[WEC-All] NOTICE: "smart growth" isn't
mark at oilempire.us
Fri May 9 15:34:50 PDT 2008
in 2002, I gave Mary O'Brien a bumper sticker (it might still be on
her car) that says
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH ISN'T
The sticker was made by Walter Youngquist, retired U of O geologist
who explored for oil all over the world.
He is one of the world's experts on Peak Oil, and his writing is far
more important than the illusion of "Smart Growth."
has some summaries of his views, but I know this perspective is
unlikely to be included in the so-called Collaborative. But it's
worth recalling the advice of Aldous Huxley, who said that facts do
not cease to be facts because they are ignored.
As for Rob Zako's "Smart Growth" conference ...
Smart Growth would have been appropriate to promote around 1950, when
the limits to fossil fuels were not well understood and population
levels were much lower.
Smart Growth is a nice distraction from the underlying limits to
exponential growth that we overshot a few decades ago.
It is unlikely that the topic of "overshoot" will be discussed by
anyone at this event or in the so-called Collaborative.
If the WEC was really interested in planning for the future, it would
spend more time looking at regional food security than where to place
new "mixed use development" (a euphemism for putting ugly townhouses
next to chain stores with a bus stop at the edge of the parking lot -
see Royal and Danebo for a particularly odious implementation).
Higher gas prices and / or gasoline rationing are likely to make the
WEC very moot - the only question is the speed that this happens.
Last month, the King of Saudi Arabia said that some of the oil should
be left in the ground for future generations, a statement that is hard
to argue with. While it is impossible for a mere citizen to know
whether Saudi oil extraction is now constrained by physical limits
(depleting oil fields) or by an awareness that their oil will be more
valuable in the near future, it is obvious to anyone who looks at the
situation that events are likely to overwhelm business as usual
If the WEC was not merely a distraction, then the City and County and
State would be completing the intersection repairs to West 11th
intersections about now. No Environmental Assessement or EIS need be
completed to implement that fix. No endless meetings would be
required to add turn lanes at key intersections to help with traffic
flows. These relatively cheap repairs will not mitigate the rising
price of oil dependent commerce - which is essentially everything -
but it is a short term implementation that would have been done if
there was any serious interest in results.
If the City builds its top priority for a traffic light - Fifth and
Seneca - that would show a renewed interest in practical results, but
Eugene is famous for prioritizing endless meetings over accomplishments.
Neither allegedly "smart" growth nor regular flavors of growth are
sustainable in the era of overshoot. The Earth is round, and
therefore finite, and there isn't any more Earth being made. We have
to learn to subtract.
Smart Growth: having a nice seat on the Titanic
WHY SMART GROWTH
ISN'T AS SMART
AS IT THINKS IT IS
"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
-- Edward Abbey
"The economists all think that if you show up at the cashier's cage
with enough currency, God will put more oil in ground."
-- Kenneth Defeyes, petroleum geologist and associate of M. King Hubbert
"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to
understand the exponential function."
-- Dr. Albert Bartlett
"The first commandment of economics is: Grow. Grow forever. Companies
get bigger. National economies need to swell by a certain percent each
year. People should want more, make more, earn more, spend more - ever
The first commandment of the Earth is: enough. Just so much and no
more. Just so much soil. Just so much water. Just so much sunshine.
Everything born of the Earth grows to its appropriate size and then
-- Donella Meadows, Co-Author, Limits to Growth
Capitalism can no more be 'persuaded' to limit growth than a human
being can be 'persuaded' to stop breathing. Attempts to 'green'
capitalism, to make it 'ecological', are doomed by the very nature of
the system as a system of endless growth.
-- Murray Bookchin
Money As Debt
47 min - Feb 12, 2007
Growth based economics vs. Steady State
Steady State Economics: The Center for the Advancement of the Steady
State Economy (CASSE) promote alternatives to the ecological insanity
of growth based economics. Read their position paper here:
www.dieoff.org - Peak Oil and population overshoot
www.feasta.org/growth.htm - The Foundation for the Economics of
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
www.agoregon.org - Alternatives to Growth Oregon
a group focused on "growth" issues, they reached their own limits to
growth in 2004 (lots of good material on their archive site, worth
reading even though the organization no longer exists)
The End of Economic Growth by Charles Siegel
PreserveNet has a lot of good information about urban planning,
transportation and related issues.
