Yesterday Eric Rimmer, on the sustainability slide show discussion, had replied to my comment about the problem with using I=PAT for the “chicken and egg” problems of overshoot relating the problem of population vs. wealth. He said:
Thank you. Phil. Interesting thoughts, though I can’t detect what you suggest we should DO?
Well, I’ve been thinking about that too… Because the way natural systems steer their development is by using their operating surplus to redirect their development. We should get Barack to realize his mistake of saying it’s OK to spend all our effort and surpluses to get back to using up the earth’s resources ever faster again.
That’s unequivocally what we’re doing when both government policy and stimulus are to rekindle the use of investment for maximizing the growth of investment. It’s a policy to maximize the exponential rate at which we add to the physical overhead the earth has to support . It follows the model of the past that, before ~1960 , generally resulted in making wealth more available and cheaper, but now does not do that.
Now the tables are turned and compound expansion is making real wealth less available and physically more expensive. What we need is to continually simplify and improve technology *to conserve resources by reducing the real cost of the system*. The standard investment growth plan results in causing the markets to make choices for the opposite purpose.
It’s going to happen too, if we just let nature crunch the system the hard way and only a simple society survives. Avoiding that would mean voluntarily ending the limitless use of investments to enrich investors. Ther’d have to be some reason the investor or the community would choose to use the same earnings for something sustainable.
There’s more than a little there to think here, of course. The hard fact is that the arithmetic of diminishing returns says *after a point more investment means less good*, and that conflicts with many of our popular values.
The question to keep coming back to is “How can we follow nature’s strategy of completing things as our limit to growth?”, rather than let all we’ve built fail for our not being up to the challenge. Letting things fail does work too, of course. It might be a better choice than accept a whole bundle of cheats that will just, again, just make the next crisis that much bigger.
To reduce the whole physical system overhead the system surplus would need to find what is most valued and practical and steer clear of the money pumping that replaces perfectly good things with others that are actually ever more impractical.
For my own choices I’m partly spending what I have on finding a sustainable career. My old career as an architect collapsed partly because the whole economy wanted ever uselessly fancier and bigger stuff, paid for with ever less believable promises, and collapsed because of that. To support what I want to sustain in smaller ways I happened to decided to cut back on some charities, the hard sell ones, and get daily delivery of the NY Times again. The Times is such a good broad spectrum information resource, and I really don’t want it to go away.
Does that help?
Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.•´ ¯ `•.¸¸¸¸
My prior comment to which he responded was:
Yes, that’s what “the math” says, to limit both population and wealth. The question is whether to do that “steering” system with “self-constraint” or by “imposed control”.
People have come to that impasse over and over, it seems to me, because we know almost nothing about how people or natural systems develop self-control and are justly bothered by what we do know about the workability of imposed controls. We keep having to ask whether to use the solution we don’t understand how to use, or the one we know won’t work….
What I keep looking at and pointing to are the examples nature offers of systems that show remarkable self-control, all over the place. The sciences just don’t seem to be studying or discussing how they work, or how to apply the same principles elsewhere, so that’s my theory of why we don’t know what to do.
How natural systems develop self-control looks to me to be the same way they grow. They take a portion of their product and use it as a resource for *building onto the process*. As new parts take new directions and old parts atrophy, the change direction. That is true steering, not outside control. It’s the system’s surplus that seems to be the natural resource for changing the system’s directions. I think it seems to be a tremendously versatile strategy.
It raises lots of new questions, of course, and that can seem slow going sometimes because you’re then no longer in a world of automatic answers. The population debate has been very repetitive for centuries apparently, though. If we keep asking the same questions in about the same way it seems likely it will just lead to the same inadequate answers.
Phil Henshaw ¸¸¸¸.•´ ¯ `•.¸¸¸¸