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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

Significant Urban Area






Gold Coast – Tweed Heads

Newcastle – Maitland

Canberra – Queanbeyan

Sunshine Coast

Central Coast










Albury – Wodonga





Coffs Harbour



Wagga Wagga

Hervey Bay

Mildura – Wentworth

Shepparton – Mooroopna

Port Macquarie

Gladstone – Tannum Sands


Traralgon – Morwell


Bowral – Mittagong


Warragul – Drouin


Nowra – Bomaderry






Mount Gambier

Kalgoorlie – Boulder


Nelson Bay

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 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!


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.

Migration within Australia – strongest out of Sydney

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/04/2020 - 8:53am in

This is the third blog on the Regional Population Growth 2018-19, which was released in late March by the ABS. This publication looks at population in June 2019, and is the main source of population updates for all local areas each year. In this blog, Glenn looks at the movement between states, and particularly to and from Sydney, to see who are the winners and losers in the internal migration game.

Internal migration, or migration within Australia, is a major factor of population change in some parts of Australia. At the national level, its effect is zero, by definition, but some regions within the nation tend to gain population from other regions, while others lose.

This table shows on a state-by state basis where people are moving, in net terms. The table is a mirror image of two triangles. Reading down the columns, gains to a particular state from another are positive, and losses are negative. Reading along the rows, it’s the opposite.

Gain of population (across)

New South Wales
South Australia
Western Australia
Northern Territory
Australian Capital Territory

Loss of population (down)

New South Wales



South Australia

Western Australia


Northern Territory

Australian Capital Territory


Source: ABS, 3218.0, Regional Population Growth, Australia via RIME estimates on ABS.Stat

A few interesting points.

  • By far NSW has the biggest interstate movement in net terms – primarily to Queensland, accounting for nearly 3/4 of its outward movement. Quite a few are also moving to Victoria.
  • Northern Territory, in population decline, is negative (losing population) to every other state and territory.
  • Tasmania also gains most of its interstate movers from NSW, and is the only state or territory gaining population from Queensland.
  • Western Australia is still losing population to everywhere except the NT. But these numbers are smaller than they were over the past few years.

The ABS has done an interesting chart on their publication page, looking at net migration at a capital city level, which I can’t improve on, so it’s replicated here.

Source: ABS, 3218.0, Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2018-19


This shows for each capital city in Australia, the estimated population change in one year (2018-19), in net terms. It shows that Sydney and Melbourne’s growth is overwhelmingly supported by high overseas migration. With our borders currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there can’t be any overseas migration, and if this continues for a while, this will hit next year’s population growth for Sydney and Melbourne particularly hard.

But Sydney and Melbourne differ markedly on the green bar segment – Internal Migration. While Melbourne shows a slight gain (more people move to Melbourne than away from Melbourne within Australia), Sydney shows a large loss – about 25,000 people more moved to other areas of Australia than moved to Sydney. Brisbane is the other area on this chart which shows a strong gain, and some of those Sydney migrants are moving to Brisbane.

Now currently many state borders are effectively closed due to Covid-19 as well – but these are likely to reopen well before international borders do, and probably will have a lesser effect on population movement than the closer to overseas arrivals.

Quite a few are moving to regional areas though. Let’s focus on movement out of Sydney, the largest single internal migration movement,  and see where they are heading.

Region of largest gain from Sydney (SA4 level)

Net migration gain 2018-19

Central Coast

Gold Coast

Mid North Coast

Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven

Newcastle and Lake Macquarie

Sunshine Coast

Hunter Valley exc Newcastle

Richmond – Tweed


Melbourne – Inner

Capital Region

Central West

These are the regions which gained more than 1,000 people from Greater Sydney in net terms in 2018-19 (in net terms just means there were more people who moved from Sydney to these regions than moved the other way).  As you can see, the biggest exodus from Sydney is into coastal areas on the north coast of NSW, and to South-East Queensland, particularly the Gold Coast, which has always attracted a lot of people from Sydney. Also the Southern Highlands, Illawarra and Hunter Valleys gained strongly from this migration pattern. Movement across the ranges into Western NSW was smaller, but still a significant contributor to growth in the Central West and Capital Regions (Capital Region doesn’t include the ACT but is all the NSW areas surrounding, like Goulburn, Yass). While other NSW regions have smaller gains, not all showing on the table – only one lost population in net terms to Greater Sydney, and that was the far North-West of the state (Dubbo and beyond), losing about 100 people to Sydney.