The economist Herman Daly, who used to work for the World Bank, is one
of the leading experts on how all economic systems are ultimately
dependent on the environment for their existence. Official,
corporatist economics (whether "socialist" or "capitalist") ignore
resource issues in their calculations, assuming that increased costs
always bring about more exploration to find more resources.
Most economists act as if a tree can grow all the way to the moon if
you give it enough money.
VALUING THE EARTH: Economics, Ecology, Ethics
Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend (1993)
Sustainable Growth: An Impossibility Theorem
By Herman Daly
TOWARDS A NEW ECONOMICS:
by Herman E. Daly
excerpt from Richard Heinberg, "The Party's Over," pp. 91-92
Hubbert immediately grasped the vast economic and social implications
of this information [Peak Oil]. He understood the role of fossil fuels
in the creation of the modern industrial world, and thus foresaw the
wrenching transition that would likely occur following the peak in
global extraction rates. ...
The world's present industrial civilization is handicapped by the
coexistence of two universal, overlapping, and incompatible
intellectual systems: the accumulated knowledge of the last four
centuries of the properties and interrelationships of matter and
energy; and the associated monetary culture which has evolved from
folkways of prehistoric origin.
The first of these two systems has been responsible for the
spectacular rise, principally during the last two centuries, of the
present industrial system and is essentially for its continuance. The
second, an inheritance from the prescientific past, operates by rules
of its own having little in common with those of the matter-energy
system. Nevertheless, the monetary system, by means of a loose
coupling, exercises a general control over the matter-energy system
upon which it is superimposed.
Despite their inherent incompatibilities, these two systems during the
last two centuries have had one fundamental characteristic in common,
namely exponential growth, which has made a reasonably stable
coexistence possible. But, for various reasons, it is impossible for
the matter-energy system to sustain exponential growh for more than a
few tens of doublings, and this phase is by now almost over. The
monetary system has no such constraints, and, according to one of its
most fundamental rules, it must continue to grow by compound interest.
Hubbert thus believed that society, if it is to avoid chaos during the
energy decline, must give up its antiquated, debt-and-interest-based
monetary system and adopt a system of accounts based on matter-energy
-- an inherently ecological system that would acknowledge the finite
nature of essential resources.
Hubbert was quoted as saying we are in a "crisis in the evolution of
human society. It's unique to both human and geologic history. It has
never happened before and it can't possibly happen again. You can only
use oil once. You can only use metals once. Soon all the oil is going
to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered."
Statements like this one gave Hubbert the popular image of a
doomsayer. Yet he was not a pessimist, indeed, on occasion he could
assume the role of utopian seer. We have, he believed, the necessary
know-how, all we need do is overhaul our culture and find an
alternative to money. If society were to develop solar-energy
technologies, reduce its population and its demands on resources, and
develop a steady-state economy to replace the present one based on
unending growth, our species' future could be rosy indeed. "We are not
starting from zero," he emphasized. "We have an enormous amount of
existing technical knowledge. It's just a matter of putting it all
together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will
diminish with time."
November 12, 2007
James Howard Kunstler
The multi-dimensional meltdown underway in the finance sector
illustrates perfectly how the complex systems we depend on start to
wobble and fail as soon as peak oil establishes itself as a fact in
the public imagination. Mainly what it shows is that we don't have to
run out of oil -- or even come close to that -- before the trouble
starts. Just going over the peak and heading down the slippery slope
of depletion is enough. Peak oil, it turns out, is also peak money. Or
should we say, peak "money?"
First of all, what is finance exactly? I'd bet that a lot of people
these days don't know, including many working in the financial
"industry," as it has taken to calling itself. Finance, until very
recently, was the means by which investment was raised for useful
economic activities and productive ventures -- in other words, the
deployment of capital, which is to say accumulated wealth.
Historically, this accumulated wealth was pretty meager. There wasn't
a whole lot to deploy and the deployment was controlled by a tiny
handful of people statistically greater only than the number of
Martians in the general population. They operated as families or
clans, and everybody knew who they were: the Medici, the Rothschilds.
