Category Archives: Growth

Top 10 Policies for a Steady-State Economy by Herman Daly

Well before reaching that radical biophysical limit, we are encountering the classical economic limit in which extra costs of growth become greater than the extra benefits, ushering in the era of uneconomic growth, whose very possibility is denied by the growthists.

Well before reaching that radical biophysical limit, we are encountering the classical economic limit in which extra costs of growth become greater than the extra benefits, ushering in the era of uneconomic growth, whose very possibility is denied by the growthists.

Let’s get specific. Here are ten policies for ending un-economic growth and moving to a steady-state economy. A steady-state economy is one that develops qualitatively (by improvement in science, technology, and ethics) without growing quantitatively in physical dimensions; it lives on a diet – a constant metabolic flow of resources from depletion to pollution (the entropic throughput) maintained at a level that is both sufficient for a good life and within the assimilative and regenerative capacities of the containing ecosystem.

Ten is an arbitrary number – just a way to get specific and challenge others to suggest improvements. Although the whole package here discussed fits together in the sense that some policies supplement and balance others, most of them could be adopted singly and gradually.

1. Cap-auction-trade systems for basic resources. Caps limit biophysical scale by quotas on depletion or pollution, whichever is more limiting. Auctioning the quotas captures scarcity rents for equitable redistribution. Trade allows efficient allocation to highest uses. This policy has the advantage of transparency. There is a limit to the amount and rate of depletion and pollution that the economy can be allowed to impose on the ecosystem. Caps are physical quotas, limits to the throughput of basic resources, especially fossil fuels. The quota usually should be applied at the input end because depletion is more spatially concentrated than pollution and hence easier to monitor. Also the higher price of basic resources will induce their more economical use at each upstream stage of production, as well as at the final stages of consumption and recycling. Ownership of the quotas is initially public – the government periodically auctions them to individuals and firms. There should be no “grandfathering” of quota rights to previous users, nor “offshoring” of quotas for new fossil fuel power plants in one by place by credits from planting trees somewhere else. Reforestation is a good policy on its own. It is too late for self-canceling half measures – increased carbon sequestration and decreased emissions are both needed. The auction revenues go to the treasury and are used to replace regressive taxes, such as the payroll tax, and to reduce income tax on the lowest incomes. Once purchased at auction the quotas can be freely bought and sold by third parties, just as can the resources whose rate of depletion they limit. The cap serves the goal of sustainable scale; the auction serves the goal of fair distribution; and trading allows efficient allocation – three goals, three policy instruments. Although mainly applied to nonrenewable resources, the same logic works for limiting the off-take from renewable resources, such as fisheries and forests, with the quota level set to approximate a sustainable yield.

2. Ecological tax reform. Shift the tax base from value added (labor and capital) to “that to which value is added,” namely the entropic throughput of resources extracted from nature (depletion), and returned to nature (pollution). Such a tax shift prices the scarce but previously un-priced contribution of nature. Value added to natural resources by labor and capital is something we want to encourage, so stop taxing it. Depletion and pollution are things we want to discourage, so tax them. Payment above necessary supply price is rent, unearned income, and most economists have long advocated taxing it, both for efficiency and equity reasons. Ecological tax reform can be an alternative or a supplement to cap-auction-trade systems.

3. Limit the range of inequality in income distribution with a minimum income and a maximum income. Without aggregate growth poverty reduction requires redistribution. Unlimited inequality is unfair; complete equality is also unfair. Seek fair limits to the range of inequality. The civil service, the military, and the university manage with a range of inequality of a factor of 15 or 20. Corporate America has a range of 500 or more. Many industrial nations are below 25. Could we not limit the range to, say, 100, and see how it works? This might mean a minimum of 20 thousand dollars and a maximum of two million. Is that not more than enough to give incentive for hard work and compensate real differences? People who have reached the limit could either work for nothing at the margin if they enjoy their work, or devote their extra time to hobbies or public service. The demand left unmet by those at the top will be filled by those who are below the maximum. A sense of community, necessary for democracy, is hard to maintain across the vast income differences current in the United States. Rich and poor separated by a factor of 500 have few experiences or interests in common, and are increasingly likely to engage in violent conflict.

4. Free up the length of the working day, week, and year – allow greater option for part-time or personal work. Full-time external employment for all is hard to provide without growth. Other industrial countries have much longer vacations and maternity leaves than the United States. For the classical economists the length of the working day was a key variable by which the worker (self-employed yeoman or artisan) balanced the marginal disutility of labor with the marginal utility of income and of leisure so as to maximize enjoyment of life. Under industrialism the length of the working day became a parameter rather than a variable (and for Karl Marx was the key determinant of the rate of exploitation). We need to make it more of a variable subject to choice by the worker. Milton Friedman wanted “freedom to choose” – OK, here is an important choice most of us are not allowed to make! And we should stop biasing the labor-leisure choice by advertising to stimulate more consumption and more labor to pay for it. At a minimum advertising should no longer be treated as a tax-deductible expense of production.

5. Re-regulate international commerce – move away from free trade, free capital mobility, and globalization. Cap-auction-trade, ecological tax reform, and other national measures that internalize environmental costs will raise prices and put us at a competitive disadvantage in international trade with countries that do not internalize costs. We should adopt compensating tariffs to protect, not inefficient firms, but efficient national policies of cost internalization from standards-lowering competition with foreign firms that are not required to pay the social and environmental costs they inflict. This “new protectionism” is very different from the “old protectionism” that was designed to protect a truly inefficient domestic firm from a more efficient foreign firm. The first rule of efficiency is “count all the costs” – not “free trade,” which coupled with free capital mobility leads to a standards-lowering competition to count as few costs as possible. Tariffs are also a good source of public revenue. This will run afoul of the World Trade Organization/World Bank/International Monetary Fund, so….

6. Downgrade the WTO/WB/IMF. Reform these organizations based on something like Keynes’s original plan for a multilateral payments clearing union, charging penalty rates on surplus as well as deficit balances with the union – seek balance on current account, and thereby avoid large foreign debts and capital account transfers. For example, under Keynes’s plan the U.S. would pay a penalty charge to the clearing union for its large deficit with the rest of the world, and China would also pay a similar penalty for its surplus. Both sides of the imbalance would be pressured to balance their current accounts by financial penalties, and if need be by exchange rate adjustments relative to the clearing account unit, called the “bancor” by Keynes. The bancor would also serve as the world reserve currency, a privilege that should not be enjoyed by any national currency, including the U.S. dollar. Reserve currency status for the dollar is a benefit to the U.S. – rather like a truckload of free heroin is a benefit to an addict. The bancor would be like gold under the gold standard, only you would not have to tear up the earth to dig it out. Alternatively a regime of freely fluctuating exchange rates is a viable possibility requiring less international cooperation.

