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Australia’s population growth steady in March, despite border closures

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/10/2020 - 2:41pm in

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population

population-growth-australia

Glenn looks into the latest population data for the March quarter from the ABS, which reveals that, even before Australia had felt the full brunt of border closures and the other impacts of COVID-19, there were some interesting population trends, including a slowing of the growth rate of Victoria’s population, which has been Australia’s fastest-growing state for several years.

Australia’s population grew in the March Quarter 2020, to reach 25,649,985 people – an increase of 357,018 people, or 1.4% in the previous year, and 113,912, or 0.45% in just one quarter.

Australian Demographic Statistics – March 2020 –  is the first ABS population data release to show the effect of COVID-19 and border closures, but it only shows the very start of it. The name “COVID-19” was only given to the disease halfway through this quarter (11 Feb), and also in February, the government required arrivals from China to quarantine before arrival. The closure of Australia’s international border and effective suspension of overseas migration only happened on March 20th, right at the end of the March quarter.

There is very little effect of this seen in the March quarter figures. We will have to wait for the June quarter data to see the expected major downturn in population growth caused by minimal overseas migration.

For the March quarter, Net Overseas Migration was 78,503 people, bringing the annual total to 220,510, down from about 250,000 the previous year, but still historically quite high. And despite border closures late in March, the quarterly NOM was only 5,000 less than the previous March quarter.

There is a definite slowing of population growth, but this was already seen in the December quarter figures – it’s not due to COVID-19. Here are the figures by state and territory, showing the current population and growth over the past 2 years.

State/Territory
March 2020  population
Annual change to March 2020
% change YE Mar 2020
% change YE Mar 2019

New South Wales
 8,157,735
 87,811
1.09%
1.42%

Victoria
 6,689,377
 116,538
1.77%
2.18%

Queensland
 5,160,023
 84,995
1.67%
1.74%

South Australia
 1,767,247
 17,882
1.02%
0.89%

Western Australia
 2,656,156
 39,628
1.51%
1.03%

Tasmania
 539,590
 5,991
1.12%
1.27%

Northern Territory
 245,353
– 407
-0.17%
-0.35%

Australian Capital Territory
 429,834
 4,563
1.07%
1.55%

Australia (Total)
 25,649,985
 357,018
1.41%
1.58%

Delving a little further into the figures, there are a few interesting points:

  • Victoria’s population growth rate of 1.77% annually is the slowest growth in the state since 2011. Victoria has been the fastest-growing state for the past 7 years, and remains so, but only just ahead of Queensland for the year ended March 2020 – and for the quarter, Queensland had a higher percentage growth, at 0.52%. It’s likely that Victoria will lose this title from the next quarter.
  • Net interstate migration into Victoria for March 2020 was just 590 people, the lowest of any quarter since 2012. Queensland is now getting about 24,000 net interstate migrants per annum, around 3 times as many as Victoria in the last year, and by far the highest of any state or territory. NSW interstate migration is strongly negative as usual (more people leave NSW than arrive), at approximately 22,000 people in the last year.
  • Northern Territory’s population change continues to decline over the year, but for the March quarter, there was a slight increase, turning around the declines of the past few years.
  • South Australia’s growth is increasing.  Generally one of the slower-growing states, SA has exceeded 1% annual growth for the first time in 8 years.
  • Western Australia has had very slow growth since the end of the mining boom in 2014. But in the year to March 2020, it added 1.5%, or 39,628 people, more than double the growth rate seen at the low point in 2016. The annual growth rate for WA has increased every quarter for the past 10 quarters, as interstate migration losses fall from a peak of about 12,000 p.a. down to 3,000 p.a now. Overseas migration into WA also substantially increased in March, so this will be one to watch once the border closures take effect in the data.
  • Still around two-thirds (~140,000 out of 220,000) of overseas migration goes into NSW and Victoria. So these states are likely to show the largest downturn in population growth once the border closures are more evident in the data next quarter.

So there are certainly interesting trends in the data – even if we can’t yet see the real effects of the pandemic on population numbers. The next quarterly data will tell the story (due for release in December) – we know that overseas migration will be heavily down, but interstate migration remains a mystery. Will varying levels of shutdown between states and territories drive people to move interstate? Or will border closures lead to more people staying put? And early next year we get the update for local areas, which feeds into .id’s community profiles and may show more trends like movement into rural and regional areas due to increased working from home.

At this point, it’s a lot of conjecture. Watch this space!

Fair Incomes for a Healthy Future: The Sustainable Salaries Act

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 4:43am in

By Ashfia Khan

To achieve sustainability in the USA and generally, it is crucial that we narrow the income gap between the highest and lowest earners. An equitable distribution of income is a prerequisite of social and environmental sustainability. It’s not just about sustainability, either—it’s about fairness, too.

yacht

Unsustainable salaries lead to unsustainable consumption. (Image: CC0, Credit: Roman Boed)

People tend to be happier and healthier in societies where there is a more equitable distribution of wealth, as well as more likely to receive higher education and have a longer life expectancy.[i] Among the G7 countries, the USA ranks highest in income inequality, and the wealth gap more than doubled between 1989 and 2016 and continues to widen.[ii] The more the income gap widens, the worse it gets for economic mobility.

Sometimes called the “Great Gatsby Curve” by economists, the relationship between income equality and mobility is such that children from lower-income families will be far less likely to improve their economic status compared to their parents.[iii] It simply seems unfair that so little of the USA’s population controls so much of its wealth while 20 percent of Americans are unable to even pay their monthly bills and give their children the opportunity for a better future.

Income Inequality and Its Negative Effects

Domestic and international researchers have explored the effects of income inequality through the “Gini coefficient.”[iv] The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, where 0 represents perfect equality and 1 represents perfect inequality. In other words, when the coefficient is 0, everyone receives an equal share; when the coefficient is at 1, only one group or individual gets everything.

The Gini coefficient is not a perfect indicator, as it depends on every country having reliable income data and doesn’t measure informal economic activity. However, it does provide useful insights for how income inequality effects people’s wellbeing. For example, one researcher compared infant mortality rates in the USA by mapping CDC data against the Gini Index and found that as income inequality increased, so did infant mortality.[v] Researchers also found that U.S. teenagers living in states with higher levels of inequality are more likely to become pregnant than those living in states with a low level of inequality.[vi]

Gini coefficients have also been analyzed with data from the U.N. Human Development Indicators, revealing that Japan has the lowest Gini coefficient (lowest inequality) and the U.S. has the highest, and that there is a significant relationship between inequality and obesity.[vii]

The pervasive reach of income inequality extends beyond societal impacts. Researchers have also discovered strong threats to the environment and sustainability. While many of the causes of biodiversity loss, such as habitat loss and climate change, are more directly causal, some studies have explored the relationship between income inequality and biodiversity loss. Even after controlling for factors like biophysical conditions, human population size, and per capita GDP and income, researchers found that as the Gini coefficient increased, so did the indicators of biodiversity loss.[viii] This pattern remained the same whether compared across countries or U.S. states. The researchers noted that correlation does not equate to causality, but they postulated a strong likelihood of causality in this case.

It doesn’t end at biodiversity loss either. One researcher found that there was a consistent trend, at least among wealthy countries, whereby those with higher inequality consumed more resources and generated more waste.[ix] U.S. water consumption per capita is more than twice that of Japan. In Japan, the top 10 percent of the population has an income 4.5 times that of the bottom 10 percent. In the U.S., the top 10 percent earns 16 times that of the lowest. Similarly, in New Zealand, where the top 10 percent earn 12.5 times as much, the per capita annual consumption of fish and meat is close to three times as much as that of Japan.

graph and salary caps

Inequality and consumption of fish and meat across countries, 2002-2007. Note: Circle size corresponds to the size of a country’s population.[xi]

This same pattern is reflected in how much per capita annual waste countries generate. Sweden, which has a relatively low ratio of income inequality, generates 513kg of waste annually. Switzerland, with an income inequality ratio of 9, generates 728kg, and Singapore, where the top 10% earns 18 times as much as the bottom 10%, generates a whopping 1072kg.[x]

Salary Caps

One proposed solution to narrow the income gap is to implement a salary cap, which could also be considered a 100 percent tax rate beyond a certain salary. The tax revenue may be repurposed to serve the public good.

Salary caps have been kicked around the policy arena as early as 1933, when members of the House of Representatives were introducing amendments to limit annual incomes to $1 million. In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt proposed that annual incomes should be capped at $25,000 (which would translate to $375,000 today).[xii] These proposals were never legislated, but academics and policymakers have explored the concept with increasing interest and support.

The NFL and NBA, among other athletic organizations, have famously adopted salary caps. Since 1994, the NFL has enforced both a salary floor and cap for its athletes and teams. These minima and maxima are readjusted after annual reviews. Sports teams have found that leveling the playing field not only makes for a more egalitarian league, but it also makes the performance more engaging for their audience as well.[xiii]

It would hardly make sense, though, to set one overarching salary limit across all industries and occupations. Some industries require higher levels of education and more skilled qualifications. Industries that require specialized education and experience will have less competition than other industries and may garner greater profits. Holding industries with a huge disparity in profit margins to the same salary cap doesn’t seem feasible. If set too low, the political prospects for establishing the cap would be nil. If set too high, it would lose effectiveness.

In Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution, Brian Czech proffers “sectoral salary caps” of fifteen times the lowest in-sector salary or wage, calling this a common-sense starting point for feasible policy negotiations. Using the example of a barber in Pulaski, Tennessee versus a barber in New York City, it makes sense that the New York barber could, would, and should charge more for a haircut. For producing what would be a $15 haircut in Pulaski, the New York barber may receive up to $450. A $450 haircut is hardly a glowing example of sustainability, yet it’s not a $1,000 haircut, which would be wantonly wasteful by almost anyone’s standards. The cap, then, would move us in the direction of sustainable consumption.

Green Bay Packers and salary caps

The NFL is no paragon of sustainability, but has implemented salary caps since 1994. (In the case of the Green Bay Packers, shown above, the team is community-owned as well). (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Mike Morbeck)

The Sustainable Salaries Act

Consistent with Czech’s sectoral salary-capping proposal, I propose a “Sustainable Salaries Act.” The legislation may be included in CASSE’s broader Full and Sustainable Employment Act. Alternatively, it may be introduced as an independent bill.