Even the Roman Empire was a kind of financial Flintstones operation
compared to what we see on CNBC these days. Not having the printing
press, the Romans had to inflate their currency the old-fashioned way,
by adding base metals to their silver coins. Finance in the 200-odd-
year-long industrial era evolved step-by-step with the steady
incremental rise of available cheap energy. More to the point, the
instruments associated with finance evolved in complexity with that
rise in energy. It was only about two-hundred years ago, in fact, that
circulating banknotes or paper currencies evolved out of much cruder
certificates that were little more than IOUs. Once printed paper
banknotes became established, and institutions created to regulate
them, the invention of more abstract certificates became possible and
we began to get things like stocks and bonds, traded publicly in
bourses or exchanges, which represented amounts of money invested or
loaned, but were not themselves "money."
Much of this innovation occurred during the rise of the coal-powered
economy of the 19th century. It accelerated with the oil-and-gas
economy of the 20th century, up into the present time. So, for about
150 years -- or roughly since the end of the American Civil War --
we've had a certain kind of regularized finance that enjoyed continual
refinement. Even in the face of cyclical traumas, like the Great
Depression, currencies, stocks, and bonds retained their legitimacy if
not always their face value.
Russia was a bizarre exception. Crawling out of the mud of medievalism
relatively late in the game, Russia pretended to abjure capital while
still faced with the need to deploy it in industry. They solved this
paradox conditionally by disqualifying the Russian public from
participation in any part of the industrial economy except the hard
work, and pretended to pay them in promises for "a brighter future,"
which never arrived as long as the Soviets remained in charge. (The
Russian people repaid the system by only pretending to work.)
In any case, finance for the purpose of deploying capital has
prevailed as reality among people who use the implements of the dinner
table, but something weird has happened to it in recent years. It has
entered a stage of grotesque, hypertrophic metastasis that now
threatens the life of the industrial organism it evolved to serve. Its
current state can be understood in direct relation to the run-up to
peak oil (peak fossil fuel energy, really, since coal and gas figure
into it, too). The oil age, we will soon discover, was an anomaly.
Many of the things that seemed "normal" under its regime will turn out
to have been rather special. And as the beginning of the end of the
oil age becomes manifest, these special things are starting to self-
destruct pretty spectacularly.
For one thing, finance in the past twenty years has evolved from being
an organ serving a larger organism to taking over the organism,
becoming a kind of blind, raging dominating parasite on its former
host. Or to put it less hyperbolically, it has become an end in
itself. That is what they mean when they say that the financial sector
has been "driving" the economy. A feature of this ghastly process has
been the evolution of financial instruments into ever more abstract
entities removed from reality-based productive activities. Stocks and
bonds were understood to represent direct investment in enterprise.
Sometimes the enterprise was a failure, and sometimes the people
running it were swindlers, but no one doubted that common stock
represented the hope for profit in a particular venture like making
steel or selling laxative chemicals. The new "creatively-innovated"
financial "derivatives" of recent years are now so divorced from any
real activities or product that often the people trafficking in them
don't understand what they're supposed to represent. I'd bet that more
than half the people in the New York Stock exchange any given day
could not explain the meaning of a credit default swap if a Taliban
were holding their oldest child over a window ledge across Wall Street.
The innovation of mutant financial "products" is a symptom of the
"crack-up boom" that characterizes society's response to peak oil. The
main implication of peak oil for an industrial economy is that the 200-
odd-year-long expectation for continued regular growth in combined
energy-activity-and-productivity at roughly 3 to 7 percent a year
under "normal" conditions -- that expectation is now toast. Under the
new regime of peak oil and its aftermath, regular energy depletion,
society can expect no further industrial growth but only contraction,
and all the certificates, instruments, and operations associated with
the expectation for further industrial growth lose their legitimacy.
Seen in this light, one can then understand the temporary value of
these mutant financial derivatives. They allowed participants to
conceal the fact that these "investments" were not directed at
productive enterprise. They also provided a cohort of sharpies with
"vehicles" for converting the leftovers of the industrial economy into
assets for themselves -- a form of looting, really. Hence, the
employees of Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, and Merrill Lynch gave
themselves $50-million Christmas bonuses for trafficking in these
inscrutable non-productive financial gimmicks, and were able to
acquire fifty-room East hampton houses, Gulfstream jets, and
Of course, the aftermath might not be so pretty for these guys, since
the next thing they may acquire could be long prison sentences. If
they flee prosecution in their Gulfstream jets, they will not be able
to take their Hamptons estates aboard with them. Those who remain may
live to see mobs with flaming torches outside their windows, as in the
"Frankenstein" movies of their suburban childhoods. But this has yet
to play out.