7. Move away from fractional reserve banking toward a system of 100% reserve requirements. This would put control of the money supply and seigniorage (profit made by the issuer of fiat money) in the hands of the government rather than private banks, which would no longer be able to live the alchemist’s dream by creating money out of nothing and lending it at interest. All quasi-bank financial institutions should be brought under this rule, regulated as commercial banks subject to 100% reserve requirements. Banks would earn their profit by financial intermediation only, lending savers’ money for them (charging a loan rate higher than the rate paid to savings or “time-account” depositors) and charging for checking, safekeeping, and other services. With 100% reserves every dollar loaned to a borrower would be a dollar previously saved by a depositor (and not available to him during the period of the loan), thereby re-establishing the classical balance between abstinence and investment. With credit limited by prior saving (abstinence from consumption) there will be less lending and borrowing and it will be done more carefully – no more easy credit to finance the massive purchase of “assets” that are nothing but bets on dodgy debts. To make up for the decline in bank-created, interest-bearing money the government can pay some of its expenses by issuing more non-interest-bearing fiat money. However, it can only do this up to a strict limit imposed by inflation. If the government issues more money than the public voluntarily wants to hold, the public will trade it for goods, driving the price level up. As soon as the price index begins to rise the government must print less and tax more. Thus a policy of maintaining a constant price index would govern the internal value of the dollar. The Treasury would replace the Fed, and the target policy variables would be the money supply and the price index, not the interest rate. The external value of the dollar could be left to freely fluctuating exchange rates (or preferably to the rate against the bancor in Keynes’s clearing union).

8. Stop treating the scarce as if it were free, and the free as if it were scarce. Enclose the remaining open-access commons of rival natural capital (e.g., the atmosphere, the electromagnetic spectrum, and public lands) in public trusts, and price them by cap-auction-trade systems, or by taxes. At the same time, free from private enclosure and prices the non-rival commonwealth of knowledge and information. Knowledge, unlike the resource throughput, is not divided in the sharing, but multiplied. Once knowledge exists, the opportunity cost of sharing it is zero, and its allocative price should be zero. International development aid should more and more take the form of freely and actively shared knowledge, along with small grants, and less and less the form of large interest-bearing loans. Sharing knowledge costs little, does not create un-repayable debts, and increases the productivity of the truly rival and scarce factors of production. Patent monopolies (aka “intellectual property rights”) should be given for fewer “inventions,” and for fewer years. Costs of production of new knowledge should, more and more, be publicly financed and then the knowledge freely shared. Knowledge is a cumulative social product, and we have the discovery of the laws of thermodynamics, the double helix, polio vaccine, etc. without patent monopolies and royalties.

9. Stabilize population. Work toward a balance in which births plus in-migrants equals deaths plus out-migrants. This is controversial and difficult, but as a start contraception should be made available for voluntary use everywhere. And while each nation can debate whether it should accept many or few immigrants, and who should get priority, such a debate is rendered moot if immigration laws are not enforced. We should support voluntary family planning and enforcement of reasonable immigration laws, democratically enacted.

10. Reform national accounts – separate GDP into a cost account and a benefits account. Natural capital consumption and “regrettably necessary defensive expenditures” belong in the cost account. Compare costs and benefits of a growing throughput at the margin, and stop throughput growth when marginal costs equal marginal benefits. In addition to this objective approach, recognize the importance of the subjective studies that show that, beyond a threshold, further GDP growth does not increase self-evaluated happiness. Beyond a level already reached in many countries, GDP growth delivers no more happiness, but continues to generate depletion and pollution. At a minimum we must not just assume that GDP growth is economic growth, but prove that it is not uneconomic growth.

Currently these policies are beyond the pale politically. To the reader who has persevered this far, I thank you for your willing suspension of political disbelief. Only after a significant crash, a painful empirical demonstration of the failure of the growth economy, would this ten-fold program, or anything like it, stand a chance of being enacted.

To be sure, the conceptual change in vision from the norm of a growth economy to that of a steady-state economy is radical. Some of these proposals are rather technical and require more explanation and study. There is no escape from studying economics, even if, as Joan Robinson said, the main reason for it is to avoid being deceived by economists. Nevertheless, the policies required are far from revolutionary, and are subject to gradual application. For example, 100% reserve banking was advocated in the 1930s by the conservative Chicago School and can be approached gradually, the range of distributive inequality can be restricted gradually, caps can be adjusted gradually, etc. More importantly, these measures are based on the impeccably conservative institutions of private property and decentralized market allocation. The policies here advocated simply reaffirm forgotten pillars of those institutions, namely that: (1) private property loses its legitimacy if too unequally distributed; (2) markets lose their legitimacy if prices do not tell the truth about opportunity costs; and as we have more recently learned (3) the macro-economy becomes an absurdity if its scale is required to grow beyond the biophysical limits of the Earth.

Well before reaching that radical biophysical limit, we are encountering the classical economic limit in which extra costs of growth become greater than the extra benefits, ushering in the era of uneconomic growth, whose very possibility is denied by the growthists. The inequality of wealth distribution has canceled out the traditional virtues of private property by bestowing nearly all benefits of growth to the top 1%, while generously sharing the costs of growth with the poor. Gross inequality, plus monopolies, subsidies, tax loopholes, false accounting, cost-externalizing globalization, and financial fraud have made market prices nearly meaningless as measures of opportunity cost. For example, a policy of near zero interest rates (quantitative easing) to push growth and bail out big banks has eliminated the interest rate as a measure of the opportunity cost of capital, thereby crippling the efficiency of investment. Trying to maintain the present growth-based Ponzi system is far more unrealistic than moving to a steady-state economy by something like the policies here outlined. It is probably too late to avoid unrealism’s inevitable consequences. But while we are hunkered down and unemployed, enduring the crash, we might think about the principles that should guide reconstruction.

See: http://steadystate.org/top-10-policies-for-a-steady-state-economy/

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Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization By Paul Ehrlich

Perpetual growth is unsustainable and will lead to collapse.  Photo by Chris Wevers.

Perpetual growth is unsustainable and will lead to collapse. Photo by Chris Wevers.

A major shared goal of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB) and Sustainability Central is reducing the odds that the “perfect storm” of environmental problems that threaten humanity will lead to a collapse of civilization. Those threats include climate disruption, loss of biodiversity (and thus ecosystem services), land-use change and resulting degradation, global toxification, ocean acidification, decay of the epidemiological environment, increasing depletion of important resources, and resource wars (which could go nuclear). This is not just a list of problems, it is an interconnected complex resulting from interactions within and between what can be thought of as two gigantic complex adaptive systems: the biosphere system and the human socio-economic system. The manifestations of this interaction are often referred to as “the human predicament.” That predicament is getting continually and rapidly worse, driven by overpopulation, overconsumption among the rich, and the use of environmentally malign technologies and socio-economic-political arrangements to service the consumption. 

All of the interconnected problems are caused in part by overpopulation, in part by overconsumption by the already rich. One would think that most educated people now understand that the larger the size of a human population, ceteris paribus, the more destructive its impact on the environment. The degree of overpopulation is best indicated (conservatively) by ecological footprint analysis, which shows that to support today’s population sustainably at current patterns of consumption would require roughly another half a planet, and to do so at the U.S. level would take four to five more Earths.