The Sustainable Salaries Act would prohibit top employees in most industries from making more than fifteen times as much as the lowest-paid employees. Somewhat lower proportional caps would apply to sectors known for inequitable business practices or the production of non-essential goods and services.

The bureaucracy entailed may not be as onerous as some would suspect. Companies already report their employees’ salaries and wages to the IRS. Pursuant to the Sustainable Salaries Act, the IRS will compile this information and submit it to the U.S. Department of Labor. If a company violates the act, it will face criminal penalties and fines in proportion to excess salaries, and CEOs may even face jail time in egregious cases.

The following is a conceivable Section 3 (Declarations) of the Sustainable Salaries Act. This should give readers a better sense of how the law would function and provide a starting point for conversation on sectoral salary capping. As the act is further developed, some of the subsections may be broken out into full sections.

 

Sec. 3. DECLARATIONS

 

1. In General.—The salary of the most highly compensated employees of any
organization or corporation may not be any greater than fifteen times the salary of
the lowest paid employee of the same organization or corporation.
(A) The salary of the most highly compensated employees of any organization or
corporation engaged in activities—
   (1) in the pharmaceutical and drugs sector, real estate sector, and commercial lending sector may not be any greater than ten times the salary of the lowest paid employee of the same organization or corporation.
   (2) in the amusement and recreation sector, cosmetics sector, and jewelry sector may not be greater than twelve times the salary of the lowest paid employee of the same organization or corporation.

 

2. REPORT.—The Internal Revenue Service shall submit the salary and
wage information of all employees within the top ten percent of highly compensated
employees and the salary and wage information of all employees within the lowest ten percent of the least compensated employees within an organization or corporation to the U.S. Department of Labor for review.

 

3. CRIMINAL PENALTIES.—Whoever—
     (1) knowingly and willfully exceeds the salary limit set forth under the Sustainable
Salaries Act shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years
or both.
     (2) willfully reports a record of compensation as set forth in the Sustainable
Salaries Act with the intent to deceive, mislead, or otherwise falsely misrepresent
information, knowing that the record contains false information or does not meet all
the requirements set forth in the Act, or both, shall be fined not more than
$5,000,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

 

Enforcing salary caps pursuant to a Sustainable Salaries Act is just one step toward a steady state economy, but a crucial one. By reducing income inequality, we move closer to not only a more equitable society, but a more sustainable one as well.

 

[i] According to a study in Italy, where the Gini coefficient was mapped against life expectancy at birth, income inequality was shown to have a significant negative correlation with life expectancy. G.A. Cornia, R. Gnesotto, R. Mistry, R. De Vogli. 2005. Has the relation between income inequality and life expectancy disappeared? Evidence from Italy and top industrialised countries. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59(2):158–162.

[ii] Schaeffer, K.,”6 facts about economic inequality in the U.S,” Fact Tank: News in the Numbers, Pew Research Center, February 7, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s/.

[iii] Vandivier, D. “What is the Great Gatsby Curve?” The White House: President Barack Obama, June 11, 2013, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2013/06/11/what-great-gatsby-curve.

[iv] Chappelow, J, “Gini Index,” Investopedia, February 3, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gini-index.asp.

[v] Erwin, P., M. K. Jones, and A. Siddiqi. 2015. Does higher income inequality adversely influence infant mortality rates? Reconciling descriptive patterns and recent research findings. Social Science & Medicine 131:82–88.

[vi] Levine, P.B. and Kearney, M. S. 2012. Why is the teen birth rate in the United States so high and why does it matter? Journal of Economic Perspectives 26(2):141-63.

[vii] Brunner, E., Kelly, S., T. Lobstein, K.E. Pickett, K. E. and R. G. Wilkinson. 2005. Wider income gaps, wider waistbands? An ecological study of obesity and income inequality. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59(8):670-674.

[viii] Gonzalez, A. G.M. Mikkelson, and G.D. Peterson. 2007. Economic inequality predicts biodiversity loss. PLOS ONE 2(5):e444.

[ix] Islam, S. “Inequality and Environmental Sustainability.” New York: DESA Working Paper No. 45., 2015.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii]Pizzigati, S., “For Minimum Decency, a Maximum Wage,” Institute for Policy Studies, June 6, 2018, https://ips-dc.org/for-minimum-decency-a-maximum-wage/.

[xiii]Vassallo, J. The Advantages of Salary Caps. Houston Chronicle, July 31, 2020.

Ashfia Khan is a Policy Specialist with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) and a prior CASSE Legal Intern. She is also pursuing a J.D. at George Washington University. 

The post Fair Incomes for a Healthy Future: The Sustainable Salaries Act appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Broadcasting to hard-to-reach communities in New Zealand

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 10:50pm in

With newly-updated 2018 Census data now available in our New Zealand Community profiles and Social atlas tools, Territorial Authorities in New Zealand have an opportunity to use up-to-date information about the demographic composition of the community when planning important communications about Covid-19.

With Melbourne’s recent challenges fresh in his mind, Nenad shares some practical examples of how councils in New Zealand can use an informed understanding of what languages are spoken, the technology communities have access to, and the spatial distribution of different demographic groups to make these important public communications locally-appropriate.

For 102 days, New Zealand’s Covid-free society was a beacon of hope to many. For us here in Melbourne, we looked to New Zealand as a possibility to how we might look in a few months’ time if the lockdowns and measures taken to stop the exponential spread of the virus worked. Unfortunately, an unscheduled late-night broadcast by Prime Minister Ardern to the nation last week revealed that Covid-19 was back in New Zealand and spreading within the community.

The government had to act quickly and decisively in order to contain community spread and make sure that any restrictions placed on the population and the economy strike a balance between stopping the virus but not completely crippling New Zealand’s economy. The Covid-free haven quickly became a reminder of Tomas Pueyo’s “ The Hammer and the Dance” cycle we may need to get used to for a while: hammering the virus spread with lockdowns followed by cautious living with the virus as the “dance”.

 


A mass broadcast message sent to most of New Zealand residents soon after the government announced new community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Councils may play a role in communicating with residents or reiterating central government directives. In these early stages of community transmission suppression, broadcasting messages to all parts of our society is important. Speed and breadth of action helps restrict the spread of Covid-19.

Melburnians may recall there being problems with reaching non-English speaking residents with instructions on social distancing and suggested movement restrictions. The communication approach taken was not nuanced or flexible enough and some segments of society were left in the dark or confused. I discussed the importance of broadcasting to hard-to-reach communities in this blog and while much of the advice given in that article and instructional video can be applied to our New Zealand Community Profile and Social Atlas users, I thought it’d be of value to give some tips on how using your .id tools with recently updated Census 2018 data can help councils plan for Covid-19 comms strategies. I have used Wellington City as the example here but as yet (touch wood), Wellington has no cases of Covid-19 and let’s hope it stays that way.

Speaking the right languages in the right places

Understanding which languages you may need to broadcast your message in can be a very effective way of reaching non-English speaking communities. Understanding where some languages are more prevalent than others can fine-tune the reach of important messages and directives.

By assessing the “Languages spoken” page on the Wellington City community profile, we can see that messages broadcasted in English could, in theory, be understood by most (96%) of the population. However, recently published Census 2018 information tells us that over 19,000 Wellingtonians also speak French, Māori, Northern Chinese and German as the other languages to round off the top five, so directing some messages in these languages would be advised. If council doesn’t already have established relationships with some of the communities who speak these languages, this Census information could guide where that closer working relationship may be needed.

At a City level or suburb (SA2) level, we can identify what has changed since 2013 in terms of languages spoken. While council decision-makers may be familiar with non-English languages spoken in their TA, some things might have changed since the last Census. Further down on the “Languages spoken” page, we see the changes in number of people or proportion of population speaking non-English languages. Since 2013, Northern Chinese has increased by 1,521 residents (+0.7% of the population), followed by an increase in Spanish (+1,176, or +0.5%) but the number of residents speaking Samoan and Māori has decreased.

As a council, are we aware of these shifts? Are we prepared and able to communicate to residents who speak these or other emerging languages? Because large scale Covid-19 spread can start in small groups, it’s not just important to understand the largest changes in languages spoken. Knowing that we, for example, have almost 275 more Tagalog speakers needs to be taken into consideration too. We have information on 113 different languages for Wellington City.

A spatial view

Understanding spatial diversity is also important in this targeted communication approach. Our Social Atlas tool is created with geographic analysis in mind and enables users to understand the spatial diversity of demographics and socioeconomic characteristics. If we explore the geographic spread of people who spoke Samoan and Māori, the data at City level tells us that the number of people who speak these languages is decreasing.

At the small area/suburb level, on the other hand, we can identify areas where communicating in Samoan or Māori is still vital and even increasing. Crofton Downs, parts of Johnsonville and Khandallah, for example, have experienced increases in people who speak Māori and parts of Tawa, Rongotai-Lyall Bay and a few other pockets on the Miramar Peninsula have increased in terms of number and proportion of residents who speak Samoan, therefore, communication strategies in these areas still need the inclusion of these languages.

We are currently in the process of updating the New Zealand “Social Atlas” tool with 2018 Census data. This tool is perfect for this kind of spatial analysis of demographic change. To be notified of these changes as they are made, bookmark our New data and features page (you can also sign up to alerts on the page), and we will keep our New Zealand subscribers posted about the updating of the Social Atlas with 2018 Census data.

Choosing the most effective communication methods

Along with speaking the right language in the right part of town, councils also need to be aware that as efficient and cost-effective as it may be, communicating via the internet may not reach everyone. As we found out early in the escalation of Melbourne’s second Covid-19 outbreak, many government agencies published messaging online, which was not a targeted approach when wanting to communicate with hard-to-reach communities.

It was actually many of those non-English speaking communities who also fell into this group and interestingly it wasn’t that internet-published messages weren’t reaching non-English speakers, but the messages were not arriving via their language or via their online networks, groups and communities often used by these ethnic groups. This is where council relationships with different ethnic groups and communities become quite vital.

In Wellington City, almost 87% of households had access to the internet and almost 90% had access to a mobile phone in 2018. Both these percentages are higher than that for New Zealand as a whole, not surprising given that Wellington is an urban environment with sufficient communication infrastructure and a predominantly younger, connected population. Unsurprisingly, the number of households with access to a telephone (landline) decreased dramatically (by almost 30%, that is – over 18,000 households) since 2013 so any efforts to invest in mass broadcasts using this method would not be advised.