For the moment it appears that we have entered the climax of the crack-
up. The slick and inscrutable derivative vehicles infesting the
ledgers of the investment banks, are now being systematically revealed
as frauds of one kind or another, and, self-evidently lacking in
worth. The process now underway is gruesome. The sheer dollar losses
involved are almost as incomprehensible as the phony operations and
instruments that they are derived from -- twelve billion here, nine
billion there. As the late Senator Everett Dirkson once quipped,
"sooner or later you're talking about real money...." Or are we? Is it
money or "money." And if it's "money," what will become of it? And of
us? How will it allow us to live?
Growth (smart or dumb) is no longer possible
from an extraordinary interview with Matt Simmons, investment banker,
friend of George W. Bush, member of Cheney's energy task force (in
other words, he's NOT an environmentalist - but more aware of oil
depletion than many environmental groups). How we as a civilization
will cope with the end of the oil era when "western industrial
civilization" is totally dependent on fossil fuel for agriculture is a
much more important question than the illusion of "smart growth"
SIMMONS: This blackout ought to be an incredible jolt telling us about
a host of energy problems that are ultimately going to prevent any
future economic growth. ....
Simmons: I have for years described two camps: the economists who told
us that technology would always produce new supply and the pessimists
or Cassandras who told us that peak was coming in maybe fifteen or
twenty years. We may be finding out that we went over the peak in
2000. That makes both camps wrong.
Over the last year. I have obtained and closely examined more than 100
very technical production reports from Saudi Arabia. What I glean from
examining the data is that it is very likely that Saudi Arabia,
already a debtor nation, has very likely gone over its Peak. If that
is true, then it is a certainty that planet earth has passed its peak
What that means, in the starkest possible terms, is that we are no
longer going to be able to grow. It's like with a human being who
passes a certain age in life. Getting older does not mean the same
thing as death. It means progressively diminishing capacity, a rapid
decline, followed by a long tail.
In this age of diamond saucepans, only a recession makes sense
Economic growth is a political sedative, snuffing out protest as it
drives inequality. It is time we gave it up
Tuesday October 9, 2007
If you are of a sensitive disposition, I advise you to turn the page
now. I am about to break the last of the universal taboos. I hope that
the recession now being forecast by some economists materialises. I
recognise that recession causes hardship. Like everyone I am aware
that it would cause some people to lose their jobs and homes. I do not
dismiss these impacts or the harm they inflict, though I would argue
that they are the avoidable results of an economy designed to maximise
growth rather than welfare. What I would like you to recognise is
something much less discussed: that, beyond a certain point, hardship
is also caused by economic growth.
On Sunday I visited the only biosphere reserve in Wales: the Dyfi
estuary. As is usual at weekends, several hundred people had come to
enjoy its beauty and tranquillity and, as is usual, two or three
people on jet skis were spoiling it for everyone else. Most economists
will tell us that human welfare is best served by multiplying the
number of jet skis. If there are two in the estuary today, there
should be four there by this time next year and eight the year after.
Because the estuary's beauty and tranquillity don't figure in the
national accounts (no one pays to watch the sunset) and because the
sale and use of jet skis does, this is deemed an improvement in human
This is a minor illustration of an issue that can no longer be
dismissed as trivial. In August the World Health Organisation released
the preliminary results of its research into the links between noise
and stress. Its work so far suggests that long-term exposure to noise
from traffic alone could be responsible, around the world, for
hundreds of thousands of deaths through ischaemic heart disease every
year, as well as contributing to strokes, high blood pressure,
tinnitus, broken sleep and other stress-related illnesses. Noise,
researchers found, raises your levels of stress hormones even while
you sleep. As a study of children living close to airports in Germany
suggests, it also damages long-term memory, reading and speech
perception. All over the world, complaints about noise are rising: to
an alien observer it would appear that the primary purpose of economic
growth is to find ever more intrusive means of burning fossil fuels.