The seriousness of the situation can be seen in the prospects of Homo sapiens’ most important activity: producing and procuring food. Today, at least two billion people are hungry or badly in need of better diets, and most analysts think doubling food production would be required to feed a 35% bigger and still growing human population adequately by 2050. For any chance of success, humanity will need to stop expanding land area for agriculture (to preserve ecosystem services); raise yields where possible; increase efficiency in use of fertilizers, water, and energy; become more vegetarian; reduce food wastage; stop wrecking the oceans; significantly increase investment in sustainable agricultural research; and move feeding everyone to the very top of the policy agenda. All of these tasks will require changes in human behavior long recommended but thus far elusive. Perhaps more critical, there may be insurmountable biophysical barriers to increasing yields – indeed, to avoiding reductions in yields – in the face of climate disruption.

Most people fail to realize the urgency of the food situation because they don’t understand the agricultural system and its complex, non-linear connections to the drivers of environmental deterioration. The system itself, for example, is a major emitter of greenhouse gases and thus is an important driver of the climate disruption that seriously threatens food production. More than a millennium of change in temperature and precipitation patterns is now entrained, with the prospect of more crop-threatening severe storms, droughts, heat waves, and floods- all of which are already evident. Thus maintaining – let alone expanding – food production will be ever more difficult in decades ahead.

Furthermore, agriculture is a leading cause of losses of biodiversity and the critical ecosystem services supplied to agriculture itself and other human enterprises, as well as a major source of global toxification, both of which pose additional risks to food production. The threat to food production of climate disruption alone means that humanity’s entire system for mobilizing energy needs to be rapidly transformed in an effort to hold atmospheric warming well below a lethal 5o C rise in global average temperature. It also means we must alter much of our water-handling infrastructure to provide the necessary flexibility to bring water to crops in an environment of constantly changing precipitation patterns.

Food is just the most obvious area where overpopulation tends to darken the human future – virtually every other human problem from air pollution and brute overcrowding to resource shortages and declining democracy is exacerbated by further population growth. And, of course, one of our most serious problems is the failure of leadership on the population issue, in both the United States and Australia. The situation is worst in the U.S. where the government never mentions population because of fear of the Catholic hierarchy specifically and the religious right in general, and the media keep publishing ignorant pro-natalist articles, and in Australia even advertise on prime-time TV to have more kids.

A prime example was a ludicrous 2010 New York Times screed by David Brooks, calling on Americans to cheer up because “Over the next 40 years, the U.S. population will surge by an additional 100 million people, to 400 million.” Equal total ignorance of the population-resource-environment situation was shown in 2012 by an article also in the New York Times by one Ross Douthat “More Babies, Please” and one by a Rick Newman in the USNews “Why a falling birth rate is a big problem,” both additional signs of the utter failure of the US educational system.

A popular movement is needed to correct that failure and direct cultural evolution toward providing the “foresight intelligence” and the agricultural, environmental, and demographic planning that markets cannot supply. Then analysts (and society) might stop treating population growth as a “given” and consider the nutritional and health benefits of humanely ending growth well below 9 billion and starting a slow decline. In my view, the best way to accelerate the move toward such population shrinkage is to give full rights, education, and job opportunities to women everywhere, and provide all sexually active human beings with modern contraception and backup abortion. The degree to which that would reduce fertility rates is controversial, but it would be a win-win for society. Yet the critical importance of increasing the inadequate current action on the demographic driver can be seen in the decades required to change the size of the population humanely and sensibly. In contrast we know from such things as the World War II mobilizations that consumption patterns can be altered dramatically in less than a year, given appropriate incentives.

The movement should also highlight the consequences of such crazy ideas as growing an economy at 3-5% per year over decades (or forever) as most innumerate economists and politicians believe possible. Most “educated” people do not realize that in the real world a short history of exponential growth does not imply a long future of such growth. Developing foresight intelligence and mobilizing civil society for sustainability are central goals of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (“the MAHB” – mahb.stanford.edu), goals now also a major mission of the University of Technology, Sydney.

Source: http://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/overpopulation-and-the-collapse-of-civilization/

 

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Overpopulation and Climate Change, from the Center for Biological Diversity

The largest single threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the planet in the decades to come will be global climate disruption due to the buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.

Portland, Oregon, for example, decreased its combined per-capita residential energy and car driving carbon footprint by 5 percent between 2000 and 2005. During this same period, however, its population grew by 8 percent.

A 2009 study of the relationship between population growth and global warming determined that the “carbon legacy” of just one child can produce 20 times more greenhouse gas than a person will save by driving a high-mileage car, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, etc. Each child born in the United States will add about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent. The study concludes, “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”

One of the study’s authors, Paul Murtaugh, warned that: “In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime. Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources. . . . Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.”

The size of the carbon legacy is closely tied to consumption patterns. Under current conditions, a child born in the United States will be responsible for almost seven times the carbon emissions of a child born in China and 168 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.

The globalization of the world economy, moreover, can mask the true carbon footprint of individual nations. China, for example, recently surpassed the United States to become the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter. But a large portion of those gases is emitted in the production of consumer goods for the United States and Europe. Thus a large share of “China’s” greenhouse gas footprint is actually the displaced footprint of high-consumption western nations.

WorldCarbonEmiss

The United States has the largest population in the developed world, and is the only developed nation experiencing significant population growth: Its population may double before the end of the century. Its 300 million inhabitants produce greenhouse gases at a per-capita rate that is more than double that of Europe, five times the global average, and more than 10 times the average of developing nations. The U.S. greenhouse gas contribution is driven by a disastrous combination of high population, significant growth, and massive (and rising) consumption levels, and thus far, lack of political will to end our fossil-fuel addiction.

More than half of the U.S. population now lives in car-dependent suburbs. Cumulatively, we drive 3 trillion miles each year. The average miles traveled per capita is increasing rapidly, and the transportation sector now accounts for one-third of all U.S. carbon emissions.

Another one-fifth of U.S. carbon emissions comes from the residential sector. Average home sizes have increased dramatically in recent decades, as has the accompanying footprint of each home. Suburban sprawl contributes significantly to deforestation, reducing the capacity of the planet to absorb the increased CO2 we emit. Due to a dramatic decrease in household size, from 3.1 persons per home in 1970 to 2.6 in 2000, homebuilding is outpacing the population growth that is driving it. More Americans are driving farther to reach bigger homes with higher heating and cooling demands and fewer people per household than ever before. All of these trends exacerbate the carbon footprint inherent in the basic energy needs of a burgeoning U.S. population.

Globally, recent research indicates that assumptions regarding declining fertility rates used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to develop future emissions scenarios may be overly optimistic. While fertility rates have generally declined over the past few decades, progress has slowed in recent years, especially in developing nations, largely due to cutbacks in family planning assistance and political interference from the United States. And even if fertility rates are reduced to below replacement levels, population levels will continue to climb steeply for some time as people live longer and billions of young people mature and proceed through their reproductive years. Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions may drop, but the population bulge will continue to contribute to a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Time is short, but it not too late to stop runaway global warming. Economy-wide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to a level that brings atmospheric CO2 back from 386 parts per million to 350 or less, scaling back first-world consumption patterns, and long-term population reduction to ecologically sustainable levels will solve the global warming crisis and move us to toward a healthier, more stable, post-fossil fuel, post-growth addicted society.