 

Council communications and local/regional civil defence communication efforts would therefore be best off using mass broadcast cellphone messages (as was done across New Zealand less than 30 minutes after the announcement of Covid-19’s return last week) and internet communication via adverts, videos, instructional infographics and banners.

In areas such as Berhampore, Dixon Street or Kilbirnie Central/Kilbirnie East, where cellphone and internet access was notably lower the City benchmark, the council and other agencies involved may need to look at alternatives to the cellphone/internet method such as door knocking or pamphlet drop-offs to ensure that everyone receives the important messages around the Covid-19 response.

Expanding the localised approach to communication

I mentioned that understanding your City as a whole has value but understanding the differences within the City is even more useful. Using the Social Atlas tool, you can plan your communication efforts, understand where English is not spoken as broadly, which languages are more prevalent in what parts of the City and what kind of communication method would be most effective. By identifying nuances and gaps, you can look for alternatives in the mission to quickly reach a large audience with important messages.

Along with the ideas and information mentioned here, other access-related information worth considering is understanding disability and age of residents across the City – where may access to (potential) testing stations be problematic for some residents and what can authorities do to mitigate this? Outside of our tools, we can create custom datasets for you by cross-tabulating Census 2018 data if you have specific needs such as:

  • knowing where older residents who live alone and have no internet access are,
  • understanding recent arrivals by country of origin or
  • learning more about the age structure of speakers of particular languages.

This kind of information will guide your planned approaches to make sure you are employing the best methods in order to communicate with a group in your community effectively. For support finding and applying these insights in your area, or for more in-depth insights like those listed above, you can contact our team via our demographic consulting page.

Radio 4 Programme On Rise of Eco-Fascism and Anti-Humanism

According to next week’s Radio Times for 11-17 July 2020, Monday’s edition of Analysis on Radio 4 is about ‘Humans vs the Planet’. The blurb for the programme on page 119 of the magazine reads

As Covid-19 forced humans into lockdown, memes emerged showing the earth was healing thanks to our absence from nature. These were false claims, but their popularity revealed how seductive the idea that “we are the virus” can be. At its most extreme, this way of thinking leads to eco-fascism, the belief that the harm humans can do to Earth can be reduced by cutting the number of non-White people. But the Green movement is also challenged by a less hateful form of this mentality known as “doomism” – a sense that humans will inevitably cause ecological disaster.

These sentiments have been around for a very long time. Earlier this year, a female professor of Queer philosophy at one of the new universities published her own manifesto for saving the planet. Dubbed ‘professor Goth’ by one of the Conservative news sites that covered the story, she advocates saving the planet through making humanity extinct. It’s a radical, misanthropic, anti-human stance that neither unique nor original to her. About a quarter of a century ago in the mid-90s the radical Green group, VHMNT, was agitating for the same policy. VHMNT, pronounced ‘Vehement’ , stood for Voluntary Human Extinction. It was peaceful and didn’t advocate violence, but wanted humanity to save the planet through voluntary extinction. Those who joined it vowed not to reproduce.

Some left-wing, ecologically aware scientists have been accused of possessing the same mindset, but willing to contemplate much more aggressive tactics. Over a decade ago, back in the early years of this century, Conservatives accused a scientist of advocating the extermination of humanity through disease. He had been speaking at a conference on the ecological crisis, and made some comment about the threat of new diseases to humanity as the environment deteriorates. His defenders argue that he was not advocating it, simply stating that such a disease would arise. Many Conservatives have a deep hatred of the Green movement. At the extremes, they see it as an anti-human, pagan nature cult aimed at the communistic redistribution of wealth and with its origins in Nazism. Hence all the rants by conspiracy-peddler Alex Jones about Obama taking over America by declaring a state of emergency and forcing Americans into FEMA camps and his denunciation of eco-friendly ‘Hobbit homes’.

The SF author, Bruce Sterling, also predicted that there would spring up guerrilla groups also dedicated to the mass culling of humanity to protect the planet. His 1990s novel, Heavy Weather, is set in a Texas turning to desert through the aquifers drying up, devastated through violent hurricanes created by a climate becoming increasingly extreme. These have left masses of Americans homeless, living in refugee camps. The story follows the adventures of the alienated son of one of the rich families, as he falls in with an underground group of outlaw storm chasers. One of the characters he encounters is an angry young man, who belongs to a terrorist organization attempting to save the planet through violence. The man describes how people might be killed by poisoning, after model boats are floated on the water of a reservoir. People die, but nobody is responsible. He compares it to the lynching of Blacks by the Klan. Blacks died, but again, nobody was responsible.

The book was a work of fiction and Sterling is very definitely not a racist or an advocate of such terrorism. It’s simply a a fictional treatment of what might arise if climate change and the deterioration of the environment becomes acute.

As for the hatred of the non-White peoples of the Developing World, this no doubt comes from the fact that families in these nations are traditionally larger than those of western Whites. The birthrate in Britain is actually below the level required for the maintenance of the population at the present level. The country’s population is only increasing due immigration. Without it, it would be falling. Hence the racist alarm at the growth of Britain’s Black and Asian populations. It is the expansion of the human population that is causing the current environmental crisis, but much of this is due to excessive consumption of energy and resources by the Developed West.

The birthrate is also falling in the Developing World as literacy rates rise and these countries modernize. This has led some demographers to fear that instead of a population explosion, as feared in the 1970s, there will be population crash. It’s predicted that this will happen, if at all, sometime around 2050. Fearing a shortage of labour, they predict that states will compete to encourage immigration. It has also been predicted that one of the African countries, that today has a terrible infant mortality rate and left-expectancy, will become the first country to suffer catastrophic population decline.

The programme, Analysis: Humans vs the Planet, is at 8.30 pm in the evening on Radio 4.

Crossroads for Planet of the Humans

By William Rees

 

[Editor’s Note: The Steady State Herald first published a review of Planet of the Humans on May 1. The following review adds valuable information to the dialog.]

“It stands to reason…”

Who hasn’t heard this expression in everyday conversation? Humans tend to think of themselves as rational beings, and many people sincerely believe they are being reasonable all the time.

However, human reason invariably operates in a straitjacket. Even the most elevated of human thought is constrained by life experience and the unquantifiable set of beliefs and values, as well as facts and assumptions, that every individual acquires by growing up in a particular cultural environment. Life experience determines a person’s perception of reality. Unsurprisingly, people are most comfortable when the universe unfolds in harmony with their culturally preset notion of how things ought to be.

Of course, in complex societies there are many potential versions of “truth” on any particular subject. “Reality”—or rather, our socially-constructed perception of reality—comes in many guises.

Herein lies potential chaos. It starts when a line of thought taken for granted by a group of people who share the same cultural narrative is disputed by another group who observe a different set of beliefs, values, and assumptions.

Renewable energy

Politicians, corporations, and big environmental NGOs claim that renewable energy can support the economy. Really? At what level and at what cost? (Image: CC0, Credit: Kenueone)

Consider the dilemma of modernity. Propelled by fossil fuels, our increasingly global techno-industrial (mainly capitalist) society has generated unprecedented material prosperity for hundreds of millions of people. This extraordinary progress leads us to believe an endless energy bounty will support the ten billion humans expected on the planet by mid- to late century. The catch is that this same success is already well on the way to depleting and polluting the seas, denuding the continents of forests, displacing the world’s wildlife, and triggering climate change.

This is not a problem according to the cultural mainstream. Radiating self-confidence and buoyed by unquestioned past material success, the political and corporate leadership seem confident that human ingenuity (our greatest resource) will prevail. They argue that we have already found economically viable renewable substitutes for fossil fuels such as biomass, wind turbines, and solar photo-voltaic arrays. These alternatives should enable economic growth to continue indefinitely, bringing the affluence needed to “fix” the ecosphere. The big environmental NGOs have climbed on board for pushing the techno-fix narrative, and most citizens are only too happy to go along for the business-as-usual ride.

Not everyone is jumping on the pro-growth bandwagon, however. A surge of scientists and citizens has written a competing narrative. This renegade group reasons that wind and solar technologies are quantitatively insufficient to power modern society, contribute to ecological destruction, and are heavily subsidized by fossil fuels and not really renewable. To them, the only reasonable “solution” to the ongoing climate and eco-catastrophe, difficult as it may be to achieve, is adapting to much lower levels of energy and material consumption, sharing existing income/wealth, and learning to live within the biophysical means of nature.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs challenge the notion of “green growth.” (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Nicolas Genin)

This new movement has been growing steadily and waiting to catch fire politically. While there has been a deepening discussion about the impacts of the economy on the environment, there has also been a significant lack of media coverage about it. That was, however, until a few weeks ago, when one documentary ignited the argument against economic growth: Planet of the Humans.

The Gibbs/Moore production has ignited a conflagration of competing worldviews unparalleled by any debate about alternative energy sources in the history of the environmental movement. As a human ecologist, I’ll admit up front that I am in the renegade camp, but I am not blinded to certain weaknesses in Gibbs’ take on our dilemma. This film contains many pros and cons when framing the conversation of environmental protection. Let’s explore what Planet provided.

The Underbelly of Environmental Organizations

Planet of the Humans does a great service in eroding faith in renewable energy, particularly the travesty of broad-scale biomass energy. It achieved less than it could in undermining wind and solar power. This is a shame since the loudest screams of “foul” come from wind/solar advocates, and there are plenty of recent analyses and data which the film could have drawn on to cut them off. It’s an ironic weakness, because the films critics are most adamant about how “dated” the wind/solar information is. Yes, it’s dated, but on both sides of the argument about whether wind/solar is capable of replacing fossil fuels at the current size of economy.

The film also succeeds in skewering several environmental organizations and popular heroes in the process. Though it’s difficult to watch the hypocrisy of environmental champions unveiled, investigating into these advocacy groups is important and necessary. For instance, Gibbs reveals the large and mainstream environmental organizations are highly dependent on the corporate sector for their financing, either directly or indirectly. This certainly compromises what they can say about the (corporate) values of society and helps to explain why so many environmental NGOs support capital-intensive (i.e., profit-oriented) approaches to energy supply and climate change—e.g., electric cars, solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, carbon capture and storage, etc. These organizations make us think they are saving the planet by introducing “green” tech; yet they are supporting—and enjoying the support of—the corporate giants that contribute to destroying the earth. Even the Green New Deal is a false-promise approach that suggests all we have to do is invest in techno-fixes to continue on our growth-bound path.

