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George Monbiot: "The Dangers of Continued Growth Now Demand a New Economic System. ASAP."

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Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled just one cubic meter. Let us then propose that these possessions grew in amount by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. The size of the pyramids? Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? Perhaps even a little more?

The actual answer: 2.5 billion billion solar systems. Impossible you say? You doubt the abilities or the intellectual integrity of investment banker Grantham? Then do the math yourself. He's made no mistake. (Link).

And once you've accepted that fact, it should not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical conclusion that in that particular kind of 'salvation' (i.e. continued economic growth, at 4.5% a year ), lies inevitable economic and societal collapse.

Therefore, to 'succeed' in this way is to destroy ourselves. And yet to fail at the tasks we've perversely set out for ourselves, is also to destroy ourselves, if only in a different way. (If we don't maintain a certain amount of production (of whatever), we can't create nearly enough jobs to keep sufficient numbers of people employed -- at least not the way the economy is currently arranged. Translation: Computers and automation are doing ever more of the work, so unless we reduce the length of the work day, work week, and/or work year, ever more people are going to fall into long term unemployment and poverty. The only alternative to this is steadily ramped-up consumption, and this, as we've shown, cannot end well!)

So this is the societal and economic bind we have inadvertently created. Ignore, if you will, climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; for even if all these problems were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuance of this maximized growth system of ours impossible to sustain. The hyperconsumption, hyperproduction treadmill is in reality a death machine that, while it creates fabulous wealth for some, and considerable wealth for those who succeed in the increasingly difficult, mad scramble for a good education and a decent job, it keeps millions of the less-fortunate poor and sick, many (worldwide) without clean water and enough food. Only with continued warfare and periodic destruction of enormous amounts of wealth (and people), can we sustain this perversely sick system. But that way too will eventually destroy us.

Current economic growth is an artifact of the use of fossil fuels

Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, due to the simple fact that the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. So every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. Then coal broke this cycle and enabled -- for a few hundred years more, at least -- the phenomenon we now naively call "sustained growth."

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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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