Source: The Center for Biological Diversity, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/overpopulation/climate/index.html

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.

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Workers of the World: RELAX! by John de Graaf

How We Can Create a Successful Economy Without Continuous Economic Growth

Relaxing by the fountain. Photo by PolandMFA/Flickr/cc

Relaxing by the fountain. Photo by PolandMFA/Flickr/cc

The late, great environmentalist David Brower used to say that there will be no profits, no corporations, no economic growth, and by implication, no successful economies on a dead planet.

Brower, who made the Sierra Club a powerful force for conservation and founded Friends of the Earth, often delivered what he called his “sermon.” He compressed the age of the Earth, some 4.6 billion years, into the Biblical week of creation.

The Earth forms on Sunday morning, and by Tuesday afternoon, the first life-forms arrive. Over the next few days, they grow larger and more complex. On the last day of the week, at 10 a.m., the dinosaurs show up. They last until 3 p.m., when an asteroid ends their reign. Only three minutes before midnight on the final night, humans arrive. And only in the last tiny fraction of a second before midnight do we get the consumer society that began after World War II.

So perhaps we should be asking a different question: Is continuous growth undercutting our efforts to create a successful economy? I think so.

In that last fraction of a second, we have used more resources than all human beings who ever lived before that time, reduced our soils and fisheries by half, caused the extinction of countless species, and changed the climate. Our leaders believe that what we’ve been doing for that last fraction of a second can continue indefinitely. We consider them normal and reasonable, Brower observed, but actually, they are stark, raving mad.

We can’t grow on like this.

Already, our “ecological footprint” is well in excess of what is sustainable for future generations. And beyond a modest level of income, growth doesn’t make countries happier either. So perhaps we should be asking a different question: Is continuous growth undercutting our efforts to create a successful economy? I think so.

Economic growth, our current indicator of success, is measured by the rise of the gross domestic product (GDP), the market value of the goods and services we produce, the sum total of things bought and sold. It’s commonly agreed that GDP is a blunt instrument; it doesn’t measure valuable activities that are not monetized (e.g., housework) and it counts (as a plus) expenditures that only alleviate things gone wrong (e.g., cancer treatments). Perhaps Bobby Kennedy put it best when he said, “It measures, in short, everything except that which makes life worthwhile.”

By all accounts, the United States’ economy has grown faster than those of Europe over the past two decades, when measured by GDP. We trumpet that fact as indicating the success of our economic model. But Italian economist Stefano Bartolini makes a powerful case for a different view. He says our more rapid growth rate is a symptom of American economic decay, not dynamism. In his new book, Manifesto for Happiness, to be published in English this year by the University of Pennsylvania, Bartolini calls the United States “the example not to follow.”

In short, his argument is this: Growing inequality has left median American hourly incomes flat for a generation while GDP doubled. We were able to purchase the increased volume of consumer goods produced by working longer hours and by taking on excessive personal debt. But more work and more stuff have left us lonelier and less connected with each other, while growing debt has led to calls for slashing taxes, leading to higher prices for public goods such as higher education or access to public parks.

We have been encouraged to counter these losses by purchasing even more private goods (Want friends? Buy a hot car… Want nature? Fly to a tropical paradise…), leading to even heavier debt and workloads. Moreover, our lifestyles, built around private consumption, have created low-density sprawl that makes public transit too expensive and encourages automobile dependence, longer commutes, and even less social connection, while further reducing public space and access to nature. It’s a vicious circle.

Bartolini argues that free or publicly provided and often non-material need-satisfiers have atrophied or been crowded out by costly private consumer goods.

The outcome is poor health (the worst in the rich world), time stress, greater anxiety, and diminished happiness, including a suicide rate that now exceeds that for traffic fatalities. Yet our expenditures to soften these impacts (the highest health care costs in the world, for example) mean our economy grows faster than Europe’s, where people work and consume less and devote more time to social relationships. We are hamsters, turning the wheel faster and faster but never moving forward to better lives.

This result can scarcely be called a “successful” economy. Economic success is better measured the way Bhutan measures it. Since 1972, that tiny Himalayan kingdom has been promoting Gross National Happiness rather than GDP. With Bhutan’s encouragement, the United Nations is now advocating “equitable and sustainable well-being” as the goal of development instead of mere economic growth, while asking member nations to measure their success in pursuing happiness. A better measurement of “success” is the first step toward well-being.

In the United States, an organization called ‘The Happiness Initiative’ has been working with colleges and communities on such a measurement of progress, using a comprehensive but short survey that measures life satisfaction in ten “domains” identified by researchers as essential for happiness: financial security; environmental quality; physical and mental health; education; arts and culture; government; social connection; workplace quality and time balance.

“Time Balance” scores for Americans are uniformly low, leading to my own recipe—supported by Juliet Schor, Gus Speth, and others—for strategically moving towards a successful economy without continuous economic growth: work reduction.

High unemployment is certainly no indication of economic success; indeed, it contributes greatly to unhappiness. As productivity increases, employment must be maintained either by greater production (with attendant environmental costs) or by sharing and shortening work hours through reduced work weeks, longer vacations, liberal family and sick leave policies, and greater opportunities for decently remunerated part-time work with benefits.

Work reduction would provide more economic security and more time for self-chosen activity—exercise, gardening, volunteering, environmental restoration and stewardship, socializing, stress-reducing leisure, personal caregiving. Yet, this obvious answer to the question of how to create a successful economy without continuous growth has been systematically excluded from American politics since the Second World War.

Some argue that it will be very difficult to change the laws that permit work without end.  They forget that it will be far harder to change the laws of physics to permit growth without end. Conrad Schmidt of British Columbia’s Work Less Party, puts the solution in simplest terms: “Workers of the World, Relax!”

John de Graaf is a documentary filmmaker who has produced more than a dozen prime-time national PBS specials and has won more than 100 filmmaking awards. De Graaf is the Executive Director of Take Back Your Time and co-founder of The Happiness Initiative. He is the co-author of the books Affluenza and What’s the Economy for, Anyway?  Source: Center for Humans & Nature,  

 <http://www.humansandnature.org/economy—john-de-graaf-response-68.php>  Reprinted with permission.   The Center for Humans and Nature brings together philosophers, biologists, ecologists, lawyers, political scientists, anthropologists, and economists, among others, to think creatively about how people can make better decisions—in relationship with each other and the rest of nature.

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Tribute to Dr. Albert A. Bartlett

Dr Albert A. Bartlett explains the important difference between arithmetic growth and exponential growth.

Dr Albert A. Bartlett explains the important difference between arithmetic growth and exponential growth.