A Better Refute Against Renewables Replacing Fossil Fuels

As noted above, up-to-date data are important, and accurate data even more so. Planet of the Humans relies excessively on old research and off-the-cuff comments from interviewees. Gibbs/Moore could have better supported their case by referencing current issues with “green” technology, including extended net energy analysis from mine-shaft through operation, as well as the decommissioning of commercial wind turbine and solar installations.

Solar panels in Germany

Germany: Powered by renewables? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Andrew Glaser)

However, Gibbs does bring a critical question to light: Are renewables effectively displacing fossil fuels?

Let’s look first at the case of Germany, a leader in green energy investment. According to Clean Energy Wire, while wind and solar make a significant contribution to German electricity production (21 percent and 8 percent respectively) these two sources supply a mere 5 percent of German primary energy consumption (3.5 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively). Biomass—largely green trees as Gibbs pointed out—supplies a full 7.6 percent. Meanwhile, fossil fuels still account for about 78 percent of primary consumption, and carbon emissions have been more or less plateaued for a decade. (Yes, carbon emissions did drop in Germany in 2019, by about 6 percent, but 2019 also marked a sharp slump in German GDP growth, especially in the industrial sector). All this despite hundreds of billions invested in wind and solar energy. Furthermore, keep in mind that wind and solar require full backup power, either domestic or imported. (Note this well: It is a common error to conflate electricity generated with total energy demand/consumption. The former is typically only about 20 percent of the latter.)

Then there’s the global picture to consider. According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, in 2018, fossil fuels supplied 11,743.6 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) or 85 percent of the world’s primary energy, while non-hydro renewables (mostly commercial biomass, wind, and solar) contributed only 561.3 Mtoe (4 percent).

Are renewables catching up? While the contribution of non-hydro renewables to global primary consumption has expanded by 437 Mtoe since 2008 (16 percent per year), consumption of fossil fuels increased by about 1,750 Mtoe (about 1.5 percent/yr) in the same period. This marginal increase is over three times the total supplied by non-hydro renewables in 2018. This same year, consumption of non-hydro renewables increased by 71.1 Mtoe (14.5 percent), but fossil fuels were up by 276.3 Mtoe (2.4 percent).

Bottom line? Starting from a much larger base, the pre-pandemic annual absolute growth in fossil fuel production/consumption continues to outpace that of renewables, especially non-hydro-renewables, by a wide margin, despite the higher relative growth rate of renewables. Nothing suggests this will change while economic growth remains the goal, especially since new technology requires economic growth based on current levels of technology.

Bountiful Energy Could Do More Harm Than Good

Gibbs underplays (and the subsequent criticism I have seen entirely misses) a critical point: Even if renewables were “the answer”—i.e., even if our techno-industrial, capitalist growth succeeds in contriving any cheap, plentiful substitute for fossil fuels—it would be catastrophic. Without a sea change in expansionist values and our anthropocentric approach to the natural world, humans will simply use the energy bounty to complete their dismemberment of Earth. (Planet’s horrific sequences of stranded orangutans—their habitats destroyed for palm oil and sugar cane for “green energy”—is perhaps the most illustrative example of this potential destruction.)

In short, it’s really beside the point whether “100 percent renewable energy” is possible because any techno-fix would be disastrous given the prevailing cultural narrative and macroeconomic goals.

The Bottom Line

Planet of the Humans is far from inaccurate in undermining today’s overconfidence in renewables and mainstream environmental NGOs but is arguably a bit unfair to some individuals. Gibbs engages people on both sides of a complicated issue, selectively goring some. Wherever one stands on the issue of sustainable energy, though, Planet of the Humans is proving to be a deeply moving and motivating production.

And now there is a complicating—but possibly complementary—factor. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an unscheduled opportunity to rethink our energy and economic futures. The real planet of humans is at a crossroads: Pre-pandemic trends will not simply resume as if nothing had happened.

Homo sapiens is an allegedly rational species. Virtually everyone agrees that we must avoid an ecosystem collapse and reverse global warming. We also recognize that if civilization is to persist, we must have energy sources. So, what is the solution that balances these two issues?

CASSE’s push for the steady state economy is certainly one of the most rational answers to that question. It really ”stands to reason” that we need an economy that fits on the planet, using a reasonable amount of energy from renewable sources and with processes that don’t destroy our ecosystems. Reducing energy use to that reasonable amount surely entails real (not just political) degrowth. “Degrowth toward a steady state economy” summarizes the solution quite well.

William Rees is a human ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, best known for ecological footprint analysis.

The post Crossroads for <em>Planet of the Humans</em> appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


A Post-COVID Vision: The Full and Sustainable Employment Act

By Brian Czech

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that the Great God of GDP is a false god after all, impotent as Baal. The mighty American economy, with unprecedented GDP, has been knocked to its knees by one of the lowest conceivable life forms, a mere virus possessing not a single strand of DNA. Politicians who thought their legacies would be associated with “the greatest economy ever” now look like ridiculous priests of a sham religion.

GDP exceeding $21 trillion in 2019 ($87 trillion globally) has been powerless to cure the sickness, financial trauma, and fear experienced by millions of Americans and billions of souls worldwide. Adapting to the new reality of a COVID-infected world and the uncertain hope for a vaccine is depressing in the best of scenarios and devastating in the worst. Yet adapt we must, and that includes public policy as much as individual behavior.

Coronavirus briefing. We need a Full and Sustainable Employment Act.

Pushing for growth vs. protecting the public: COVID-19 as the latest episode. (Image: CC0, Credit: The White House)

The CDC, NIH, and WHO have provided recommendations for lowering the spread of the virus and helping infected patients survive. Politicians are attempting to balance such recommendations with the concern for a healthy economy. The problem is that virtually every major politician in the USA, as well as a majority of politicians in the world, think of economic health in terms of GDP growth. For that matter, so do the economists advising these politicians and appearing on mainstream media. Their “adaptation” to the COVID-caused recession is nothing more than a hapless attempt to get back to business as usual; that is, growing the GDP through fiscal and monetary “stimulus.” In other words, it’s no adaptation at all!

Common sense and a pair of eyes is enough to recognize that the need for social distancing—effective adaptation to COVID-19 at the individual level—translates into lower levels of economic activity and a lower velocity of money. Unfortunately, politicians are now handling public health as they handled environmental protection for decades, acting as if we can have our cake and eat it too. They seem to think that, with enough Plexiglas panels on factory floors and retail counters, we can stimulate the economy back into $21-trillion territory without suffering a pandemic death toll. We can expect claims of “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting public health,” echoing the decades-old mantra that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”

Will we be fooled again by the win-win rhetoric? I don’t think so—at least not nearly so many of us—because this time the threat of the growth obsession is a direct, imminent matter of life or death. As employees are prematurely pressured to return to work “for the economy,” knowing fully well that doing so increases their odds of contracting the deadly virus, surely they will rethink what “the economy” is really for and who is behind the push to “stimulate” it.

There will be a significant percentage of individuals who decide more or less happily never to return to the jobs that dominated their life pre-COVID. Many will wrestle with trade-offs, such as extra gardening and more childcare, and certainly less luxury goods and entertainment. Some will have saved enough—and were cautious enough to avoid debt traps—such that they may find the new lifestyle to be empowering and even more joyful than the old 9-to-5 grind. They won’t be contributing much to GDP, but they’ll be healthier and happier, and will hardly be a burden on the nation’s infrastructure and budget.

Unfortunately, many others will be desperate to return to work or find a new job. They may have little means of subsistence—no lawn for a victory garden—and some will be threatened with homelessness when they can’t pay the rent. Even they, however, will see through the lie that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the public from COVID-19.” They are victims of an unfair capitalist system who must go to work “for the economy” and risk their health in the process.

The experience of individuals far and wide, then, will be conducive to a sea-change in attitudes toward the economy, GDP growth, and the government’s role in defending its own taxpaying citizens.

A New Economic Policy for 21st Century America

A new policy vision for the post-COVID economy entails replacing the current policy. So, what exactly is the current policy? What is it that steers us constantly, relentlessly back onto the GDP growth path? Let’s take a short trip down institutional memory lane…

Harry Truman and the Full and Sustainable Employment Act

President Harry Truman signed the Employment Act in 1946; a first step in the formal pursuit of GDP growth. (Image: CC0, Credit: Abbie Rowe)

As a response to the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave Americans the New Deal. Most of the work programs were cultural successes and employed significant numbers of young men. Yet the Depression wasn’t “solved” until World War II, with the mobilization of the civilian labor force and technological progress spinning out of war-time laboratories. Most Americans know this basic story of the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II, but few seem aware of the Employment Act of 1946. We must be fully aware of it to move toward a new economic policy for the 21st century.

The Employment Act was a Keynesian adaptation to the experience of the Great Depression; that is, it was largely a result of John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. Prior to Keynes, economists clung stubbornly to their ideal of laissez faire (let do; non-interference) as the proper governmental approach to economic affairs. General Theory was the paradigm-shifting book that persuaded Western governments to take active fiscal and monetary measures for ensuring adequate demand for goods and full employment of the labor force.

In crafting the Employment Act, the 78th Congress was especially concerned about the social and cultural ravages of unemployment. It was less concerned with any explicit notion of economic growth. For one thing, national income accounting was in its infancy. Also, Congress was still reluctant to get the federal government very involved in economic affairs, especially with heightened concerns over the sway of communist ideology. That said, the Employment Act did establish the Council of Economic Advisors, which turned out to be a highly influential pro-growth institution for decades to come.

The American economy ran fairly smoothly and grew very rapidly for the next couple of decades, but by the 1970s, American political leadership was beside itself with the problem of stagflation, that is, recession (“stagnation”) concurrent with inflation. Economists thought you could have only one or the other for any significant period of time and that they were, in fact, countervailing forces. Unlike World War II, though, the Vietnam War wasn’t sufficient to kick the real economy into high gear. Efforts to stimulate investment and consumer spending by loosening the money supply only led to inflation. Thus, stagflation.

The bedeviling bouts of stagflation finally led Richard M. Nixon to announce, “We are all Keynesians now,” recognizing that conservative diehards were some of the last to accept any government involvement in macroeconomic policy. Nixon had established the Bureau of Economic Analysis in 1972 for state-of-the-art accounting and GDP calculation. The 95th Congress, led by Hubert Humphrey and Augustus Hawkins, worked to update the Employment Act, which was finally amended as the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (FEBGA) and signed by President Carter in 1978. As of then, the US government was fully and formally committed to GDP growth as central economic policy.