The annual updates don’t break down by age, but our 5-year migration figures on profile.id do this, and generally show large losses for rural areas among young people into Sydney, with the gains being among adults and retirees. A lot of this can probably be attributed to high housing costs in Sydney, forcing people to look elsewhere, and being attractive for retirement outwards of home owners in Sydney.

Only one of these large net gains is to another capital city, into Inner Melbourne, which backs up this general regional exodus theory.

These detailed migration figures are not currently published at Local Government Area level in between Censuses, but total population growth and components of growth are. We have updated all the populations on our community and economic profiles, so you can always get the latest numbers for your area there. If you have any queries about this dataset or need something more customised for your area, please feel free to contact us on demographics@id.com.au, or using this link.




Building a Steady State Economy in a System Evolved for Growth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/04/2020 - 2:45am in

By Brian F. Snyder
Tiger King's Doc Antle

Tiger King: our ethical guidepost? (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Wolfrage)

If you’ve been on the internet recently you’ve been exposed to Tiger King, the wildly popular Netflix series that revolves around the conflict among a bizarre set of humans feuding over the proper way to hold big cats in captivity. Watching the show is a bit like watching a train derail in slow motion, but for our purposes what is important is that it illustrates the discrepancy between the way the world is and the way the world ought to be. There are no heroes in Tiger King, and indeed a limited number of characters that might be considered psychologically whole, but in the final episode, one of the saner characters notes that this years-long feud and a resulting 19-count federal indictment has wasted millions of public and private dollars which could have been better spent on protecting the few remaining tigers in the wild. That is, he notes the discrepancy between the way the world is and the way the world ought to be.

David Hume may have insight in the steady state economy

David Hume’s is/ought fallacy: an ever-present danger in thinking about economic growth. (Image: CC0, Credit: Allan Ramsay)

It seems obvious that Tiger King does not depict the way the world ought to be, but the confusion between is and ought is so common and pervasive that David Hume, the brilliant 18th century Scottish philosopher called it the is/ought fallacy. We observe the way the world isperhaps in our economic systemsand assume that is the way the world ought to be. Doing so is no more rational than observing the characters of Tiger King and assuming they provide exemplars of human ethics. Put simply, none of our data about the world describe how the world should be.

The fundamental reason that using data (is) to inform ought is fallacious is that the way the world is (the data) is a result of evolution. Human cultures and economic systems evolved through natural selection in much the same manner as our physical traits, and taking ethical advice from nature is problematic because evolution is value-neutral. Evolution has no way to produce objectively good or bad behavior, just beings that are good at reproducing. Thus, evolution has no means for producing right and wrong. Using it to inform our ethical choices is akin to entrusting Bernie Madoff with our financial planning: there is simply no reason to trust evolution to know right from wrong.

This is important for those interested in a steady state economy because a steady state economy is not natural, or in fancier language, it is not an evolutionary stable strategy. Imagine two ancient societies living near each other, one growth society developing new technologies for farming and raising their population size, while the other steady state society lives a quieter, stable existence. In this empty world of vast resources, the growing society continues to grow and absorb resources until it outcompetes and assimilates or annihilates the steady state society. We have witnessed this process occur throughout history as more industrialized societies have replaced less industrialized ones. Thus, for humans, what has been selected by evolution, what is natural, is industrialization and growth.

Of course, that does not say whether industrialization and growth are good.  Nor does that imply that growth is adaptive in the current world full of 7.6 billion people. But it does imply that we have evolved for growth. Understanding this may be important for a transition to a steady state because it gives us an idea of the scale of the challenge. If human populations have been selected for millennia to grow then there may be both genetic and cultural adaptations that favor growth. For example, we might view greed as an adaptation; greedy individuals and greedy societies may be more likely to extract more material and energy from the environment and may thus have more surviving progeny than less greedy people or groups. Similar logic might apply to territoriality, war, and economic/political systems like democratic capitalism and Marxism.  The societies and peoples that grow the fastest outcompete the others and their genetic and cultural traits get passed on to future generations.