From Marilyn Hempel, Editor of the Population Press

Recently my friend Al Bartlett wrote that his cancer has returned and he has only a few weeks to live. This is a sad day for the entire population and sustainability movement. The Population Press wishes to honor the life and work of Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus in Nuclear Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder. His relentless drive to help people understand population and sustainability issues is an inspiration to us all. Perhaps his most famous work is a lecture titled “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101″. You can find it online, on a YouTube video that has been viewed over 4.9 million times. If you have not already seen it (and if you have a computer) we suggest you watch it and share it with others.

The article below, “Close the Fire Department!” is the last one Al wrote for the Population Press.  In it his typical insights and humor shine through. Thank you Al! We will miss you. We are comforted by the fact that your work will live on in your writings and films.

“Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?” —Dr. Albert A. Bartlett

 

CLOSE THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!

By Dr. Albert A. Bartlett

In February of 2013 I attended the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  This Association publishes Science magazine which is one of the world’s leading scientific journals. The Association’s big annual meeting this year was held in meeting rooms spread through the enormous Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. The meeting consisted of plenary addresses by prominent scientists and dozens of symposia often consisting of four speakers presenting papers on different aspects of a single topic. The meeting was scientifically comprehensive and strongly interdisciplinary. There were topics for every taste.

Many symposia at the AAAS meeting seemed to be devoted to or related to the vital topic of sustainability. This interest in sustainability is understandable because it’s clear that if humans can’t make a transition to real sustainability then we, as a society, face a very grim future. The importance of ‘limits’ and ‘sustainable living’ was projected in the book titled Limits to Growth as early as 1972.  The idea that there might be limits was rarely mentioned in the AAAS symposia even though real sustainability implies a society that depends solely on solar energy with no dependence on finite reserves of fossil fuels.

I attended as many of these symposia as I could and I was struck by common threads. A frequent preface to these discussions was the fact that projections show world population will most likely continue its growth and increase by another two or three billion people by mid-century. For most speakers, this projected population growth was taken as a given. To most of the speakers it seemed to follow then that our society has to meet the food, water and resource challenge that this growth presents. Some of the symposia reported on exercises in thinking about the complex planning that the future will require. It was my impression that scientists love to plan, especially in an atmosphere largely devoid of reality.

Almost without exception, the various plans that were presented never mentioned the fact that reducing overpopulation is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for achieving sustainability.

In the discussion period following one symposium I asked the panelists why the obvious benefits of reducing our present overpopulation were never mentioned. One of the panelists responded with a “picture perfect” recitation of the standard answer that is so often given to annoying inquiries such as mine. With a smile and with suitable restraint, the respondent patiently explained that the United Nations figures show that the growth rate of world population is declining and world population growth is expected to stop on its own later in this century.  So the population problem is under control and there is no need to worry ourselves about it at this time.

I responded by inviting the panelist to come with me to City Hall where we would seek to convince the city government that the city does not need a Fire Department.  It is an established fact that, if left to themselves, all fires, residential, industrial or in the forest, will ultimately go out.  Why rush to put out fires if all fires will ultimately go out on their own?

There was no response. In the meantime, we fiddle while Rome continues to burn.

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A New Dream Built on Resilience by Asher Miller

A new way of seeing our place within the web of life.

A new way of seeing our place within the web of life.

If you’re a lazy pessimist, times are good. After all, you don’t have to look far to see evidence that things are tough and poised to get tougher.

There’s a growing wealth chasm between the rich and, well, everyone else. Significant changes to our climate are already underway and are now largely unavoidable. Our industrial food system is having a malignant influence on people’s health and our politicians. And we are going to increasingly desperate lengths to feed our fossil fuel energy addiction. The list goes on.

And while national and international leadership are key to navigating the bumpy road ahead, thus far, that leadership is sadly wanting.

I’ll be honest—in the face of all this, I’d probably count myself among the lazy pessimists. But having kids ruined both the laziness and the pessimism. I’m sure many of you can relate.

But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the painful reality that’s just outside the window. And if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering what can be done. One approach is to build resilient communities:

  • Resilient – because the complex economic, energy, and environmental challenges we face not only require solutions to make problems go away, but responses that recognize our vulnerabilities, build our capacities, and enable us to adapt to an increasingly unpredictable future.
  • Communities – because the future is grounded in local relationships—relationships with the ecological resources that feed and sustain us, among families and neighbors, and through the institutions we use to govern ourselves.

Thankfully, a small but growing movement of engaged citizens, community groups, businesses, and local elected officials is leading the way. These early actors have worked to reduce unbridled consumption, produce local food and energy, invest in local economies, and preserve local ecosystems. While diverse, the essence of these efforts is the same: a recognition that the world is changing and the old way of doing things no longer works.

A few months ago, my organization, Post Carbon Institute, launched a new website called ‘resilience.org’ to provide connections for concerned folks just like you and me: connections to timely information and thought-provoking essays; connections to like-minded grassroots groups and nonprofit organizations that are working to build robust, thriving communities; and connections to innovative resources and models that help us individually and collectively face these challenges head on.

Here are just few recent examples of articles and resources you can find at resilience.org:

•  A conversation with Mark Lakeman of City Repair: On the development of sustainable public places.

As part of this task we’re also publishing a series of Community Resilience Guides to capture some of the most promising and replicable of these efforts: investing in the local economy, producing community-owned renewable energy, and growing local food security.

These are uncertain, challenging times. But they are also full of opportunity. And so if you’re like me (and the thousands of other folks who visit resilience.org regularly) and feel compelled to take action, I hope you’ll get engaged in the necessary, daunting, and rewarding task of building resilience at home and in your community. It’s all-hands-on-deck!

Asher Miller is the Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute and on the board of Transition US. Visit <resilience.org> to find a resilience group near you. Source: Center for a New American Dream, March 7, 2013. <http://www.newdream.org/blog/a-new-dream-built-on-resilience&gt;

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Filed under Consumption, Culture, Ecological Footprint, Economy, Environment, Growth, Natural Resources, Sustainability, Wildlife

Happiness: Santa Monica Well-Being Study to Examine the Health and Social Connectedness of Residents by Marilyn Hempel

Santa Monica Third Street Prominade

Santa Monica Third Street Prominade

Santa Monica, California, is known for its progressive social consciousness. The Los Angeles County coastal city now wants to find out how its citizens are feeling. The City of Santa Monica has won a $1 million grant to develop an index to measure the satisfaction of residents, all in an effort to improve public policy.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, offered the ‘Mayor’s Challenge’ prize to cities to discover “innovative local solutions to national problems”. Providence, RI, took the top spot, winning $5 million to launch its ‘Providence Talks’ program, which is designed to improve the language skills of children born into low-income homes.

Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia were also named runners-up alongside Santa Monica. They too will receive a $1-million prize to kick-start projects such as a “one bin for all” recycling program and an analytics platform that will make city government more efficient.

“The competition has provided evidence that cities are really the new laboratories of democracy,” Bloomberg said.

Santa Monica will develop its happiness index over the next two years. City officials and Rand Corporation researchers propose tracking the physical health, social connectedness and community resilience of residents. Once officials pinpoint how residents are faring, they can direct money and resources where needs are greatest. The city has already completed a youth well-being study that found most students were healthy and felt safe at school.