It was easy for supporters of FEBGA to argue mathematically that, all else equal, more jobs could be had with greater GDP. It was also easy for Big Money to hide behind pro-growth policy for purposes of accumulating more capital and increasing CEO salaries, without any concern for creating more jobs. Not surprisingly, FEBGA ended up a thick mix of fiscal and monetary policy that serves the capitalist as well as the labor force.

FEBGA is often referred to with the shorthand “Employment Act,” saving a number of syllables and reminding us of its original (1946) focus. I favor the full 1978 title, even if only via acronym, as a reminder that GDP growth is not just some wistful political notion or rhetorical tool but rather a formal, central policy of the USA pursued with fiscal, monetary, and deregulatory means, as well as diplomacy and terms of trade in international affairs.

Now, more than a half century later and in the midst of an economy-crushing pandemic, it’s time to rewrite FEBGA. We need a Full and Sustainable Employment Act, with the very name change communicating that growth is no longer sustainable.[1] The Full and Sustainable Employment Act will mark the transition from economic growth to a steady state economy, politically and every bit as formally as FEGBA called for growth.

Pro-growth politicians (or perhaps Big Money) came up with the brilliant metaphor, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” While at least one source attributes the phrase to President John F. Kennedy, it seems like the stuff of Madison Avenue. And, when limits to growth aren’t acknowledged, the logic illustrated by the metaphor is unassailable. All else equal (“ceteris paribus” in econ-speak), a growing GDP means more jobs. Of course the devil is in the phrase “all else equal,” because little is equal on the tilted chess board of a capitalist economy. Instead of more jobs, a growing GDP too often means more expensive technology and billionaire CEOs, who are just as effective at blasting ships out of the water as making way for more boats.

Either way, the metaphor of the rising tide sinks like a presidential approval rating when limits to growth are recognized, as they increasingly are and should especially be in the context of COVID-19. There is only so much water; the tide can’t rise forever. There is a limit to the number of boats at sea, too, and even a limit to boat-building material on shore. It’s high time for the “rising tide” metaphor to ebb all the way back into the rustic recesses of faded political minds.

It so happens that the acronym of Full and Sustainable Employment Act—FSEA—is useful for nailing the coffin shut on the “rising tide” metaphor. Combining “F” (for Full) and “SEA” invokes the image of a full sea. Why not take advantage of such a linguistic coincidence and make the message a little clearer yet? It is not unprecedented for Congress to wax metaphorical with the short title of a paradigm-shifting statute; they might as well call this one the “Full Seas Act.”

ships and the Full Sustainable Employment Act

“A rising tide lifts all boats” was a fine metaphor for the 20th century, but in the 21st century the seas are full. (Image: CC0, Credit: Good Free Photos)

What might the Full Seas Act actually look like? How will it conduce a steady state economy? What happens to the pro-growth arrangements established by FEBGA? The best way to envision these developments is to consider a proposed Section 2.[2]

Full Seas Act—Findings and Declaration

In a typical act of Congress, Section 1 provides a short title (“Full Seas Act” in this case). Section 2 is in many ways the most important section of a path-breaking statute because it establishes the key findings and declarations of Congress. It comprises a sort of preamble and emanates the spirit of the law. It justifies the details laid out in subsequent sections, and future policy development at the agency level will be informed by its content as well.

On the other hand, readers should keep in mind that Section 2 is never designed to address all the details of the challenge at hand, much less all the problems of the world. The crux of the Full Seas Act is a formal transition from economic growth to the steady state economy (most likely via degrowth). Therefore, Section 2 will not include references to specific policy tools such as minimum wages, energy caps, banking reforms, etc. Sections 3 and beyond just as surely will, however.

Without further ado, then, the initial public offering of the Full Seas Act, Section 2, more or less consistent with the canons of statutory construction:

 

SEC. 2.

(a) FINDINGS. The Congress finds that—

(1) Economic growth, as measured with gross domestic product (GDP), requires a growing human population, increasing per capita consumption, or both.

(2) Consistent with the natural sciences, including basic principles of physics and biology, there are limits to economic growth within and among nations.

(3) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, including the maintenance of: clean air and water; productive soils; biological diversity; stocks of natural resources including water, timber, fisheries, minerals, and fossil fuels, and; funds of ecosystem services including nutrient cycling, pollination, waste absorption, and carbon sequestration.

(4) A well-maintained, non-degraded environment is the foundation of a productive economy. Therefore, and because of the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, there is also a fundamental conflict between economic growth and the long-term maintenance of the economy including jobs, income, and wellbeing.

(5) A well-maintained economy is vital to national defense. Therefore, and because of the fundamental conflict between economic growth and the long-term maintenance of the economy, there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and national security.

(6) There is abundant environmental and economic evidence that long-term limits to growth have been and are being reached and exceeded in the Nation, other nations, and globally.

(7) There is abundant evidence that perennial fiscal and monetary efforts to stimulate GDP growth are increasingly causing environmental, economic, and social harm while resulting in fewer benefits, with the harm gradually exceeding the benefits.

(b) DECLARATION. The Congress declares that—

(1) It is heretofore the policy of the Nation to undertake a gradual but certain transition from the goal and pursuit of economic growth to the goal and pursuit of a sustainable steady state economy, with stabilized or mildly fluctuating population and per capita consumption as generally indicated, all else being equal, by a mildly fluctuating GDP.

(2) The transition to a steady state economy must be undertaken with every intent and effort to achieve and maintain the full employment of the labor force consistent with environmental protection and other aspects of economic sustainability including a balanced federal budget and the effective control of inflation.

(3) The President, President’s Cabinet, Council of Economic Advisors, Federal Reserve, and federal agency directors will immediately cease and desist from developing strategies and initiatives to grow or stimulate the economy. Existing policies, programs, and projects designed explicitly to grow or stimulate the economy shall not be extended beyond fiscal year 2021 or beyond the designated sunset date, whichever comes later.

(4) The Congressional Research Service, collaborating with the Office of Management and Budget and Council of Economic Advisers, will review and summarize the federal agency mission statements, goals, objectives, policies, programs, and practices designed for GDP growth, producing a Report on Federal Growth Incentives no later than 30 April 2022.

(5) A Commission on Economic Sustainability (“the Commission”) is hereby established to include the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretaries of Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce, chaired by the Secretary of the Interior, to estimate and monitor environmentally sustainable levels of population and socially optimal levels of GDP. The Commission will produce a Report on Sustainable Population and Optimal GDP no later than 31 August 2022.

(6) The Commission Chair, with counsel of the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Secretary of Commerce, Federal Reserve Chair, and Secretary of the Treasury, drawing on the Report on Federal Growth Incentives and the Report on Sustainable Population and Optimal GDP, and pursuant to the framework provided in subsequent sections herein, will develop and deliver to the President, no later than 31 August 2023, a 25-year Steady-State Transition Plan detailing and scheduling the adjustments, modifications, additions, and deletions necessary to establish a system of government operations most conducive to a steady state economy at an estimated optimal level of GDP.

(7) The President, Cabinet secretaries, and federal agency directors shall not overlook the existence, neglect the enforcement, or underfund the performance of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, or any other of the Nation’s environmental laws or regulations on grounds that said laws or regulations may interfere with the workings of the economy or slow the rate of GDP growth.

 

Stay Tuned for the Rest of the Full Seas Act

For policy wonks and steady-state advocates, exciting times lie ahead as Sections 3 and beyond of the Full Seas Act will feature long-awaited steady-state policy instruments. The starting point should be the top ten policies favored by Herman Daly. Chapter 11 of Supply Shock is largely for purposes of informing the Full Seas Act. And, at the risk of unintentionally omitting dozens of helpful individuals, now is the time to revisit specific proposals of scholars such as Peter Victor, Tim Jackson, Dan O’Neill, and Phil Lawn as well as the rich mix of overlapping ideas emanating from the European degrowth movement.


“Steady statesmanship” an essential aspect of the Full Seas Act. (Image: CC0, Credit: U.S. Department of State)

Speaking of the latter, the Full Seas Act could hardly be effective in a world pursuing GDP growth with only rare exceptions such as Bhutan and New Zealand. Ramped up levels of international trade will be difficult to reconcile with the steady state economy of a huge nation-state. Therefore, the Full Seas Act must address the need for steady statesmanship in international diplomacy.

We should take a page from the playbook of the 93rd Congress, which passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Congress used Section 8 largely to implement American obligations pursuant to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or “CITES,” one of the most sweeping international conservation agreements to date.

Our approach in the Full Seas Act needs to be more proactive, because in this case there is no convention ready and waiting to be implemented. We should devote one section, then, to fleshing out and pursuing the development of a Convention on Economic Sustainability, most likely with a United Nations secretariat. This convention will be assembled for purposes of addressing global limits to growth and the need for “contraction and convergence,” or the acceptance of degrowth in wealthy countries while nations with ubiquitous poverty are assisted to the extent that they have diplomatically established their own sustainable steady-state goals.

Steady statesmanship may be even more difficult than the domestic policy reforms required for an American steady state economy. Yet the harsh realities of COVID make such statesmanship feasible as well. In any event, does it matter how difficult it is, in deciding whether to pursue it? After all, what is the alternative? As we like to say at CASSE, peace is a steady state economy.

And so is health.

[1] See Chapter 11, “A Call for Steady Statesmen,” in Czech, B., Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution (2013, New Society Publishers) for the initial proposal of the Full and Sustainable Employment Act along with numerous policy tools and institutions to be considered in drafting the legislation.
[2]The Section 2 proposed herein does not include amending specifications. The bill presented to Congress will specify which clauses of FEBGA are to be amended, and how. Basically, however, the intent is to replace Section 2 of FEBGA with the proposed Section 2 herein.

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post A Post-COVID Vision: The Full and Sustainable Employment Act appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Immigration imposes a large net cost, and should be reduced

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 4:12pm in

[I’ve posted on this before, but the issue keeps coming up.]


Jane O’Sullivan https://theconversation.com/profiles/jane-osullivan-1809

The dramatic drop in immigration because of the Covid-19 closure of our borders is causing concern among advocates of a high immigration rate, who claim it is essential to the economy. But there is a widely-overlooked and very large cost.

