“Mira! Mira la tormenta!”

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Sarah Connor: “What did he say?”

Old man: “He said, ‘There’s a storm coming.'”

Sarah Connor: “I know.”

The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg

I remember when I first watched the movie, The Terminator, back in the mid-80’s and thinking this was a great ending for that film. Knowing what the future holds, the pregnant Sarah Connor heads off to Mexico in order to survive the nuclear war and to prepare for what follows. After reading Richard Heinberg’s Book, The End of Growth, I’m left wondering if I will need to employ a similar strategy at some point.

Our planet has a finite size. That is a fact. It is also a fact that, relatively speaking, it’s a very BIG place, which is insidiously deceptive to the humble brains of humans. Heinberg’s basic premise is that continued growth is impossible due to decreasing resources and increasing demands, particularly for energy. Cheap energy, in the form of fossil-fuels, in fact, is what he argues has “fueled” growth in the modern era, and an effective substitute is yet to be discovered or developed.

Those who expect a return to growth are counting on technological innovations and increased efficiencies (indeed, in my former, casual ponderings on the future, I must admit that I staked my hopes on this as well) are doomed to be disappointed, in Heinberg’s opinion. Years ago, my dyed-in-the-wool conservative older brother recommended the book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist” by Bjorn(?) Lomborg to me in order to assuage my fears. Maybe I need to revisit this one now. Who knows, though, if the material in it has already become somewhat outdated…

This book also does speak a little about the boom-bust life cycle of technologies and uses the “fad” about corn ethanol (once known as “gasohol” I think) as an example. I’d always wondered exactly who it was who EVER thought this was a good idea. I mean, with exponential population growth, “yes, let’s set aside huge swaths of arable land to grow more fuel!!” Something seems to me to be obviously wrong with that idea…

The ideas in is book will keep you up at night, and, sadly, not much of the book is devoted to potential solutions to all the dangers described therein…

the-end-of-growth

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11 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    January 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Sometimes I stay awake at night thinking of similar ideas, mostly because my wife watches numerous documentaries on netflix about these topics. I can never decide whether to become consumed with thinking about it or just not care. I can’t figure out what it is that I can do to attempt to prevent these things. The problems seem so big!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 30, 2012 at 7:33 am

      Hi Dale,
      Yes, the problems do seem too big to make any individual impact. Since reading the book, I find myself noticing things – big and little – more than I used to. Driving to work on I-465 crowded with cars with only one person per car, for example. I remember when I bought my current car back in 2000 thinking, “well, this will probably be the last internal combustion vehicle I ever buy.” here we are more than eleven years later and not much (readily apparent) progress has been made in new technologies. Probably none will be until we reach “crisis mode.” Kinda scary.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Nan said,

    January 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    I think the most baffling thing to me is that some places are so over-populated while others are not. I can’t figure out why people all want to live in areas where they have to bring in water instead of living in a place where there is plenty of water. It seems that warm weather trumps every other thing. People get all upset about winter and snow, but aren’t a bit upset by temps in the 100s and scorpions. A real mystery to me, a north country girl.

    Like

  3. Jay said,

    January 30, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Hi Nan,
    The uneven distribution of populations certainly seems illogical. I wonder, though, if that may have more to do with historical and cultural factors than logical factors. I fear we have “interesting times” (the kind referenced in the Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.”) ahead.
    -Jay

    Like

  4. January 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Hi there,

    You’d need a Danish keyboard to make the ø in Bjørn’s name ;o) …However if you instead picked up some of his new writings, you’ll find he’s realized a thing or two, and is much less of a climate-denier than previously.
    Though I recommend you not to waste time on him; he’s a disgrace for the Danish nation!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 31, 2012 at 8:34 am

      Thanks for the comment, Max, and I’ll go shopping for that keyboard. 🙂

      I remember starting the Lomborg book years ago but it was rather tough going for me, technically, and I never finished it. Thanks for sharing your opinion on him.