The city of Santa Monica is not only interested in becoming more sustainable, it is already working to achieve that goal. It has had an Office of Sustainability and the Environment since 1994. Dean Kubani is director of the office and its programs.  In describing the development of a happiness index, he stated:

“Research shows that the conditions that make people happy are (among other things): strong family and community connections; positive physical and mental health; a feeling of comfort and safety in one’s surroundings; gainful and fulfilling work; and a pleasant environment to live in.

“In Santa Monica we plan to measure local wellbeing through a combination of subjective data (basically interviewing a lot of people about how they perceive their own wellbeing and the conditions that impact their wellbeing) and objective data like crime rates, public heath indicators, educational data, economic and jobs data, environmental indicators and others that address all of these various conditions and ‘happiness factors’.

“We will aggregate this into a Wellbeing Index that will inform our City Council and other community leaders on directing resources to those areas (both geographic and topical) identified by the data as wellbeing ‘gaps’.  The ultimate goal is to continually collect this data, and use it to increase the wellbeing of our community. Making more informed decisions will hopefully result in better outcomes for our residents. This is similar to the way our sustainability indicators and targets inform our decision-making process now.”

The ultimate goal is to build sustainable, resilient communities where the residents connect with each other and with nature—all within the means of nature. That way of life will help people thrive and be happy. As Dean Kubani said,  “If we can help each other along, we can sleep well at night.”

For more information, contact the City of Santa Monica, Office of Sustainability and the Environment, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Ste J, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone: 310-458-2213. Website: <www.sustainablesm.org>

Sustainable Santa Monica Background

On September 20, 1994 Santa Monica’s City Council adopted the city’s first Sustainable City Program to ensure that Santa Monica can continue to meet its current environmental, economic and social needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. The program has evolved since its adoption and has been responsible for many positive changes in the community. In 2003, City Council adopted an expanded version of the program called the Sustainable City Plan, which was developed by a diverse group of community stakeholders and lays out far-reaching sustainability goals for the community. In 2012, Santa Monica began a comprehensive update of the Sustainable City Plan in order to lay the foundation for future sustainability successes.

Additional information is available at <www.sustainablesm.org>. If you have questions, please contact the Office of Sustainability and the Environment at: (Phone) 310-458-2213 or (Email) environment@smgov.net.

10 Guiding Principles provide the basis from which effective decisions are made.

1. The Concept of Sustainability Guides City Policy

2. Protection, Preservation, and Restoration of the Natural Environment
is a High Priority of the City

3. Environmental Quality, Economic Health and Social Equity are Mutually Dependent

4. All Decisions Have Implications to the Long-term Sustainability of Santa Monica

5. Community Awareness, Responsibility, Participation and Education are Key Elements of a Sustainable Community

6. Santa Monica Recognizes Its Linkage with the Regional, National, and Global Community

7. Those Sustainability Issues Most Important to the Community Will be Addressed First, and the Most Cost-Effective Programs and Policies Will be Selected

8. The City is Committed to Procurement Decisions which Minimize Negative Environmental and Social Impacts

9. Cross-sector Partnerships Are Necessary to Achieve Sustainable Goals

10. The Precautionary Principle Provides a Complimentary Framework to Help Guide City Decision-Makers in the Pursuit of Sustainability

Sustainable Santa Monica ~ 2012 Achievement Highlights

Resource Conservation

  • Expanding Efficiency: More than 700 water saving devices were installed in homes and businesses throughout the city.
  • Solar Success: To date, there are 377 grid connected solar projects in the city representing 2.945 megawatts of solar capacity.
  • Compost Collection: The food waste composting program kept more than 4,000,000 pounds of food waste out of the landfill.

Transportation

  • Biking is Big: Bike lanes and routes were installed on 18 miles of city streets.
  • Pedal Parking: The bike valet program parked 24,000 bikes for free at 217 community events around the city.
  • Friendly Fuels: Public electric vehicle charging stations were installed at 24 locations adding to the more than 100 EV charging stations already available at private locations.

Economic Development

  • Community Commerce: 518 businesses joined ‘Buy Local Santa Monica’ and demonstrated their commitment to our local community.
  • Local Leadership: Nineteen businesses were recognized for their exceptional commitment to sustainable practices through the ‘Green Business Certification Program’.

Environmental and Public Health

  • Diligent Disposal: Community members using the Household Hazardous Waste Programs kept nearly 250,000 lbs
  • of hazardous materials and 32,000 lbs of household batteries out of the landfill.
  • Resource Reuse: More than 64,000,000 gallons of urban runoff were harvested and treated for reuse at the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility.
  • Market Madness: Sales are up 5% at four thriving farmers’ markets that provide fresh, locally grown produce to nearly a million visitors each year!
  • Better Bags: Implementation of the ‘Single Use Carryout Bag Ban’ eliminated 21,000,000 plastic bags from circulation throughout the city.

Open Space and Land Use

  • Outstanding Open Space: Santa Monica’s open space system now includes 245 acres of state beach and 27 community parks.
  • Total Trees: An additional 1,384 new trees were added to the existing 34,500 public trees in Santa Monica’s urban forest.

Human Dignity

  • Homeless Help: ‘Project Homecoming’ helped 266 previously homeless individuals reunite with family and friends able to offer permanent housing and ongoing support.
  • Safe Streets: Serious crimes against persons and property dropped 4.8%.
  • Community Care: The Human Services Grants Program provided over $7,400,00 to support local family, disability, employment and homeless services.

Housing

  • Housing Hope: 101 affordable housing units were completed and construction began on an additional 354 affordable housing units.
  • Complete Communities: More than 90% of all new housing units are within a mile of a transit stop, open space and a grocery store.

Arts and Culture

  • Adding Arts: City Council approved the addition of an ‘Arts and Culture Goal Area’ in the Sustainable City Plan.
  • Creative Culture: The full spectrum of cultural, artistic and design goods and services known as the ‘Creative Sector’ employ 43% of Santa Monica residents.

Community Education and Civic Participation

  • People Participate: Nearly 9,000 people participated in the Santa Monica Festival and 20,000 people attended the AltCar and AltBuild Expos.
  • Environmental Education: More than 800 people participated in the ‘Sustainable Works Community Greening Program’.
  • Individual Input: Voter turnout in the November 2010 off-year election was 65%, exceeding the Sustainable City Plan target of 50%.

Sample of Future Goals

  • Become water self-sufficient (i.e no water from the Colorado River or northern California – only local well water, rainwater and recycled/reclaimed water) by 2020
  • Achieve 95% waste diversion from the landfill by 2030
  • Get community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80% below 1990 by 2050 (Santa Monica is already 14% below 1990 levels now).

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U.S. Immigration Policies: Uncomfortable Facts by Paul Krugman

(This article was written in 2006, and it’s still relevant today)

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” wrote Emma Lazarus, in a poem that still puts a lump in my throat. I’m proud of America’s immigrant history, and grateful that the door was open when my grandparents fled Russia.

In other words, I’m instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration. But a review of serious, nonpartisan research reveals some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular. If people like me are going to respond effectively to anti-immigrant demagogues, we have to acknowledge those facts.