Discussing immigration in Australia is fraught, with any questioning of policy likely to generate outrage and to be labelled racist, populist, nationalist and an assault on Australia’s economy. All of that has followed Labor spokesperson Kristina Keneally’s rather mild suggestion that total numbers of immigrants ought to be lowered after the coronavirus shutdown, especially of temporary immigrants.

The rather hysterical response is partly just over-reaction, partly confected by those who support massive immigration, and partly reflecting common economic furphies.

Immigrants don’t take jobs, they make jobs, says Jock Collins. Spuriously, he cites fee-paying foreign students, but of course they pay to be here and we benefit. He also cites holidaying fruit pickers, with the usual claim Australians won’t stoop to such work. Well, the market solution to that is to increase the pay. Anyway Collins’ example doesn’t show any jobs created.

Then Daniel Ziffer, continuing a pro-immigration blitz at the ABC, picks Keneally for being an immigrant herself. Well most of us are of immigrant stock, are we not allowed to debate the question? He praises multiculturalism (which she did not question), notes that most migrants establish themselves and prosper (no argument), and parades other common irrelevant or questionable arguments.

A more common version of the ‘immigrants make jobs’ claim is the construction their arrival requires. This is actually a cost to our society, but our reliance on GDP as a measure of welfare causes it to be counted as a benefit. GDP is just a crude tally of how we spend money, and not proper accounting, which would use a balance sheet to make the issue clear.

Economists call this an opportunity cost, because we could spend all that money instead on, for example, raising the minimum wage, educating and skilling our own youth, and helping the transition to clean energy, each of which would boost the economy.

Not only is the provision of ‘durable assets’ a cost, it is enormous. Durable assets are public infrastructure, like roads and schools, and private assets, like houses and shops.  Every year we not only have to replace some old assets, we have to build extra for the new arrivals. Jane O’Sullivan estimated it costs around $500,000 per new person. For a net intake of 400,000 immigrants per year that comes to $200 billion. If this amount seems excessive, just think that we are effectively building a complete new city the size of Canberra every year, infrastructure, housing and facilities public and private.

Several other weak or spurious arguments for high immigration rates are regularly paraded. The population must grow for the economy to remain healthy. Really? Those of us already here would not be capable of supporting ourselves? This argument is used to cover up the fact that per capita GDP is stagnant under the current incompetent management.

‘Growth’ (of GDP) is also appealed to because, in our current style of economic management, unemployment rises if GDP growth slows. The remedy is to manage for full employment (in the 1950s and 1960s unemployment was routinely only 1-2%), and to have a buffer stock of employment of last resort, as advocated by economist Bill Mitchell.

It is claimed that our low birthrate will increase the proportion of unproductive old people. True, but it will lower the proportion of unproductive children, and anyway are we saying we can’t or won’t take care of our ageing parents? Especially if we are supposed to have become richer by the time this becomes a ‘problem’?

Another argument is that there are skills shortages and we must urgently import people with skills. It may be that there is occasionally a legitimate issue here, but the list of skills allegedly missing has grown dramatically over the past decade or two and really it reflects two more basic things missing in Australia: many of our businesses want to scrimp on wages, and our governments want to scrimp on education and training. We have high youth unemployment and we’re too cheap to educate our kids into good jobs.

Claims Keneally is being populist, dog whistling or even overtly racist are clearly nonsense. Perhaps it would have been better to say we should employ ‘those who are here’ rather than ‘Australians’ ahead of immigrants, but if you read her actual words she does not single out any group. She talks about low skill levels and the vulnerability to exploitation of holders of temporary visas. She raised similar concerns in a speech in January.

There are those in our society who benefit from importing cheap labour, but society as a whole does not.

The 50 largest cities and towns in Australia, by population | 2020 update

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/05/2020 - 10:11am in

In this 2020 update of the most popular series of blogs on our website, Glenn goes through the largest urban centres in Australia and provides a population update to June 2019.

Perennially among the most popular blogs at .id are simple population counts. Each year we get an update on where populations are moving, which areas are growing and which are declining. The most popular of all has proved to be the “Top 50 cities” blogs. And here is the June 2019 update of this. Note that Covid-19 is expected to have large impacts on future population growth, predominantly due to subdued overseas migration. These figures, of course, pre-date this. The populations should be pretty good estimates, but the growth rates in the next couple of years are likely to be lower.

Australia’s Top 50 Cities, June 30th, 2019 (Source: ABS 3218.0, Regional Population Growth, 2018-19)

2019 pop.
5 year change
1 year change

Rank
Significant Urban Area
no.
No.
%
No.
%

1
Sydney
 4,914,343
451,913
10.1%
83,963
1.7%

2
Melbourne
 4,893,870
575,598
13.3%
107,894
2.3%

3
Brisbane
 2,430,180
225,819
10.2%
51,480
2.2%

4
Perth
 2,045,479
104,555
5.4%
26,252
1.3%

5
Adelaide
 1,340,794
57,070
4.4%
13,753
1.0%

6
Gold Coast – Tweed Heads
 693,671
74,744
12.1%
14,863
2.2%

7
Newcastle – Maitland
 491,474
24,023
5.1%
5,298
1.1%

8
Canberra – Queanbeyan
 462,136
36,246
8.5%
5,201
1.1%

9
Sunshine Coast
 341,069
38,140
12.6%
7,724
2.3%

10
Central Coast
 335,470
13,160
4.1%
2,190
0.7%

11
Wollongong
 306,034
17,186
5.9%
3,602
1.2%

12
Geelong
 275,794
34,368
14.2%
7,503
2.8%

13
Hobart
 216,682
13,490
6.6%
3,094
1.4%

14
Townsville
 181,668
5,906
3.4%
899
0.5%

15
Cairns
 153,951
7,622
5.2%
1,282
0.8%

16
Toowoomba
 138,223
6,856
5.2%
1,404
1.0%

17
Darwin
 133,331
5,607
4.4%
-1,056
-0.8%

18
Ballarat
 107,652
9,527
9.7%
2,180
2.1%

19
Bendigo
 100,991
8,534
9.2%
1,869
1.9%

20
Albury – Wodonga
 94,837
6,855
7.8%
1,296
1.4%

21
Launceston
 88,178
2,655
3.1%
823
0.9%

22
Mackay
 80,264
-1,190
-1.5%
135
0.2%

23
Rockhampton
 79,081
-15
0.0%
506
0.6%

24
Bunbury
 74,591
1,941
2.7%
243
0.3%

25
Coffs Harbour
 72,541
3,961
5.8%
787
1.1%

26
Melton
 72,177
15,661
27.7%
3,411
5.0%

27
Bundaberg
 71,309
1,088
1.5%
407
0.6%

28
Wagga Wagga
 56,675
1,698
3.1%
298
0.5%

29
Hervey Bay
 55,345
3,416
6.6%
681
1.2%

30
Mildura – Wentworth
 52,176
1,980
3.9%
280
0.5%

31
Shepparton – Mooroopna
 52,104
2,472
5.0%
471
0.9%

32
Port Macquarie
 48,723
3,496
7.7%
793
1.7%

33
Gladstone – Tannum Sands
 45,631
216
0.5%
516
1.1%

34
Tamworth
 43,188
1,916
4.6%
366
0.9%

35
Traralgon – Morwell
 42,249
1,250
3.0%
266
0.6%

36
Orange
 40,804
1,763
4.5%
366
0.9%

37
Bowral – Mittagong
 40,411
3,045
8.1%
559
1.4%

38
Busselton
 39,618
3,773
10.5%
703
1.8%

39
Warragul – Drouin
 39,217
6,012
18.1%
1,292
3.4%

40
Dubbo
 38,767
2,444
6.7%
429
1.1%

41
Nowra – Bomaderry
 37,838
2,162
6.1%
463
1.2%

42
Geraldton
 37,255
-1,537
-4.0%
-385
-1.0%

43
Bathurst
 37,191
2,310
6.6%
429
1.2%

44
Warrnambool
 35,523
1,439
4.2%
306
0.9%

45
Albany
 34,367
812
2.4%
168
0.5%

46
Devonport
 30,629
668
2.2%
335
1.1%

47
Mount Gambier
 29,767
589
2.0%
127
0.4%

48
Kalgoorlie – Boulder
 29,326
-2,906
-9.0%
-514
-1.7%

49
Lismore
 28,576
-653
-2.2%
-117
-0.4%

50
Nelson Bay
 28,276
1,404
5.2%
247
0.9%

You got through the list!

 

A few things to point out:

  • As always, this list is based on “Significant Urban Areas”, which is based on an aggregate of SA2s, which contain the continuous urban extent of a city without major gaps. This differs from “Greater Capital Cities” which are used as benchmarks in most of the .id sites, and at the ABS. The latter are defined as broader labour market regions and extend further into rural districts within commuting distance of the capitals.

 

  • For this reason, Sydney, though it still (just) tops the list, is only about 20,000 larger than Melbourne (#2). This definition of Sydney EXCLUDES the Central Coast (#10 on this list), while the Greater Capital City region INCLUDES it. There are outlying areas excluded from Melbourne as well, such as Melton (#26), but these are smaller. So, by this definition, Melbourne could overtake Sydney as Australia’s largest city by next year!

 

  • Both Sydney and Melbourne are likely to have their population growth significantly affected by the current border closures due to Covid-19, however, so this may have to wait a little longer. Both cities gain a large amount of population growth from overseas migration, which is currently non-existent.

 

  • Some of the definitions generally are a little odd. Some nearby towns have been grouped together, while others are excluded. For instance, Traralgon and Morwell in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley are considered one Significant Urban Area, but nearby Moe is separate (#76). But these have been consistent for about 10 years now.

 

  • If you can’t see your place on this list, it’s either outside the top 50, or part of a larger urban area. Eg. the most common question about these lists in the past has been “What about Logan/Ipswich/Redland?”. All those places are included as a part of the contiguous urban area of Brisbane (#3). I’m tipping the Gold Coast to become part of Brisbane by this definition within a few years as well – there is already very little gap there. Or maybe Brisbane will become part of the Gold Coast…
  • Only 4 of the 50 largest urban centres have had population declines in the last year. 46 have had growth. Declining areas are Darwin, Geraldton, Lismore and Kalgoorlie.
  • New South Wales has the greatest number of cities in the list, with 18 all or partly inside NSW (this includes ones like Gold Coast-Tweed and Mildura-Wentworth, where the major part is outside NSW.

