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Degrowth – the only alternative

We are outstripping the earth's capacity to supply the current demands of even a small part of humanity, while preventing the majority from ever having the ability to consume so much.

Many see huge economic opportunities in investing in so-called green technology and industries as a way to combat climate change. The reasoning for this is essentially based on the idea that we just need to reprioritise what we invest in to allow economic growth to continue without destroying the planet. The problem with this outlook is that we are reaching the earth's limits when pandering to the demands of only a small minority of the world's population. How are the rest of humanity – many living below the poverty line – to get to the level of those few under this scheme?

The answer is they can't. There aren't enough resources, which includes the capacity of the earth to deal with our pollution, to fill that level of demand. That makes it obvious that the only way for the majority to have a better life is to curtail the level of demand of the minority. That can only be done if that minority decides to demand less. However, they have been heavily persuaded that it is alright to have such levels of demand, and that it is beneficial to society, and so it is their civic duty to do so!

There are substantial vested interests in maintaining such levels of demand in the minority, while suppressing the ability of the majority to reach such levels for themselves. While this has been directly assigned as being a product of globalism itself, it is not, as it is a direct product of the greed for wealth of a few, who persuaded a whole lot of others to go along with it.

They have used their ability to manipulate global markets to create the inequalities that allow them to produce goods for low cost but sell to richer people at higher profits. This is bad globalism, whereas good globalism would enable goods only produceable in some parts of the world to be made available to all, while ensuring that wages between countries are on a par.

Wage parity would enable all to have relatively equal access to all goods, but not at a level currently available only to a minority. The only workable balance between wage parity and resource demand is for the richer minority to curtail their expectations and demand less. So how can this be done when selfishness and indulgence are rampant?

Firstly, this is not going to happen by private enterprises doing that without some persuasive incentives. Generally, cutting production is not in their playbooks, especially with shareholders demanding increasing dividends, which noticeably drives companies to exploit more resources to build and sell more goods than required to operate profitably enough to run their own operations.

Only governments, through the will of people who can see the problems being caused by global inequality and over-exploitation of the earth's resources, have the clout to demand curtailing of production and placing limits on consumer demands. We have seen such ability in wartime, and it just needs to applied to the war we have against the planet, and where we need to fight for it, rather than our selfishness. Only governments have the persuasive resources, given enough will, to effect behavioural changes.

Of course, countries tend to see themselves as separate from others, and so have a selfishness of their own, so the will to change has to have a global focus, rather than a nationalistic one. This is why nationalistic rhetoric is being drummed up, just because it supports the currently inequitable trading schemes that engorge corporate profits by increasing the suffering of those unable to resist their domination of poorer economies.

While it is generally not good to demonise classes of people, it is the very rich that are substantially feeding the inequality and suppressing most to resist it, so they are very worthy of our condemnation. We must curtail their ability to manipulate politicians and the laws they pass in the companies' and their owner's favour.

We must see ourselves as global custodians, and so demand global solutions to global problems. Global priorities must drive global economics and not the other way round. To that end, we must sacrifice a substantial part of our selfishness and desire for excessive indulgence, so that more can partake of what can still be a very comfortable life for us.

It is to get to a sort of global minimalism, which is not to say that we go without some luxuries in life, just not well in excess of what we need to be happy and content. It is also not to say we should all exist in some sort of bland existential sameness. We do have enough to indulge each individual's quest for knowledge and experience, but not at a level that requires gross levels of inequality in ability and opportunity to do so.

We can individually make these choices, but the planet will not be prevented from the few sabotaging its ability to support us all unless we demand effort towards equity from all of our fellow human beings. The planet and our individual and collective well-being depends on it.

Transition limitsβ–³

There are limits to how quickly we can replace polluting technologies with clean ones.

Since any action on climate change was deliberately delayed for decades, we are now between a rock and a hard case, being that we need to quickly and substantially reduce fossil fuel usage while we cannot extract the minerals fast enough to build the technology that enables us to decarbonise the industries that use those fuels, let alone develop and scale those technologies.

Most minerals required for the new so-called green technologies are in few countries, some of which, like Russia and China, are at loggerheads with Western nations that are the primary consumers of energy, generating a scramble to harvest from those countries that do not have the same deposit levels, but are more amenable. Even with the latter, many are not ready to scale extraction at the short and medium term levels required. Others, like the DRC are caught up in civil strife generated by the exploitation of their minerals.

While electricity generation is fairly advanced in its use of green energy (29%), though well behind the level required, the technology for other industries requiring decarbonisation are either only ideas, just being developed, or nowhere near capable of the scale required to be used effectively in the timeframes required. This is just for supplying the current usage of the well-off in the developed countries, let alone the whole world.

