs in return for local currency as a consolation prize! This is an incomplete caricature of the suggestions Heinberg puts forward, but it does illustrate a point. As we are now all too aware, austerity does not fall evenly upon the population, and a weakness of this green approach to the future is that in their ideas there is some, but not enough, consolation for the less skilled working person, who is and will bear the brunt of austerity.
This is why I believe a certain kind of protectionism will inevitably make its way into rich country politics in the near future, to square this circle and tighten lower end labour markets within non-growing rich countries. (Although to be fair Heinberg does mention tariffs in a limited context "The adoption of a system of tariffs that would allow countries that implement sustainable policies to remain competitive in the global market place with countries that don't" p252). It should not be technologically ambitious protectionism which provokes resentment from other countries, and it should consider carefully questions of maintaining industry competition in relation to factors of scale and scope.
now the new mantra is that there is something new lying ahead which cannot be avoided but has to be accepted.
The conclusions are so obvious that it's strange to realize that nobody is taking consequences. An essential book.