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What if the planet has sustained our maximum potential for industrial growth?

The climate crisis is changing the way certain economists are thinking about economic growth.
heather-clancy.jpg
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

The technology publishing empire where I spent most of my 20-plus years in high-tech journalism was, at the time, the foremost expert about channels of distribution for the high-tech industry. My primary readership was the army of VARs, systems integrators, computer resellers and IT solution providers that support the desktop and data center infrastructures at businesses large and small. At one time, we were THE biggest newsweekly in the publishing world. Literally.

The high-tech vendor community, of course, was always seeking to recruit business partners from this community that could help them grow and grow fast and big. It looked down on members of this distribution channel community who supported more modest economic growth goals. We even coined a term for it "lifestyle" businesses, meaning that the owners of those companies were interested in sustaining a certain level of growth and revenue and they didn't have much ambition behind that. They worked to live. They did not live to work.

It would be blasphemy to utter this question at my former employer, but here goes: What is so wrong with that?

Where is it writ the every company in the world must grow at hyper speeds?

In fact, is it possible to grow at hyper speeds forever?

I ask these questions by way of prefacing my links to two reports about this very topic.

The first takes the form of a study published by two "environmental think tanks" based in California called "Searching for a Miracle: Net Energy Limits the Fate of Industrial Society." The basic thesis of this report is the following: based on current rates of investment in energy/power production, we will not be able to sustain our current levels of industrial production and personal consumption beyond a couple of decades. The authors/editors of this study are Richard Heinberg with the Post Carbon Institute and Jerry Mander with the International Forum on Globalization.

The analysis is given over to exploring the best potential alternative energy prospects for shifting this trend, notably wind energy and certain types of solar energy. Close to 20 alternatives are considered, altogether.

The tone of this new study echoes one that was published by Earthscan out of London called "Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet."

Here are some thoughts from the author, Tim Jackson:

"Governments are locked into defending growth in a system where stability depends on growth. Chasing growth makes it incredibly difficult to chase climate goals, too. So what we urgently need is an economic system that doesn't rely on growth. Right now, the one we have is undermining the ability of governments to function properly. It is undermining wellbeing in the richest nations and it is driving us rapidly toward catastrophic climate change."

Jackson's data for the book is based on two years of research in his role as economics commissioner for the United Kingdom's Sustainable Development Commission. Here's Chapter 1.

And if this wasn't enough to convince you that there is a fundamental shift happening in the field of economics, George Soros has invested $50 million to establish a new organization called the Institute for New Economic Thought to escalate discussions of this sort to the next level.

Are you ready to talk?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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