First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1%.

Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration—especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8% more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration.

That’s why it’s intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do “jobs that Americans will not do.” The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays—and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants.

Finally, modern America is a welfare state, even if our social safety net has more holes in it than it should—and low-skill immigrants threaten to unravel that safety net.

Basic decency requires that we provide immigrants, once they’re here, with essential health care, education for their children, and more. As the Swiss writer Max Frisch wrote about his own country’s experience with immigration, ”We wanted a labor force, but human beings came.” Unfortunately, low-skill immigrants don’t pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive.

Worse yet, immigration penalizes governments that act humanely. Immigrants are a much more serious fiscal problem in California than in Texas which treats the poor and unlucky harshly, regardless of where they were born.

We shouldn’t exaggerate these problems. Mexican immigration, says the Borjas-Katz study, has played only a “modest role” in growing U.S. inequality. And the political threat that low-skill immigration poses to the welfare state is more serious than the fiscal threat: the disastrous Medicare drug bill alone does far more to undermine the finances of our social insurance system than the whole burden of dealing with illegal immigrants. But modest problems are still real problems, and immigration is becoming a major political issue. What are we going to do about it?

Realistically, we’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants. Mainly that means better controls on illegal immigration. But the harsh anti-immigration legislation passed by the House, which has led to huge protests—legislation that would, among other things, make it a criminal act to provide an illegal immigrant with medical care—is simply immoral.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush’s plan for a ”guest worker” program is clearly designed by and for corporate interests, who’d love to have a low-wage work force that couldn’t vote. Not only is it deeply un-American; it does nothing to reduce the adverse effect of immigration on wages. And because guest workers would face the prospect of deportation after a few years, they would have no incentive to become integrated into our society.

What about a guest-worker program that includes a clearer route to citizenship? I’d still be careful. Whatever the bill’s intentions, it could all too easily end up having the same effect as the Bush plan in practice—that is, it could create a permanent underclass of disenfranchised workers.

We need to do something about immigration, and soon. But I’d rather see Congress fail to agree on anything than have it rush into ill-considered legislation that betrays our moral and democratic principles.

 

Dr. Paul Krugman, American economist, bestselling author and respected professor, was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008. Krugman’s expertise is in international economics, including finance, trade theory and economic geography. Source: This essay was published by Paul Krugman in the New York Times on March 27, 2006. It is reprinted here verbatim and unedited. In follow-up remarks Krugman noted that although many readers will probably be unhappy with the essay, he stands by its main points, referencing economic studies which support those points. Interestingly, the NY Times quickly deleted the original article from its website.

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Filed under Economy, Ethics, Growth, Human Rights, Immigration, Leadership, Sustainability

New Poll Finds Americans Do Care About Runaway Population Growth by Jerry Karnas

Earth’s human population could hit 10 billion by 2050. A national poll by the Center for Biological Diversity finds a majority of Americans believe the growth is causing species to go extinct, is making climate disruption worse, and that we have a moral obligation to address the problem.

There’s a price for screwing around like we are. And Americans know it.

Every day, we add 200,000 more people to the planet—that’s like adding a city the size of Phoenix every week. We’ve already tipped the 7 billion mark, and we’re on pace for 10 billion by 2050, perhaps 14 billion by 2100.

Think of what it takes to accommodate that many more people: the roads, the pollution, the strip malls, the fresh water, the oil, the land to grow food, the ungodly amount of electronic gadgets and gizmos that have become practically intertwined in our DNA.

And all of these come at a price. The more people we add, the more fossil fuels we dig up, the more wild land we log and pave and mine, the worse the climate gets, the more pesticides we use, the more land we take from wildlife, the more species that are put on an accelerated ride toward utter extinction.

But there is some good news. The American people understand. They’re connecting the dots. They get that we can’t keep growing our human population as if there’s never a price to be paid.

A new national poll commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity (where I work) and conducted by über-pollsters Public Policy Polling finds that 60% of Americans believe the world’s growing human population is driving wildlife species toward extinction. 57% believe that population growth is making climate change worse. Respondents also said addressing the human population—which topped 7 billion in 2011—is an important environmental issue (59%).

But wait, you might be saying, didn’t I just read a slew of recent news pieces sounding the alarm about how the U.S. is a facing a population catastrophe, that we aren’t breeding enough?

Didn’t I just read how hordes of city slickers are choosing childless lives and about a book titled What to Expect When No One’s Expecting? Didn’t Joel KotkinMegan McArdle, and Justin Green all write pieces about how the real problem is not population growth but population decline?

What’s going on here?

Well, seems there are a few media-savvy Growth Boosters who like the allure of a narrative that says, “Nope, the problem isn’t too many people, it’s that we’re not producing humans fast enough.” These folks have a worldview where population growth is all wisdom and no vice. Grow or die, they say. The bad news is that these folks have a habit of generating a lot of press. The good news is that the American people aren’t buying it.

Do Americans feel that growth is just too fast? You bet they do. Our poll found 50% said the world’s population is growing too fast. Only 4% said too slow. The belief in the tooth fairy would poll higher than that.

The U.S. adds 5,000 people a day to the population ranks. That’s like adding a city of Philadelphia every year. And we certainly take a toll on the planet. Americans consume 18.8 million barrels of oil per day—more than the next four highest oil consumers combined. The same is pretty much true for meat, grains, water, coal, natural gas, and a host of other resources.

The Gunnison sage grouse merits endangered-species protection in part because the human population has doubled in its habitat and will double again in the next 20 years.

The Gunnison sage grouse merits endangered-species protection in part because the human population has doubled in its habitat and will double again in the next 20 years.

Are Americans aware of our disproportionate levels of consumption? Yes, they are. Are Americans OK with these levels of consumption? 48% of the poll respondents said the average American consumes too many natural resources. Only 17% said we consume too few.

Are Americans concerned about the rate that wildlife is disappearing? Absolutely. 61% were concerned about vanishing plants and animals.

Here’s the key question. Do the American people believe population growth is impacting the disappearance of wildlife? Yes: 57% said population growth was a significant cause of plant and animal extinctions. Asked another way, 60% agreed with the following statement: “Human population growth is driving other animal species to extinction.”

We also asked about future growth and its impacts. Our poll found 64% of Americans believe a 10 billion–person planet would result in adverse effects. Only 8% thought this population level would be beneficial.

What about climate disruption? Do Americans connect the cooking of the planet to making babies willy-nilly? Without a doubt: 57% of those polled said population growth was making climate change harder to solve.

Do Americans think stabilizing population will help protect the environment? 54% believe stabilization will.

Florida panthers experienced the second year in a row of record-breaking road-kill deaths due to increased traffic and development in panther habitat.

Florida panthers experienced the second year in a row of record-breaking road-kill deaths due to increased traffic and development in panther habitat.