But if this is the ultimate explanation for our unsustainable societies, what can we do about it? Perhaps it might start with the recognition that the way we have evolved is not objectively good. That is, that we have created a rapid-growth economy because we are evolved to have done so but that does not mean such an economy is right. Our current economic system was not handed down by God. Nor, of course, does that imply that a growth economy is evil. Instead, we might see the system that we live in today as one of a number of options; we might understand that none of these options are objectively good or bad, and we might seek to discern which economic system is, in our collective subjective opinions, preferred. That is, the first step is understanding that we have a choice about what sort of economic system we want and that any such system will have tradeoffs.

Communist Revolution

Communist revolution, 1917. (Image: CC0, Source)

Second, we must understand that changing economic systems has occurred numerous times through history and so can occur again. The communist revolutions in the 20th century are the most obvious example, but the birth of capitalism in the 17th century was just as revolutionary. A transition to a steady-state system would be arguably less transformative (at least, as proposed by CASSE) than either of these revolutions. In other words, economic systems are a product of evolutionary change, and thus, they change over time.

Third, the adaptive view of economic systems implies that there are traits at both the personal and societal level that keep us in the growth economy, and that changing from a growth to a steady state economy would require both individual and collective change. At the individual level, much of what pastors call “sin” can be understood as an adaptation for growth and reproduction. Greed and jealousy can be viewed as traits, either learned or hardwired, that propel us to consume more resources and thus increase our survival and reproduction. Thus, to shift from a growth to a steady state economy will require, not a shift in our ethical principles, but a recollection of the ethical principles we already claim to hold. This is a point Herman Daly and John Cobb made insightfully in their book, For the Common Good.

However, the adaptation toward growth is most visible in groups and thus group-level change is especially critical. But how do you move a social group that is adapted towards growth to shift towards a steady-state system? This question is especially difficult. Herman Daly, Phil Lawn, Brian Czech, Rob Dietz, Dan O’Neill, and other steady-state economists have addressed the policies that would need to change, but how does one accomplish this change, especially if the system is evolved toward growth. Perhaps rephrasing the question would be helpful; assuming that humans are evolved towards growth, how do you reverse evolution?

Biological systems, including human social systems, evolve to be adapted to their environment. Humans are adapted to a growth environment because we evolved in an empty world. In the fuller world in which we now live, growth may be less adaptive. Already, we have seen extraordinary declines in human fertility rates around the world and it is possible that this represents an evolutionary change in humans towards a lower-growth system. Thus, perhaps the relevant question is less, “how do we transition to a steady state economy?” and more, “how do we modify the human environment to lead humans to evolve into a steady state economy?” That is, what are the environmental factors that lead social groups to favor decreased reproduction, decreased consumption, and decreased work hours and how do we build societies that foster those traits?

Brian F. Snyder is an assistant professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University and CASSE’s LSU Chapter director.

The post Building a Steady State Economy in a System Evolved for Growth appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Coronavirus Cures Big Lies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/04/2020 - 4:28pm in

For decades we have been told that we should not have a socialized or national healthcare plan in the United States because this country has the best healthcare system in the world. Obviously the coronavirus pandemic and the total absence of medical coverage or testing ability or adequate space in hospitals proves that that was always a lie.

Which parts of Australia are experiencing population decline?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/04/2020 - 9:18am in

Telling a demographic story

In an era of almost unprecedented population change in Australia, there was one local government area in Australia that managed to maintain a stable population of exactly 92,888 people in the year to June 2019. This is just one remarkable insight from Glenn’s latest blog, which looks at the highlights from the recent Regional Population Growth figures from the ABS. In this piece, Glenn looks at the parts of the country that are experiencing population decline, and those that maintained a steady population over the last year.

