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The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality Paperback – August 9, 2011
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Why have mainstream economists ignored environmental limits for so long? If Heinberg is right, they will have much explaining to do." -- LESTER BROWN, Founder Earth Policy Institute --Lester Brown - Earth Policy Institute
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.
From the Back Cover
As energy and food prices escalate and debt levels explode, paths that formerly led to economic prosperty now lead to disaster. This book proposes a startling diagnosis: the global economy has reached a fundamental turning point--the end of growth. The Great Recession will not end in "recovery." Still, we can thrive in coming years if we abandon the futile pursuit of growth in consumption and aim instead for improvements in quality of life.
Richard Heinberg's latest landmark work goes to the heart of the ongoing financial crisis, examining why it occurred, and what we must do to avert the worst potential outcomes. Written in an engaging style, it shows why growth can't continue in the face of resource depletion, environmental devastation, and mountains of debt.
The End of Growth re-evaluates cherished economic theories and describes what policymakers, communities, and families can do to build a new economy that operates within Earth's budget of energy and resources. We can thrive during the transition if we set goals that promote human and environmental well-being, rather than pursuing the now-unattainable prize of ever-expanding GDP.
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The peak everything sections are OK but as with many of these writers the implication is that disaster starts now. It doesn't. Things will get worse, in terms of availability and price, with different resources at different times. The responses to each will be different and impacts will be different depending in the country and even the region within a country you happen to live in.
The simplistic assumption that the price of oil (and other things nearing peak) will spike then fall creating recession followed by growth and that in turn means no long term investment in alternatives is possible is silly. While the spiking is true the underlying trend is consistently upward. Plus the cost of all the alternatives is consistently downward. At some point the market will simply drive the change.
Then the issue is do we have time? Of course we do because there is a massively energy dense fuel already available. Nuclear. Yes Uranium is also peaking but Thorium isn't and that avoids some of the pitfalls of Uranium. Uranium (plus natural gas as the author also acknowledges) can act as a bridge until all the engineering issues are resolved with building Thorium plants (although they already have one in India). Yes the waste fuel is a problem that means the building of these plants has mostly stopped due to negative public opinion. But if the crises with oil gets as extreme as supposed in this book then society will change its mind. And the waste is so much less than the massive environmental impact created by oil refineries - anyone seen the Mississippi delta? Thousands dead and dying of cancer, huge areas of land destroyed through contamination.
And if the Chinese can build a hotel in six days and the Americans can send a man to the moon and the Danish and British stimulate a massive boom in wind turbines then of course a country can rebuild a nuclear capacity much quicker than people like this author always assume. Twenty years to rebuild that capacity? In a crises? It'll be done in less than five.
But again that's only if the crises is too extreme. If the transition has to happen fast. If all the alternatives, like solar, biofuels, algae, tidal, do not pan out economically in time. And yes I know people then point to peak everything but again and again we have moved on from one material to another. Again and again we have massively increased our efficiency in energy and material use. With water we already know how to be massively more efficient with things like drip irrigation. We simply haven't reached the economic tipping point that'll force us to do it.
The sections of the book on debt are certainly worrying. But they are so poorly written that they simply don't explain clearly enough how and why we are all going to crash and burn! There are other far better books that give much deeper analyses of the system the the risks and the possible ways out. This book just aims to scare and do so mostly with rhetoric rather than cogent fact based argument.
One part towards the end does start to get interesting. That is effectively around the cognitive dissonance that humans seem to be hard wired for when it comes to long term planning and thought. And I'm sure I'll be accused of sticking my head in the sand and "assuming" we will fix everything. But it felt like there was a little teaser here and not much depth. There is plenty of research that could have been assessed and disseminated in an easy to consume way. But no.
The end two chapters of the book, which I was actually most looking forward too, are the worst. They just list other texts or web sites or randomly give brief insights into what a few groups of people are doing. These chapters felt like the author was just shrugging and saying "I gave no idea but here's a few things that might interest you". They do, but this is a book I paid for. I can surf the web on my own dime and do my own research. I expect an author whose book I paid for to do some of that for me. And to have an opinion. It felt lazy and sloppy in the extreme.
Rarely have I been so angry about paying for a book.
If you have read John Perkins and understand the difference between dream and fantasy as taught by the shamans of the Amazon, and have read Jared Diamonds "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", and you then read this book, you will see how the "American Dream" is really an American "Fantasy" in which we through ignorance, avarice or, worse than either, denial, continue to build our own versions of Moai on a shrinking planet that increasingly resembles Easter Island except that our ocean is the vastly greater and even more inhospitable universe.
If you can read this book without being either an optimist or pessimist, but a rational thinking person, then your biggest battle may just be overcoming denial. Denial will tempt you to see technology and substitutions for energy and other dwindling non-renewable resources saving mankind, or it may allow you to seek the comfort of flimsy arguments claiming why this is just so much alarmist doom and gloom, or it may simply come in the form of going on with your life as you always have done because it is so much easier to simply ignore and deny it. Although Heinberg does offer some actions to be taken, they are not simple in the context of your typical community mentality. So between fighting off the continual temptations of denial, the denial or ignorance of others, or the unpleasant task of doing something other than something entertaining, our lives will never be as easy again.
If you have some knowledge of the difference between the economic philosophies of Keynes and Friedman and you have a tendency to lean toward one more than the other like I had before reading this book, then you should know that we have had a serious problem of not seeing the forest for the trees. Heinberg snapped me out of that blind trance with some simple undeniable facts. The problem now is that I have to wonder sometimes which state I rather be in, denial, in the dark, or aware of the truth.
In Diamond's book "Collapse..." regarding Easter Island he refers to the question "What was the man thinking who cut down the last tree?" Each one of us knows the answer. It is what we are thinking today as we go on with our own lives on a planet with finite resources.
Heinberg believes we're at/past peak oil, food, and water - ergo, a point of no growth. Reality, however, is that we're at the dawn of renewable energy, and that will fuel greatly increased water desalination and pumping, as well as its availability for growing food. End of the preceding crises. We're also in the midst of recently quadrupling natural gas reserves, thanks to fracking. As for his comments on our financial crisis, they're irrelevant to his major premise. Unfortunately, facts will not bring the end of Heinberg - he'll just keep on writing ideology, aided by selected facts.