Since the last top 50 was done 2 years ago:

  • There are no changes in the composition of the top 50 – the same cities are in there as two years before, and only those minor changes to the order as above. Burnie-Wynyard, Tasmania just misses out at #51.
  • The top 10 is unchanged in composition, but Sunshine Coast and Central Coast have swapped places, with Sunshine Coast moving up to #9 and dropping Central Coast to #10.
  • All other changes in rankings are in the bottom half of the list – Melton (26) overtaking Bundaberg (27), Geraldton has fallen 4 places to #43, overtaken by Dubbo (40), Warragul-Drouin (39) and Nowra (41). Kalgoorlie-Boulder slips behind Devonport and Mount Gambier to #46.

These new Estimated Resident Populations are now represented on profile.id, for Local Government Areas and suburbs/towns. Make sure you’re using the “Population estimates” rather than the Census figures if you need to quote an up-to-date population number. We can also work with you in strategic planning to help understand the impacts of current population trends on your current policies, particularly around youth, ageing, multicultural and population engagement strategies. See our demographic consulting page for more details.

 

New Zealand Deprioritizes Growth to Improve Health and Wellbeing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/05/2020 - 11:00pm in

By James Magnus-Johnston

Last May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a budget to improve the “wellbeing” of citizens rather than focusing on productivity and GDP growth. And, not so coincidentally, New Zealand has one of the best coronavirus outcomes of any democracy in the world. Perhaps this provides a global model to make economic health cohere with health for all life.

Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has deprioritized GDP growth in favor of improving wellbeing, and her personal approval rating is 65 percent. (Image: CC BY 4.0, Credit: Ministry of Justice of New Zealand)

To improve wellbeing, Ardern emphasized goals that focus on care for people and the planet. Goals included community and cultural connection as well as intergenerational equity. Under the policy, new spending had to focus on one of five priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing inequalities of indigenous peoples, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission economy.

While New Zealand isn’t the only country to float the idea of wellbeing over income, it is the first country to make it a reality. Guided by this philosophy, New Zealand is not in a rush to open its economy even as the headlines of a “stock market crash” or a “recession worse than 2008-09” appear in newspapers across the globe. Is Ardern’s example wise? Can we build upon it to further improve life after COVID?

Health and the Economy

In the postwar-capitalist framework, economic “health” became equated to income growth, price stability, and full employment. There are increasingly serious pitfalls to thinking of “health” as a capitalist metaphor rather than a desirable end goal. Using GDP and stock market values as measures of overall economic health made sense in the postwar era, when growth was necessary to improve human wellbeing by raising material living standards. In much of the Global North, it is now necessary to focus instead on improving wellbeing without growing our material footprint. Ardern gestures at this by focusing on mental health, inequality, and poverty, without emphasizing income.

By the postwar logic, human health and wellbeing can be upheld when there is enough money to purchase and provide care. After all, supplies and infrastructure need to be paid for. But as the American and British pandemic strategies have demonstrated, a growing economy in which GDP (or “opening the economy”) is prioritized over general wellbeing doesn’t always improve health outcomes. The USA has one of the highest COVID death rates in the world, and the US infection rate is rising as states open up. Experts on public health and leadership, like those writing in the Harvard Business Review, suggest that New Zealand’s Ardern provides a system that prioritizes maintaining and improving public health that global leaders should follow.

We can also think of health in the broader sense, i.e., health for nonhuman life. The economy is a trophic system, which means that economic health requires the consumption (i.e., death) of nonhuman life. And presently, growth is occurring on a scale that is unsustainable. Here, too, Ardern doesn’t suggest a transition to degrowth, but she does emphasize the need for a low-emission economy. Her movement away from GDP growth as a metric of economic “health” does provide an opportunity to make economic health cohere with the idea of ecological health: sustaining the power and vitality that supports all life.

One of the other tangible ways in which some have experienced a positive impact to their wellbeing during the pandemic is a temporary reprieve from productivist pressures and workplace stress. As I mentioned in a previous article, the term “capitalism” refers to Max Weber’s “modern Kultur” centering around a code of values for the 20th-century West. In this new economy, the highest virtue became “the making of money and ever more money, without any limit.” Growth-as-prosperity requires a certain level of constant busyness to prop up the outputs for mass consumption and technological improvement rather than human warmth and connection.

As a result of the pandemic, many of us have gained clarity about the things we value most, such as food, health, income security, education, mobility, access to nature, social connection, and public services. An economy designed for wellbeing can prioritize these tangible things rather than assuming that income will deliver them.

How Can We Build on Arden’s Success?

As we seek to cultivate a new normal in which health is prioritized, perhaps New Zealand offers a glimpse of the way forward. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance published a piece by Amanda Janoo and Gemma Bone Dodds that suggests that the COVID-caused “Great Pause,” as it were, provides an opportunity to improve our focus on wellbeing. They provide an argument in four parts: (1) The stock market is not a reflection of our economic reality; (2) We will enter a recession, and that’s okay; (3) Economic policies for a Great Pause; and (4) Building back better.

Basic needs

The pandemic has revealed how important it is for basic needs to be met through redistributive cash benefits. (Image: CC0, Credit: Mick Haupt)

With respect to the first two, Janoo and Bone Dodds argue that the stock market can’t possibly predict the future because the future will look starkly different from the past. As a result, trades merely reflect anxiety rather than future prosperity. Secondly, while policymakers are presently fearing a recession—a fall in GDP for two consecutive quarters—inevitably the economy will contract to ensure our collective wellbeing. As they point out, just because the economy contracts, that doesn’t mean our basic needs can’t be met. If anything, this situation has revealed that basic needs might be better met by providing cash benefits (or a universal basic income) where income is redistributed to preserve social solidarity and care. The economy won’t disappear, it will just focus on providing basic needs first. Particularly the ones that our free market sometimes fails to provide for a large part of society.

And to “build back better,” we could examine Ardern’s model and take it one small step further. To focus on health and wellbeing, economic policies should ensure basic needs are met through redistributive mechanisms without trying to balance budgets through austerity measures. Philosophically, this is an opportunity to consider how to live full and meaningful lives without unnecessary excesses. Janoo and Bone Dodds also note that during this time we’ve witnessed how many of our most precarious and poorly-paid workers, including “healthcare workers, farmers, grocery clerks, delivery drivers, and caregivers,” are in fact the most critical for our collective wellbeing.

An economy focused on improving wellbeing is not a distant theoretical idea. The postwar social welfare system helped raise material living standards by improving incomes. But in the 21st century, we have new social and ecological constraints. Ardern has provided a model for the world to refocus on health and wellbeing, and the global pandemic reveals how wise this strategy truly is.

James Magnus-Johnston headshotJames Magnus-Johnston is a PhD researcher at McGill University in the Leadership for the Ecozoic program.

The post New Zealand Deprioritizes Growth to Improve Health and Wellbeing appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Planet of the Humans Puts Sacred Cows Out to Pasture

By Brian Czech

Planet of the Humans is a once-in-a-decade documentary for all concerned with the environment, the economy, and life on Earth. Directed by Jeff Gibbs and produced by Michael Moore, Planet is especially important for advancing the steady state economy. It is reminiscent of Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ in that it makes the case for a steady state economy—resoundingly—while never quite uttering the phrase “steady state economy.”

When viewing a documentary, a political scientist will mind whose ox is being gored. In Planet, entire teams of oxen are gored, including sacred cows. Wind, solar, and biofuels industries are gutted, exposing rotten cores of corporate greed, co-opted NGOs, and an all-too-prevalent intellectual laziness of “green energy” groupies.

Big Environmentalism takes a heavy hit, too. The Nature Conservancy? Gibbs calls it “The Logging Conservancy.” Union of Concerned Scientists? “Union of Concerned Salesmen.” The Sierra Club comes out looking like some environmental Madison Avenue, dazed and confused about what side(s) it’s even on.

Gibbs doesn’t spare environmental heroes, either—not if he catches them with their fingers in the pie or their minds muddled with money. The heaviest hit are Bill McKibben and Al Gore, but Van Jones, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and various heads of the Sierra Club are pummeled as well.

Planet isn’t exclusively a downer with regard to leadership, though. In addition to Gibbs himself, Vandana Shiva comes out clean, and a star is probably born in the form of Ozzie Zehner, a visiting scholar at Northwestern University. Zehner’s mastery of the “green energy” terrain, along with a natural ease in front of the camera, should bring him to the forefront of planning and policy for our energy and environmental futures.

Let’s take a closer look at the sacred cows, their fresh wounds, and the lasting lessons from Planet of the Humans.

Green Energy—“It wasn’t what it seemed.”

While Planet is pitched as a Michael Moore production, it’s really the brainchild of director and narrator Jeff Gibbs, a long-time student and activist in environmental affairs. Gibbs has taken a deep dive into the technics, economics, and politics of energy extraction and marketing. As with most environmental activists, he was naturally inclined to support the movement toward renewable energy development. Surprises laid in store, however. As Gibbs put it, “Everywhere I encountered green energy, it wasn’t what it seemed.”

You’ll see exactly what he means as he canvasses the various businesses, industries, and environmental organizations assembled at “green” energy conferences. The mini-interviews he conducts with folks staffing the booths are full of cringe-worthy moments. Many of the sales representatives and industry spokespersons have no clues whatsoever about what their products are made of. Neither they nor the activists get it about energy return on investment or the net environmental effects of “green” energy.

Few of them know, for example, that a single wind tower requires over 60 truckloads of concrete at the base and needs its own acre to operate in. One tower takes hundreds of tons of steel and several tons each of copper, aluminum, and rare earth elements. It takes around $4 million to install one, and the net energy savings of wind projects are very much in doubt. Factoids and lists such as these make little impression on paper; Gibbs’ genius is bringing us to a site of “mountaintop removal for wind.” Pay keen attention to the ratio of environmental destruction to electricity served up, noting that the site you are visiting vicariously will seat only 21 turbines!


Ivanpah Solar Power Facility: ecologically economic? (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE&feature=youtu.be&t=10)

Folks at the “green” energy conferences might also tell you that solar panels are made of “sand”—easy to come by, cheap as dirt! Yet it’s not the sand of vacant lots or empty backwoods (if you can find any such woods) that goes into solar panels, but rather highly refined quartz, plus the sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid required in manufacturing the panels. And how much space does a solar array require? The Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, which opened in 2014 at a cost of $2 billion, required 3,500 acres and was supposed to power 140,000 homes, but already shows ominous signs of wear and tear.