These latest population figures are now in your local community profile. Instructions on how to find them here

The annual release by the ABS of Regional Population Growth always provides a lot of interesting information. Every year we get an update on population change and exactly where that is occurring. On Monday, I wrote about the high level of growth in our capital cities, and showed the fastest and largest growth by Local Government Area in the year ended 2019. But not all areas are increasing. Let’s look at some of the areas with population decline.

Which parts of Australia are experiencing population decline?

Notably, in 2019, we had an entire territory -the Northern Territory – with a declining population, falling by 1,129 people, or 0.5% to 245,929 people.

Here are the Local Government Areas Australia-wide which had the largest declines in population from 2018 to 2019.

Local Government Area
2018 pop
2019 pop
% change

    Darwin (NT)
–       1,614

    Kalgoorlie/Boulder (WA)
–         520

    Greater Geraldton (WA)
–         442

    Mount Isa (Qld)
–         275

    Port Augusta (SA)
–         240

    Broken Hill (NSW)
–         236

    Carnarvon (WA)
–         179

    Joondalup (WA)
–         171

    Southern Downs (Qld)
–         141

    Northam (WA)
–         139

Source: ABS, Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2018-19 (3218.0)

Darwin tops the list, in fact accounting for more than 100% of the NT’s decline (meaning the rest of NT actually increased). The other areas are primarily rural and remote areas, affected by the movement of Australia’s population into cities.

Population declines in mining towns

The biggest losses are seen in larger regional centres based around mining, such as Broken Hill, Kalgoorlie and Mount Isa, or Agriculture (Southern Downs, Northam, Geraldton). Both these industries are actually becoming more productive, but employing fewer people over time. Young people, in particular, tend to leave remote towns for the cities, and this leaves an older and declining population.

Apart from Darwin, which is affected by the end of a major construction project, the only metropolitan LGA in the list is Joondalup, part of Perth. This has a different cause, with many suburbs settled in the 1980s and 1990s, having declining household sizes due to children leaving home and finding new housing elsewhere. This is a regular part of the suburb life cycle.

In percentage terms, the largest declines are some rural LGAs with very small populations. 9 of the top 10 percentage declines are in rural WA, predominantly the wheatbelt. Population sizes are small, and so relatively small changes are substantial in percentage terms. The total population decline across these 10 areas is only 561 people. The one area not in WA is Brewarrina, in north-western NSW.

Local Government Area
2018 pop
2019 pop
% change

    Northampton (WA)
–         133

    Morawa (WA)
–           24

    Cue (WA)
–             5

    Carnarvon (WA)
–         179

    Wiluna (WA)
–           22

    Three Springs (WA)
–           18

    Coolgardie (WA)
–         101

    Dundas (WA)
–           21

    Perenjori (WA)
–           16

    Brewarrina (NSW)
–           42

Source: ABS, Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2018-19 (3218.0)

Which places have stable populations?

Finally, what about those areas that have stayed very stable over the past year? Here is a list of all the LGAs which have had no change in population, or added or lost exactly 1 person, according to the ABS estimates.

Local Government Area
2018 pop
2019 pop

    Bruce Rock (WA)

    Mount Marshall (WA)

    Belyuen (NT)

    Balranald (NSW)

    Carrathool (NSW)

    Maralinga Tjarutja (SA)

    Canning (WA)

    Murchison (WA)

    Barcoo (Qld)

    Diamantina (Qld)

    Yalgoo (WA)

    Menzies (WA)

    Flinders Ranges (SA)

    Mount Remarkable (SA)

Most of these are also small rural areas, however there is one standout. The City of Canning, in south-eastern Perth managed to stay exactly stable, with a population of 92,888 people in 2018 and no change at all in 2019. This is quite remarkable (and Mount Remarkable is almost as remarkable..) in a population that size, given the number of people who would’ve moved in and out in that time. Of course these are subject to review after the next Census and this will probably change, but for now I’m confident in naming Canning as the most stable area in Australia for the year!

Where can I find this up-to-date population data?

New Estimated Resident Population data has just been loaded into your Local Government Area’s community profile, and is available for the LGA and each suburb or district on your site. Find it in the menus under the “Population” heading.