This leads us to the most obvious way in which further growth will
hurt us. Climate change does not lead only to a decline in welfare:
beyond a certain point it causes its termination. In other words, it
threatens the lives of hundreds of millions of people. However hard
governments might work to reduce carbon emissions, they are battling
the tide of economic growth. While the rate of growth in the use of
energy declines as an economy matures, no country has yet managed to
reduce energy use while raising gross domestic product. The UK's
carbon dioxide emissions are higher than they were in 1997, partly as
a result of the 60 successive quarters of growth that Gordon Brown
keeps boasting about. A recession in the rich nations might be the
only hope we have of buying the time we need to prevent runaway
The massive improvements in human welfare - better housing, better
nutrition, better sanitation and better medicine - over the past 200
years are the result of economic growth and the learning, spending,
innovation and political empowerment it has permitted. But at what
point should it stop? In other words, at what point do governments
decide that the marginal costs of further growth exceed the marginal
benefits? Most of them have no answer to this question. Growth must
continue, for good or ill. It seems to me that in the rich world we
have already reached the logical place to stop.
I now live in one of the poorest places in Britain. The teenagers here
have expensive haircuts, fashionable clothes and mobile phones. Most
of those who are old enough have cars, which they drive incessantly
and write off every few weeks. Their fuel bills must be astronomical.
They have been liberated from the horrible poverty that their
grandparents suffered, and this is something we should celebrate and
must never forget. But with one major exception, can anyone argue that
the basic needs of everyone in the rich nations cannot now be met?
The exception is housing, and in this case the growth in value is one
of the reasons for exclusion. A new analysis by Goldman Sachs shows
that current house prices are not just the result of a shortage of
supply: if they were, then the rise in prices should have been matched
by the rise in rents. Even taking scarcity into account, the analysts
believe that houses are overvalued by some 20%.
Governments love growth because it excuses them from dealing with
inequality. As Henry Wallich, a former governor of the US Federal
Reserve, once pointed out in defending the current economic model:
"Growth is a substitute for equality of income. So long as there is
growth there is hope, and that makes large income differentials
tolerable." Growth is a political sedative, snuffing out protest,
permitting governments to avoid confrontation with the rich,
preventing the construction of a just and sustainable economy. Growth
has permitted the social stratification that even the Daily Mail now
Is there anything that could sensibly be described as welfare that the
rich can now gain? A month ago the Financial Times ran a feature on
how department stores are trying to cater for "the consumer who has
Arrived". But the unspoken theme of the article was that no one
arrives - the destination keeps shifting. The problem, an executive
from Chanel explained, is that luxury has been "over-democratised".
The rich are having to spend more and more to distinguish themselves
from the herd: in the United States the market in goods and services
designed for this purpose is worth £720bn a year. To ensure that you
cannot be mistaken for a lesser being, you can now buy gold-and-
diamond saucepans from Harrods.
Without conscious irony, the FT article was illustrated with a
photograph of a coffin. It turned out to be a replica of Lord Nelson's
coffin, carved from wood taken from the ship on which he died, and
yours for a fortune in a new, hyper-luxury department of Selfridges.
Sacrificing your health and your happiness to earn the money to buy
this junk looks like a sign of advanced mental illness.
Is it not time to recognise that we have reached the promised land,
and should seek to stay there? Why would we want to leave this place
in order to explore the blackened wastes of consumer frenzy followed
by ecological collapse? Surely the rational policy for the governments
of the rich world is now to keep growth rates as close to zero as
But because political discourse is controlled by people who put the
accumulation of money above all other ends, this policy appears to be
impossible. Unpleasant as it will be, it is hard to see what except an
accidental recession could prevent economic growth from blowing us
through Canaan and into the desert on the other side.
GreyZone on July 18, 2007 - 4:54pm | Permalink | Subthread
Global warming does not raise the specter of the end of growth. GW, to
most of the population, seems like a problem that can be solved with
some technical changes but no fundamental change to the infinite
But you cannot go near peak oil without running smack into that
question. Thus, peak oil is far more dangerous than global warming in
the attitudes and expectations that it seems to foster.
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