Friday, March 6, 2009

ONE POTENT STEP THAT A SOFT GREEN CAN MAKE TOWARD SANITY: Acknowledge The Importance of Reducing Our Population Level

RE. ”Three Potent Steps to a Sane Economy” by Mike Nickerson

Classic Mike Nickerson. No mention at all of immigrant-driven population growth. The prescription is always to reduce waste and economic activity that involves inputs of non-renewable resources. But reducing these things must involve a reduction in our population level, unless one assumes that a human being, especially one who inhabits a very cold country like Canada, can infinitely reduce his consumption to compensate for the population growth which soft greens like Nickerson will not challenge. He suggests that we seek personal fulfillment through laughter, art, music and dance, but while we are laughing, painting, strumming acoustic guitars and dancing, we must feed, clothe and keep ourselves from freezing in the dark. This must involve resource extraction. You cannot support a society on an economy of painters, musicians and dancers. Such a society would still have to rely on someone to produce the goods created by primary and secondary industry—if not here then abroad. But that would imply a system of international or regional trade which involves an unsustainable transportation network. Oil underpins the whole system. A very much smaller number of people would tax the resource base at a more forgiving rate. A “sane” economy is one that involves all three levels of extraction, processing and distribution within the smallest locality that is viable. The global economy that by definition undermines local self-sufficiency not only is defined by the unfettered trade of goods and services, but the unfettered movement of labour to areas that hunger for the cheapest inputs of labour. If soft greens oppose globalism, they must also oppose international migration. Not to do so is “insane”.


First, Nickerson says: "that human activity is touching planetary limits". Actually, human activity has exceeded planetary limits about 10,000 years ago when we began agriculture which steadily eliminated the possibility of sustainable low-tech hunting-gathering where human numbers were checked by available wild food.

This sounds like feel-good ineffectual inaction:
"In order to achieve a balanced relationship with the Earth, we need to picture a new order in our hearts and in our minds. Then, each time we buy food, pump gas or have a conversation with a friend, we can advance long-term well-being."

Nickerson says: "individually, we have limited ability to provide for our needs". I would add that the more overpopulated we get, the more difficult it becomes for an individual to provide for his/her own needs.

Nickerson says: "While there are almost no physical limits to the amount of education and preventative care that we can have, there are serious limits associated with resource intensive industries."

This sounds like a comment by Julian Simon. Sorry Mike, but each human has a finite sized brain and a finite number of hours in the day. Furthermore, preventative care such as going for walks are limited as well by the number of hours in the day. If there were only 250,000 people worldwide, there wouldn't be practical limits to resource intensive industries. If there are 6.7 billion when fossil fuels run out, Mike will find that education and preventative care industries will be forced to decline.

Mike's 1st of the three potent steps just means make useful long-lasting products instead of obscure obsolete products.

Mike's 2nd of the three potent steps is to sell the public on the durable and familiar products mentioned in the first step.

Mike's 3rd step is to encourage people to consume fewer material things.

Nickerson says these steps would be disastrous for a growth-based economy. Actually, if they were accompanied by population growth, they would fit in quite nicely with a growth-based economy.

All Nickerson has recommended so far (in a very fancy way) is for each person to consume fewer resources.

That does not result in a "sane economy" if there are too many people.

A sane economy is one that it an appropriate size for a finite earth. Too many people using Nickerson's "three potent steps" does not result in a sane economy because the economy would still be too big for the planet.

Nickerson's "three potent steps" also do not guarantee an end to the growth in the size of our economy because they do not stop population growth.

Nickerson mentions a "(post growth) civilization" which is odd because that is not what he describes. Nickerson is too politically correct to mention real solutions such as laws against reproduction and immigration. Nickerson only speaks out against the growth in an individual's consumption, not against the growth in the number of consumers.

The question I would ask Nickerson is:

"What have we accomplished by reducing each consumer's consumption if the number of consumers grows to take up the slack"?"

All that would mean is that we've permanently lowered everyone's standard of living. For a few rich people, that may be okay, but for most people in the world, that could involve serious suffering and starvation. Worst of all, with 10 billion people as vegans peasants (as Nickerson seems to want) we'd have an even bigger die-off of people and biodiversity as fossil fuels supplies dwindle.

Brishen Hoff
President of Biodiversity First

PS Refer to my "Brown Living Tips" as a corrective to Mike Nickerson's prescriptions Tim M.

Three Potent Steps to a Sane Economy
by Mike Nickerson

Amidst today's uncertainties, is an historic
opportunity to secure our lives and the lives of those
we love. First we have to recognize the common cause
of the financial and ecological crises - that human
activity is touching planetary limits.

In order to achieve a balanced relationship
with the Earth, we need to picture a new order in our
hearts and in our minds. Then, each time we buy food,
pump gas or have a conversation with a friend, we can
advance long-term well-being.

Two different types of economic activity are
identified below, followed by three potent steps we can
take toward a sane economy. Together they provide a
foundation for imagining what can be. As enough minds
ripen the images, change happens.

Please pass these details around.
Two types of economic activity:

"Economics" is a somewhat mysterious word
for "mutual provision." While, individually, we have
limited ability to provide for our needs, we produce
abundance in societies. Each person gets good at
certain tasks and we trade with each other.

There are two types of economic activity. One
type requires continual inputs of non-renewable
resources and produces problematic waste.
Transportation systems and disposable consumer
goods are examples. The other type consists largely of
human creativity and good-will, like education and
most health care at the preventative level. While there
are almost no physical limits to the amount of
education and preventative care that we can have,
there are serious limits associated with resource
intensive industries.

For the things that we do need from the
resource intensive line, the first two of the following
steps can reduce our impacts on the Earth dramatically.
All together, these three steps can usher in a long
period of ecological stability.

Three potent steps:

1) Shift the imagination and creativity that presently
goes into designing for obsolescence and use it,
instead, to design goods that are durable and easily

2) Instead of using our persuasive communication
abilities to encourage people to throw things away
and to buy new stuff, we could use those same
talents to reclaim an appreciation for durable and
familiar products.

3) Finally, if we search for personal fulfillment in
what we can do with our lives, such as learning, love,
laughter, friendship, art, music, dance, sport, service,
and the like, rather than by accumulating and
consuming material goods, we could have more real
satisfaction while minimizing resource exploitation
and waste.

While such steps would do wonders for
securing the future, they would be disastrous for a
growth-based economy. We either have to increase
the size of the Earth, or reorganize mutual provision so
that we can all share in the necessary work and revel
in the new security.

There are many ways to reorganize mutual
provision to serve a mature (post growth) civilization,
but it is getting harder and harder to stretch the Earth.
Do we want to grow until we drop, or develop the
economics of sustainability? It is a Question of Direction.

Civilizations don't change direction easily. They
must either suffer catastrophe, or exercise an
extraordinary redirection of will. By launching a
public discussion about which direction offers the better
future, millions will come to imagine the options.
Together we can then make a major contribution toward
redirecting society's will.

Help make it happen.

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