Posts tagged "ecology"

A nice analogy for “development” without ecology and equity.


(via alecologia-deactivated20120803)

Montreal is having a conference about “degrowth” in the Americas! An excerpt for why they’re arguing for degrowth and what that even means:

Little Vade Mecum for the Growth Objector

By Yves-Marie Abraham, HEC Montréal
May 2011

1. What is degrowth?

  • This is not an economic depression, nor a recession, but a decline in the importance of the economy itself in our lives and our societies.
  • This is not the decline of GDP, but the end of GDP and all other quantitative measures used as indicators of well being.
  • This is not a decline in population size, but a questioning of humanity’s self-destructive lifestyle.
  • This is not a step backwards, but an invitation to step aside, out of the race in pursuit of excessiveness.
  • This is not nostalgia for some golden age, but an unprecedented project to invent creative ways of living together.
  • This is not degrowth imposed by the depletion of the biosphere’s resources, but a voluntary degrowth, to live better here and now, preserving the conditions necessary for the long-term survival of humanity.
  • This is not an end in itself, but a necessary step in the search for models depicting free societies, liberated from the dogma of growth.
  • This is not a project of voluntary deprivation and impoverishment, but an attempt to find a “better life”, based on simplicity, restraint, and sharing.
  • This is not “sustainable development”, but a rejection of capitalism, no matter if it is “green” or “socially just”, and no matter if it has State-run or private enterprises.
  • This is not ecofascism, but a call for a democratic revolution to end our productivist-consumerist model of society.
  • This is not voluntary simplicity, but a revolutionary political project that implies the adoption of the principles of voluntary simplicity on the individual level.
  • This is not is not an “anti-modern” movement, but a “neo-modern” movement, based on respect for the values of freedom and equality.

In summary, degrowth is a call for a radical break from traditional growth-based models of society, no matter if these models are “left” or “right”, to invent new ways of living together in a true democracy, respectful of the values of equality and freedom, based on sharing and cooperation, and with sufficiently moderate consumption so as to be sustainable.

…continued here.


Tell me how much you consume and I will tell you what you are worth.
Eduardo Galeano, satirically, in Upside Down

The theme of “guilt” came up frequently in the discussions from both Week 2 and Week 3 - guilt for poverty, guilt for ecological destruction, etc. How do we deal with that guilt? I offer no easy answers - only my own conditional ones. But perhaps this can help you find your own answers.

Part of a participant’s response from Week 3:

Last week we talked about how we can end up taking more than we give in our relationship with the developing world, and I think this ecological discussion is a clear example of that. It would take 3.6 earths to sustain my lifestyle, and I am one of the strictest people I know when it comes to living responsibly. I know a large portion of those 3.6 earths comes simply from living and paying taxes in the United States. Obviously that doesn’t make it ok, but how can I confront that fact in my daily life? Protest more? Move out of the U.S.? One of my goals in life is ‘Live simply so that others may simply live.’ How can I realize that goal in my life? Is it even possible?

My response:
As far as your question, it’s something we all struggle with, and I have no great insight. You’re very right that there are individual limits to what someone can do (aside from literally moving “off the grid” and into a jungle).

This realization can send you spiraling into a guilt trip of epic proportions. But is such a guilt trip productive? I try to encourage people to channel this guilt into constructive anger at a social, economic, and cultural system of beliefs and practices that both constrains our alternatives and encourages less sustainable and equitable choices. This outward focus is, in my view, far more productive than internalizing guilt. We have to work to change this system, rather than beating ourselves up for being born into it.

How do we do that? That’s perhaps the crux of your question. We’ll dig into this more as we go on in the course - but of course there are many options. In my own life, I think about building real sustainable alternatives for our modern life as an engineer, protesting when an extra body is needed, engaging in a constant dialogue with friends and family, and joining organizations that educate and mobilize others for change in solidarity with people around the world. I’ve started to compile some of these organizations on our CDF website, and this list is by no means complete.

But I would not move out of the U.S. Here I have a unique ability to both understand this culture and work to change it from within - and that’s a very special opportunity.


What do you all think?

Further reading: Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Appiah is a quick read and digestible philiosophy. In it, Appiah offers some similar advice, though I don’t always agree with his points.

From one of the participants’ responses from week 3:

It is true that growth has defined human history on the planet, that the beginning of agriculture thousands of years ago marked a period of proliferation, abundance, even surplus (of goods as well as people). Only recently, within the past several hundred years, have the edges of a seemingly infinite tendency towards growth been perceived; subtle signals have accumulated to become portentous auguries, and enough humans have sensed the malignant disequilibrium which ails the Pachamama so that that the dwindling few who don’t are in a stubborn state of denial.

I thought this was worth discussing and sharing a bit given our topics for Week 3 and Week 4. This is a nice connection between the idea that economic growth on a finite planet is limited, and that there are alternatives (like Ancient Futures' depiction of Ladakh shows us).

In this participant’s excerpt, it’s assumed that growth has defined human history on the planet, and that its effects have only been perceived in the last few centuries. This is not quite the whole truth…

It’s not that we have only recently begun to perceive the negative ecological (and arguably social) effects of economic growth; the nature of economic growth itself has changed. It has become exponential. Exponential functions, you might recall from calculus, describe something accelerating. Our global economy, you might thus imagine, is like a car in which the driver has floored the accelerator instead of being happy going along at the speed limit. The speed will keep on rising, but at some point the engine will max out, and (quite literally) overheat - like our planet is today.

Exponential growth (a la the impossible hamster, or the doubling paper exercise we did in class) is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating only to the industrial revolution (see the charts). The industrial revolution allowed the rate of consumption of natural resources to be radically increased beyond renewable limits.

Knowing the relatively recent history of exponential growth makes the idea (proposed by Herman Daly and most ecologists and the field of ecological economics itself) of a shift to a steady state (slow or no growth) economy seem much less shocking. We can take the technology and “advances” we think are genuine from this stage of human history and move them forward in new ways. We needn’t and couldn’t somehow relive the past.

Our period of exponential economic growth is a blip (a crucially important one, but a blip no less) in human history - and so changing it does not seem so radical after all, does it?

Further reading: Do the Math has a number of posts on this subject, like Can Economic Growth Last? and the Galactic Scale Energy post I previously noted.


We can perhaps, in taking a few steps backwards to reverse some of the degenerative processes we’ve provoked, undertake our work with willingness, creativity and deliberation, acknowledging that it is hard but not impossible to tread different paths and take shorter, slower strides.
Some words of cautious hope about alternative developmentS and ecology - part of Vanessa’s response to Week 3. (posted by me - Dean)

This is the all too common and unfortunate downside of hydroelectric dams. They inundate huge swaths of land - and that land is rarely “empty.” Even when there are no human settlements, there can be priceless historic sites (as in the GAP Southern Anatolia Project in Turkey) or precious ecological services that are permanently lost. (When dams are first constructed, they actually have an ENORMOUS carbon footprint, not only due to the energy-intensive concrete, but also the release of carbon from plants which decay under the flooding behind the dam.)

Is it time we looked at different ways to content ourselves beyond increasing our energy consumption? Or are these necessary steps for Brazil to “catch up” and should we mainly look inward at our own consumption?


A campaign by one of the oldest and most successful voices in the global justice movement offers hope.

from Friends of the Earth

At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product.
– Paul Hawken (commencement address to University of Portland, 2009)