      -Jay

      Like

  5. Ron Shook said,

    January 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    “The ideas in his book will keep you up at night, and, sadly, not much of the book is devoted to potential solutions to all the dangers described therein…”

    Yeah, we peak oilers are a gloomy lot, not that we can’t envision solutions, but that we know that no top down solution thinking has a chance in hell of working. That’s what got us into this mess.

    Solutions have to and will bubble up from the bottom, from individuals, families, and local communities getting by pretty much on their own. You and I and all of us will be and will develop the solutions. Look and learn the bottom up techniques of the Transition Movement. Let your curiosity fly about old and new technologies that fit a different, sustainable world. Build your skills for the new world. But most of all get together with your friends and neighbors and get the collective mind working on it. We can be just as clever for good communally as we are now currently at hyper individualistic scams.

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  6. Jay said,

    January 31, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for the excellent comment, Ron. Can you recommend any other books on the “solutions” side of the issue?

    Heinberg did talk a little about the Transition Movement and some community/collective initiatives already in place. It’s just hard for me to imagine them surviving full-scale social upheaval when the vast, outnumbering masses of those who made no transition plans start rampaging and taking from those outnumbered few who did.

    -Jay

    Like

  7. Ron Shook said,

    January 31, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Jay,

    We are all, with our relatively recent big picture understandings, more than a little flailing around for solutions to meet the challenges before the rampaging begins, to head it off at the pass. And we all have to pass through the gates of the death of the civilization that we grew up in, through the psychological stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the late 60’s. I came to this understanding on my own only to discover that Heinberg devotes several pages to it in his previous book, “Peak Everything.”

    We can grapple with fear at the possibilities and blog and talk it out ad infinitum, but most of us have to get down to the business of facilitating (not leading) change in our local communities so that some framework is in place when the power down really gets going in earnest. Even with the best of technocratic tweaking that power down is at most 8 or 10 years off. The best comprehensive outline for how that is done, that I’ve seen, is Rob Hopkins’ “The Transition Handbook.” There’s only so much room for more academic leaders like the fabulous Richard Heinberg in this effort. They can provide our Come to Jesus moments, but we’re going to have to do the heavy lifting ourselves.

    My personal journey started nearly 4 years ago from a NYT magazine article by Michael Pollen called “Open letter to the Farmer-in-Chief.” A statistic in the article early on left me stunned. In 1940 American agriculture used 1/2 calorie of fossil fuels to create 1 calorie of food. Today it uses 10 calories of fossil fuels to create 1 calorie of food, a 20x increase in the insane use of a finite resource in an overpacked and increasingly polluted World. I’ve lived in Chicago all my adult life, but grew up on a small farm in Michigan. I instantly realized that we are in big-assed trouble, and haven’t looked back since.

    It’s really depressing, but I’m finding green shoots in some of the oddest places and the pace of those tiny but significant solutions is picking up and spreading, in my estimation. Here’s something small now for personal transportation, that I suspect will be huge in the power down. And it’s not the standard progressive meme of more public transportation that we’ll never be able to afford. http://www.etrikebikes.com

    As a business the above website is a bust. We never expected much, but to discover that the American people are practically incapable of doing much of anything on their own is a shocker. DIY has been trained out of most Americans over the last 30-40 years. The solution is for those of us who can to help facilitate the natural curiosity of our neighbors and get them moving on new practical skills, skills for survival in the years ahead, get them growing and building with their own hands individually and communally again, and celebrating this. That’s the genius of the transition movement.

    I won’t return here any time soon, so if you’d like to continue the discussion friend me on facebook, so that my friends and yours will benefit and add to our journey. If you search through my status you’ll find that I’m constantly linking to solutions large and small. Just sent a couple of fabulous links to Richard by e-mail.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 1, 2012 at 8:39 am

      Thanks for the suggestions, Ron. I will look for you on FaceBook so that I may glean additional info from all the links you post on this issue.
      -Jay

      Like

  8. Ron Shook said,

    January 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Jay,

    Here’s a link to segments of the Rob Hopkins’ very new book, “The Transition Companion.” Just looking through this will give you a very good idea of what I’m talking about.

    Good, productive reading!

    Like


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