The dull surprise behind these wind and solar follies is the constant idling (as opposed to shutdown) of fossil-fueled, base-load power plants. The sun goes down predictably, but clouds are less predictable, and winds literally come and go. Not so with the appliances, computers, entertainment paraphernalia, and “green” cars plugged into the grid, much less the pumps, generators, and communications infrastructure at the local and regional utilities and manufacturing plants. So, the grid is kept running, and not by “green” energy. As described by an energy consultant interviewed in Planet, “You’ve got to have a fossil fuel power plant backing it up and idling 100% of the time. Because if you cycle up or cycle down, as the demand on the wind comes through, then you actually generate a bigger carbon footprint than if you just ran it [the fossil-fueled power plant] straight.”

As Zehner put it, we would have been “better off just burning the fossil fuels in the first place, instead of playing pretend.” Taken out of context, such a statement might sound flippant, yet it was more like the bottom line of a thorough analysis of costs and benefits, including, for example, how much fossil fueling is required for the construction, maintenance, and de-commissioning of “green” energy projects.

Now please, don’t even think of accusing me, of all people, of pandering to fossil fuel interests. I wrote, for example, “BP: Beyond Probabilities” and that was ten years ago! Solar and wind projects have clear environmental advantages over coal-fired and nuclear power plants as well as fracking and tar sands mining. The point, though, is that the “green” energy industry is a charade if we think it will solve the sustainability problem without ever addressing the unsustainable demands of the human economy.

The take-downs of wind and solar power are persuasive and resonant, but Gibbs saves his goriest goring for the oxcart of biofuels. For a conservation biologist like me, biofuels have always seemed like a sham, especially as a form of “green” energy. One of my roles while serving at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters was “biomass coordinator” for the National Wildlife Refuge System. Frankly it was an unwelcome role, and I can tell you that the only green aspect of biofuels is the color of the leaves headed for the chipper. As Gibbs points out in his plain-spoken but insightful way, “Wood chips, which is just a euphemism for trees, are being exported to Europe from America, British Columbia, Brazil and Indonesia.”


Logs headed to the wood chipper; thence the incinerator for “green” energy. (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE&feature=youtu.be&t=10)

In the USA, too, entire groves, woodlands, and forests are headed for the incinerator in the “green” attempt to fuel the economy. That’s in addition to all the trash, dead animals, and even shredded tires that somehow qualify as “biofuels.” But the incinerators need any kind of fuel they can get to put a dent in the energy demand that comes with a $20 trillion GDP. Does any of that sound like “sustainable yield?” It’s another reminder that sustainability is first and foremost about size—in particular the size of the economy—and then about technological efficiency.

It’s hard to do justice to the comprehensiveness of the biofuels take-down in Planet. An entire review could be done just on that component, which addresses a plethora of technical, economic, and political nuances. I’ll leave it at this: If you are inclined to support the notion of biofuels as a significant energy source, you really must watch the film.

 

 

Fair to Gore and McKibben?

For steady staters, the world is no oyster. Ask yourself how many prominent figures you’ve heard explicitly advocating the “steady state economy.” Now contrast that with the multitude of figures and followers crowing for economic growth. Steady staters swim straight upstream in the river of political economy, with Big Money rushing relentlessly over us. Therefore, when a prominent figure comes along and signs the CASSE position on economic growth, we’re reluctant to take part in the bashing thereof. Friends are hard enough to find.

Bill McKibben signed the CASSE position in 2009 at the Powershift conference in Washington DC, where he and Gus Speth greeted enthusiastic young students following a session. When McKibben signed the CASSE position, he said, “I love what you guys are doing,” and it was apparent from the pages of Deep Economy (2007) that he’d been aware of CASSE for years. After the Powershift conference, with the signatures of McKibben (and Speth) in hand, the CASSE network was encouraged by the prospect of wider acceptance. Surely McKibben, who ‘loved what we were doing,’ would be a powerful ambassador for the steady state economy. But disappointment followed as news about McKibben never mentioned— because McKibben never seemed to mention—the steady state economy at all!

It’s hard not to notice, then, that numerous clips in Planet suggest McKibben got too far in bed with Big Money. His 350.org movement picked up steam—and for that he deserves credit—but naturally it attracted tempting suitors. McKibben found comfortable rafting in the river of political economy, as powerful corporate and political interests sidled up to him to get their slice of the “green” energy pie. By the time he was involved with the Green Century Fund, he was a de facto collaborator with mining corporations, oil and gas infrastructure companies, McDonalds, ADM, and Coca-Cola, along with a laundry list of banks. Advocating a steady state economy in that crowd would be like pushing for gun control at an NRA convention.

Fortunately, the verdict (for whomever may judge) is far from in on McKibben. People get in over their heads all the time; the best of them get back out and onto the solid ground they came from. Our bets are on McKibben. Going forward, he will have plenty of opportunities to clarify—as he once did by signing the CASSE position—that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. He can clarify, in other words, that sustainability is not some newfangled energy technology but rather a steady state economy with stabilized population and per capita consumption.

Al Gore will forever remain a mystery with regard to the net effects of his politics. During my Ph.D. research in the 1990s, and especially with my minor in political science, Gore was one of my biggest heroes. Earth in the Balance (and later An Inconvenient Truth) probably did more to raise awareness of environmental perils than anyone aside from perhaps Rachel Carson. Eventually, however, I caught on to the fact that Gore was also one of the world’s leading proponents of “sustainable growth,” the oxymoronic bane of the steady-state program. Along with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gore favored the win-win rhetoric that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.”

The CASSE network, myself included, has tried on many occasions to reach Gore and encourage him to come clean on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Not that it’s easy to contact vice presidents while you’re swimming for your life in the river of political economy, trying not to drown while Big Foundation Money is funding all the win-win rhetoricians, keeping them more than afloat. But we’ve tried when we could, given the contacts available to us. Our guess is that Gore is quite familiar, by now, with the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth. His intransigence in sticking with the win-win rhetoric tells us plenty.

Orangutan

Orangutan in a clear-cut rainforest. Reality, analogy, and sadness. (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE&feature=youtu.be&t=10)

In Planet, then, we see the sad demise of a surely well-meaning but ultimately corrupted, win-win politician. The segment on “Blood and Gore” is most telling. Gore teamed up with David Blood (who spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs) to establish Generation Investment Management, known most notoriously for its investment in Brazilian sugar cane, where the industry creates severe pollution problems and pushes indigenous Amazonians straight out of their very cultures. The last scene of Gore, cynically defending the hypocrisy of his financial life, has to be one of the saddest clips in the film, albeit not as sad as the very last scene of the film, with the orangutan down to one last tree in a rainforest devastated for logs and biofuel and to make way for more sugar cane.

Big Environmentalism—Why Keep Our Memberships?

Unlike the big environmental NGOs, Gibbs and his guests “go there” on population and consumption issues. They both plop out of the bag a little over 19 minutes in, when an environmental consultant, skeptical about “green” energy, says, “Not being judgmental and not playing God, but we’ve got to deal with population growth and sustainable resources. We’ve all got to cut back.” From then on, population and consumption become the underlying—and eventually the overarching—themes.

The most prominent coverage of population and consumption appears in the alarming graphical display of these two variables skyrocketing since the industrial revolution. Reflecting on the rapidity and enormity of these trends, Gibbs states, “And that is the most terrifying realization I have ever had.”

We wish only that Gibbs had connected these themes of population and consumption with the single most policy-relevant phrase: GDP. Over the years, this has been one of our top priorities at CASSE; to get well-meaning activists and scholars to move beyond relatively impotent (and frankly obvious) warnings about population and connect it with the metric—GDP—that is central to the policy maker’s mind on Capitol Hill, in the White House, at the Fed and in the World Bank. We can lament population growth until we’re blue in the face, but as long as the fiscal and monetary levers are all set for GDP growth, incentives will be devised, installed, and maintained for population and consumption growth. That’s how public policy works: Incentives are provided to accomplish goals. And the #1 domestic policy goal, perhaps of all time, is GDP growth!

GDP

Gibbs’ population × consumption graph (top). Same graph with CASSE’s GDP Stamp, and with ten times the policy implications (bottom). (Gibbs, Jeff, director. Planet of the Humans. YouTube, uploaded by Michael Moore, 21 Apr. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zk11vI-7czE&feature=youtu.be&t=10)

Not that Gibbs is oblivious to the connection. Approximately 70 minutes in, while skewering billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his supposedly “Beyond Coal” campaign, Gibbs does hit the nail on the head by recognizing, “the reason we’re not talking about over-population, consumption, and the suicide of economic growth, is that would be bad for business. Especially the cancerous form of capitalism that rules the world, and now hiding under a cover of green.” We only wish he had driven home that singular point about economic growth—coupled with “GDP” as the measure thereof— again and again and again.

Speaking of “bad for business,” now is the time to remind Big Environmentalism of a challenge it has thus far skirted. On September 18, 2018, I challenged the presidents of the Big 10 American environmental organizations—The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others— to a debate on the topic: Is there a conflict between economic growth and environmental protection? While none of them stepped up to the plate, we have certainly noticed some decline in the win-win rhetoric, at least around the Washington, DC beltway.

On the other hand, some NGO representatives and board members have stubbornly stuck to the destructive nonsense that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” And, not a single one of the big NGOs has proactively handled the responsibility of raising awareness of limits to economic growth. Some do at times vaguely reference population, and even more vaguely consumption, yet “economic growth” and “GDP” are treated like elephants in the room. This is simply not good enough for NGOs who collected billions of dollars over the years from millions of members.

So, I have an idea. Let’s drop our memberships in these time-wasting, “green” energy pushing, corporately connected “environmental” NGOs and join, instead, organizations that explicitly raise awareness of limits to growth and call just as explicitly for the steady state economy! Or even “degrowth toward a steady state economy.” As the founder and now executive director of one such organization, I may be biased, but I may be right, too.

But don’t just listen to me. Listen very carefully to Jeff Gibbs and the cast of Planet of the Humans. You’ll be brought to the very doorstep of steady statesmanship!

Brian Czech

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post <em>Planet of the Humans</em> Puts Sacred Cows Out to Pasture appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


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