Nothing on Earth happens in a vacuum. It’s a closed system that begins to buckle under the sheer weight of human demands. Scientists are increasingly linking population growth and overconsumption to our environmental challenges. In just the past few months scientists have found:

  • The Colorado River system is under assault by a growing population, and there are serious doubts it can meet the West’s demand for water in the coming decades.
  • Florida’s aquifer, the water supply for 19 million people, is experiencing saltwater intrusion because of overpumping.
  • The United States will lose 36 million acres of forest to urban sprawl by 2050.
  • Sixty-six species of coral should be classified as endangered—population and consumption of resources are a driving factor in the threats corals face.
  • The Gunnison sage grouse merits endangered-species protection in part because the human population has doubled in its habitat and will double again in the next 20 years.
  • Florida panthers experienced the second year in a row of record-breaking road-kill deaths due to increased traffic and development in panther habitat.

What is most heartening about our poll is that the American people get it. There is no disconnect between what the scientists are measuring and finding and what Americans are perceiving and experiencing. They aren’t freaking out about population declines. They are increasingly of the view that the world’s population and consumption levels are seriously out of whack with the ecological safety net the Earth provides free of charge to us all.

And finally it comes to this: We asked, if mass extinctions of plants and animals were unavoidable due to population growth, do we have a moral responsibility to address the problem? Sixty percent said yes.

In the end that is the most important conclusion. Americans believe we should do the right thing. The right thing is to start a real conversation about what’s happening to life on Earth. If we don’t, in the end we will only be injuring ourselves.

 

Jerry Karnas is the population campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity. To learn more about their population campaign, and to sign up to help, go to <http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/overpopulation/7_billion_and_counting/index.html >  This article first appeared in The Daily Beast, February 28, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

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Filed under Growth, Natural Resources, Population, Sustainability, Wildlife

Can the World Have Both Rapid Population Growth and Sustainable Development? by David Lam & John Bongaarts

This is part of an online discussion, a point/counter-point exchange on the issue of rapid population growth and sustainable development. The debate continues on what the international development agenda should be. These arguments are just as relevant to U.S. family planning services as to any other country.

Quantity...?

Quantity…?

The Quantity/Quality Transition

David Lam:

When couples decide whether to use contraception and whether to have another child, they think not only about the numbers of children but also about the quality of life each child will have. As fertility has fallen rapidly in most regions of the world, the amount of resources invested in each child has also increased dramatically. Some of these investments, such as schooling and public health, are at least partly provided by public resources. But many of the investments are made by the parents, and explain why parents around the world talk about children being more expensive than they were when families were much larger. In the last 50 years most of the developing world has made a transition from couples having large numbers of children with low investments per child, to couples having small numbers of children with high investments per child. This is one of the most fundamental dimensions of economic development and is one of the reasons for optimism about the future of the world. Children born today in developing countries will be healthier and better educated than their parents or their grandparents, good news for them and for the countries they live in.

...or Quality?

…or Quality?

Economists think of parents as choosing both the quantity and the ‘quality’ of children, in the same way that people choose both the quantity and quality of things like cars, houses, and clothing.  Non-economists sometimes find this language offensive, perhaps because it sounds like some children are more valuable than others or because it equates children with consumer durables.  But ‘quality’ of children simply refers to the amount of resources invested in each child, with these investments resulting in outcomes such as better health, more education, and a higher standard of living. Parents make decisions about both quantity and quality, and it is important to keep this in mind in thinking about why parents choose to reduce fertility. Whenever we see fertility decline we also see increased parental investments in children. It is really the combination of lower quantity and higher quality that parents are choosing, not simply lower fertility.

Understanding this ‘quantity-quality transition’ is important in thinking about population policy. Parents choose a combination of lower quantity of children and higher quality of children for a number of reasons. One reason is because increased child survival makes this a more viable childbearing strategy. Another is because better access to family planning services gives women the ability to choose a low fertility option. Another important reason is because with economic development parents begin to see increased returns to investing in their children.

Urbanization and industrialization bring increased returns to human capital, including education and health. Parents begin to see that a child with good schooling can do well in the world. This is one of the reasons why parents move to a strategy of low fertility and high investments in their children.

Women are most likely to reduce fertility when they see rewards to increasing investments in children. Family planning programs are most likely to be effective when they are accompanied by improvements in schools, better economic opportunities, and improvements in child survival. Most countries have already made the transition from high fertility-low investments to low fertility-high investments. The challenge is to bring this transition to the remaining poor countries, mainly in Africa, that have yet to make it. The best way to accomplish this is to provide access to family planning that is accompanied by policies and programs that will improve economic growth and increase the returns to investments in children.

John Bongaarts:

Economists have made important contributions to our understanding of the fertility transition by emphasizing the crucial role of investments in the education and health of children and by analyzing the quantity-quality trade-off that parents face when making family size decisions. Poor countries should indeed make education and health improvements a top priority. This will yield many individual and social benefits and will eventually bring about the fertility transition. However, such transitions take time and will leave many poor countries with huge population increases that threaten to derail development. This is why family planning programs are also essential.

Unfortunately economists have been largely unsupportive of family planning programs. As David Lam points out, economists think of parents as choosing both the quantity and the ‘quality’ of children, in the same way that people choose both the quantity and quality of things like cars, houses, and clothing. An obvious problem with this way of thinking is that durable goods require an active purchase in the market, while pregnancies occur unless an effort is made to avoid them. In addition, economic theories typically assume that the cost of contraception is sufficiently low to be ignored. From this academic perspective the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies should be as rare as of unwanted new cars; family planning programs are therefore considered pointless and a waste of resources. Needless to say, the real world is different.

Richard Easterlin recognized the problem with this reasoning and in the 1970s produced an influential revision of the conventional economic theory of fertility. His framework for the determinants of fertility added two critical elements. First, it acknowledged the role of biology in childbearing outcomes. Specifically, without efforts to control conception, women who are sexually active would bear large numbers of children, because a pregnancy takes only nine months and the reproductive years last decades. To avoid having ‘excess’ children, parents must practice birth control. This fact makes the ‘acquisition’ of children fundamentally different from the purchase of durable goods. Second, Easterlin recognized that the cost of birth control could be substantial, thus leading to significant numbers of unplanned pregnancies. These costs are broadly defined to include economic, health, psychological, and social obstacles.

The opposition of economists to family planning programs has been one of the main reasons for the low investment in them during the past. Fortunately the tide is now turning and Easterlin’s views are taken seriously again. Not a moment too soon.

Source: http://www.worldwewant2015.org/node/304148

John Bongaarts, Ph.D. is Vice President and Distinguished Scholar of the Population Council in New York.  Mr. Bongaarts is the author or co-author of approximately 200 scholarly articles on various aspects of demography, including the determinants of fertility, population-environment interactions, the demographic impact of the AIDS epidemic, population aging, and population policy options in the developing world.  He is a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

David Lam, Ph.D. is Professor of Economics and Research Professor in the Population Studies Center, University of Michigan.  He was President of the Population Association of America in 2011.  Throughout a long and distinguished career, Professor Lam’s research has focused on the interaction of economics and demography in developing countries, including analysis of the economics of population growth, fertility, marriage, and aging.  He is currently on sabbatical at the University of Cape Town.

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