We cannot keep generating greenhouse gases and pollution at the rates we do now, let alone the levels required to cater for increased populations over the next decades. We cannot realistically decarbonate our industries fast enough to offset those increasing levels, let alone reduce them. And that is just to cater for exiting consumers, much less giving a chance for the majority of the world's population to have some level of prosperity near their levels. This makes reducing the overall levels of dirty energy use a non-optional imperative for the immediate future.

Continuing upon our current resource usage trajectory will force us to change anyway. Rapid global warming and pollution will cause reductions in food production, resulting in more economic downturns. That will lead to more civil strife, leading to more mass displacements heading towards prosperous countries. That will lead to their economic collapse, and that will force the severe curtailing of fossil fuel usage. With the results eventually being less pollution, it will be better if we sensibly manage our reductions that having it forced upon us through societal collapse.

And that is if the climate-induced destruction of natural habitats doesn't force animal populations to invade many more human areas leading to increased risk of pandemics from zoonotic diseases wiping out hundreds of millions of people. The Covid-19 pandemic showed just how much and how quickly the world without all the excess human activity could recover. If people had been shown how to actually thrive under those restricted opportunities to consume, we could have been in a much better position to consider further reducing our energy consumption levels, individually and collectively.

What price progress?β–³

Human progress is typically measured by how much a lot of people have been able to live more comfortably, have more possessions and more forms of entertainment.

All these supposed benefits of progress have usually only benefitted a minority while the great majority of the world's population is blighted with poverty, hunger and displacement due to wars and civil strife, as they seek relief from the gross inequalities in their own countries and now climate change. Humanity has not really progressed if a minority still has many more benefits than the great majority with elites having much, much more than anyone else, as that has been the status quo since the dawn of civilisation. Yes, people now have mobile phones while they starve on the move! WTF!

This section is largely a response to the Why the Age of American Progress Ended article by Derek Thompson in the Atlantic , which basically laments that the US invented a lot of things but has been lagging in making them available for some decades. This sentiment was amplified by Rutger Bregman in a response to a tweet by Derek, stating Great piece and this is so true. Proponents of degrowth make a few good points, but it's a terrible slogan. How do think you're going to convince people? Vote for me and you'll get less! The Left should be the party of more, of progress, of innovation.

In regard to Rutger's comment, it seems at odds with his public support for much shorter hours, which would necessarily involve a dramatic downturn in the amount of more that would be available. It is the promoting of more that underlies the continued push for longer working hours to fulfil the dual needs of being able to make those things, and having enough disposable income to buy them. However, the Universal Basic Income (UBI) would allow many more people to be innovative, though not necessarily have the means to make them widely available, but governments could help with that.

The article argues that the absence of government involvement in making innovations they have largely funded more widely available has basically allowed other countries to eat America's lunch, and that efforts like Operation Warp Speed, that got vaccines for Covid-19 made and distributed, provide a blueprint for how governments could be instrumental in bringing innovations to the masses while still allowing companies to make profits.

What is worrying is that the article laments how progressives are supposedly stifling innovation by wanting to restrict rampant expansion of nuclear power and renewable technologies by limiting opportunities for companies to do whatever will get us these things faster. He laments that patents are not long enough or that testing should be shorter for us to get the pharmaceutical companies to get life-saving medicines to us.

These are spurious arguments because many limitations are in place because corporations and pharmaceutical companies have a known and extremely damaging history of putting people in peril and even killing them because they were trying to avoid the bothersome but necessary means of making them safer. Unfettering precautions to get to market is a proven recipe for disaster.

The better model for innovation is after governments have mainly funded the fundamental research, instead of handing it over to private companies to do with it what they will, or even stifle it, they could form partnerships with board-level representation so that they get a say in the development, manufacturing, distribution and pricing process, leading to better outcomes for their citizens and hopefully the world.

While Derek cites the dawn of vaccines as an example of it not being a solitary person who made them popular, he points out that it was really a lot of other people who made their benefits well known. Yet, he somehow rationalises that it is the lack of patent protection that is now limiting their widespread availability. But the vaccines that really made a difference to the world, like that for polio, were not patented, but made freely available for any country to make cheaply. It was the total bypassing of proprietary pecuniary interests that helped rid the world of polio.

Governments can do a lot to make real progress for their citizens, but given the current resource constraints of the earth being exceeded by a minority of people on the earth, just giving them more is not progress, because that progress is an illusion if it continues or even promotes more inequality. The US and other countries got lots of Covid-19 vaccinations, but failed to distribute them worldwide, allowing the Omicron variants to rampantly grow among the poor in Africa and so rapidly take over the world, infecting many more in their wake and disrupting economies much more than earlier variants.

We do need more things that bring real benefits to most of humanity, but we cannot afford to flood the world in a plethora of resource-hungry gadgets and activities that destroy our lives faster than we can get to enjoy them. Governments are necessary to provide the impetus to move in the right direction with some help from business, but not to clog up our lives with useless distractions for their own sake just to give us the illusion of progress as we largely do now. That is not a worthwhile end in itself, but leads us to destruction and despair.

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