Greece, the Limits to Growth, and My Paper

My paper, “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent,” to be presented at the upcoming Fourth International Integral Theory Conference on July 18th, is about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. [8/24/15 update: the paper has now been published by Integral Leadership Review]

In a recent post entitled “The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?“, Ugo Bardi writes, “could it be that all the financial circus that we are seeing dancing in and around Greece is just the effect of much deeper causes? The effect of something that gnaws at the very foundations not only of Greece, but of the whole Western World?

Let’s take a step back, and take a look at the 1972 study titled “The Limits to Growth” (LTG). Look at the “base case” scenario, the one which used as input the data that seemed to be the most reliable at the time…”

Bardi concludes: “If the LTG study is right and the crisis is generated by the gradually increasing costs of production of natural resources, (and there is plenty of evidence that these costs are increasing worldwide, see also here) then, collapse cannot be avoided, at best it can be mitigated by acting at the system level. By means of such measures as renewable energy, efficiency, and recycling, the system can be helped to cope with a reduced resource availability. But the economic contraction of the system is unavoidable. It is a contraction that we call financial collapse, but that is simply the result of the system adapting to lower quality (i.e. more expensive) resources.”

To corroborate, I will share an excerpt  from my paper mentioned above:

“…Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute believes we have reached The End of Growth (2011), as does energy economist Jeff Rubin (2012), who understands that “the real engine of economic growth has always been cheap, abundant fuel and resources.” However, this wasn’t the training he received as an economist:

Nearly every economics exam I wrote dealt with the idea of maximizing economic growth. It wasn’t until I had years of real-world experience under my belt as chief economist of an investment bank that I began to understand what the textbooks were missing…After watching GDP growth shrink in the face of steadily rising oil prices, I couldn’t escape the notion that growth might someday become finite. During my formal training, steeped in conventional economic theory, the idea of static growth was never even considered. It doesn’t matter which school of economic thought you subscribe to or where you belong on the ideological spectrum, the notion of growth is an unquestioned tenet of the discipline (ibid, pp. 26-27).

Thomas Piketty (2014) caused a sensation when his rigorous academic economics book was translated into English, and became a bestseller. Piketty provides good evidence that we will not likely see again the levels of growth experienced in the 20th century. One reference he cites is even less optimistic. Robert J. Gordon, economics professor at Northwestern University forecasts a 0.2 percent growth of real disposable income for the majority of the U.S. population over the next 25 to 40 years. He names four “headwinds” contributing to this self-described “gloomy forecast”: demographic shifts, educational attainment, increasing inequality, and the ratio of debt to GDP at all levels (Gordon, 2012; 2014). This projection does not include resource constraints.

“Rogue” or “heterodox” economists who recognize the validity of biophysical constraints (limits to growth) include E.F. Schumacher (1973), Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen (Gowdy and Mesner, 1998), Herman Daly (Daly & Cobb, 1994), and Peter Pogany (2006). Taking a thermodynamics perspective on economic growth, Pogany argues that entropy applies to matter, not just to energy. Therefore eternal substitution and recycling among materials is an illusion in a closed system (with regards to matter) such as our terrestrial sphere of earth and atmosphere. Technology cannot, in the end, overcome entropy, which means that the Pulse of Growth ultimately hits a peak, based on the availability of quality resources not yet dissipated.

In principle, they could replace copper wires with carbon polymers and make gold from scraps of copper, but in practice they could not do it if they had to pick through the ofals of low-entropy substance in search of other material inputs…between “can be done economically” and “cannot be done physically” there is a tipping point: “Can be done physically but not economically” (Pogany, 2006, p. 123).

Of course there are many economists who strongly dispute the voices above; but more and more are questioning the status quo, with some arguing that we need to embrace a “degrowth” alternative (Caradonna, et al., 2015). Certainly there is reason to pause and to question the idea of infinite economic growth on a finite planet. This is one more “myth of the given” that should not be taken for granted. Edgar Morin referred to “development” as:

The master word…upon which all the popular ideologies of the second half of this century converged…development is a reductionistic conception which holds that economic growth is the necessary and sufficient condition for all social, psychological, and moral developments. This techno-economic conception ignores the human problems of identity, community, solidarity, and culture… In any case, we must reject the underdeveloped concept of development that made techno-industrial growth the panacea of all anthroposocial development and renounce the mythological idea of an irresistible progress extending to infinity (Morin, 1999, pp. 59-63).

Addressing this “myth of the given,” Pogany pokes fun at his own profession:

Historically, geocapital [matter ready to be used to feed cultural evolution] has registered a net increase; additions and expansions more than offset exhaustions and reductions. This long-lasting successful experience led to the culturally ingrained confidence in the possibility of its eternal continuation. Economic growth theory keeps “deriving” the same conclusion over and over again: Optimally maintained economic expansion can continue forever. Translated from evolutionary scales to our own, this is analogous to “Since I wake up every morning I must be immortal” (2006, p. 118).”

References

Caradonna, J., Borowy, I. Green, T., Victor, P.A., Cohen, M., Gow, A. … Heinberg, R. (2015). A degrowth response to an ecomodernist manifesto. Retrieved from: http://www.resilience.org/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf

Daly, H. & Cobb, J.B. (1994). For the common good: Redirecting the economy toward the community, the environment, and a sustainable future. 2nd, updated edition. Beacon Press.

Gordon, R. J. (2012). Is U.S. economic growth over? Faltering innovation confronts the six headwinds. Center for Economic Policy Research, Policy Insight No. 63 (September 2012).
http://www.cepr.org/sites/default/files/policy_insights/PolicyInsight63.pdf

Gordon, R.J. (2014). The demise of U.S. economic growth: restatement, rebuttal and reflections. NBER Working Paper No. 19895 (February 2014).

Gowdy, J. and Mesner, S. (1998). The evolution of Georgescu-Roegen’s bioeconomics. Review of Social Economy Vol LVI No 2 Summer 1998. The Association of Social Economics. Retrieved from: http://homepages.rpi.edu/~gowdyj/mypapers/RSE1998.pdf

Heinberg, R. (2011). The end of growth: adapting to our new economic reality. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers.

Morin, E. (1999). Homeland earth: a manifesto for the new millenium. Creskill: Hampton Press.

Morin, E. (2008). On complexity. Creskill: Hampton Press.

Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. translated by Goldhammer, A. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Pogany, P. (2006). Rethinking the world. Lincoln: iUniverse.

Pogany, P. (2013a). Al Gore, Stephen King, and Jean Gebser are related. How? Retrieved from: http://blog.gebser.net/

Pogany. P. (2013b). Thermodynamic isolation and the new world order. Retrieved from: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/49924/

Rubin, J. (2012). The big flatline: oil and the no-growth economy. New York: Pallgrave Macmillan.

Schumacher, E.F. (1973). Small is beautiful: economics as if people mattered. London: Blond & Briggs.

Schumacher, E.F. (1977). Guide for the perplexed. New York: Harper & Row.

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Join Me at Integral Theory Conference 2015

Registration for the Integral Theory Conference closes July 8th.  I’d love to see you there! The theme of the conference is “Integral Impacts: Using Integrative Metatheories to Catalyze Effective Change.”
I’m looking forward to hearing Karen O’Brien present about Climate Change and Transformation to Sustainability; Bill Torbert talk about The Kinds of Inquiry, Power, and Love Required…; and Eliza Maalauf on Integral Design in the Midst of Chaos…
I’m also looking forward to Ed Sarath talk about Integral Jazz; Nick Hedlund De Witt on an integral realist approach to climate change; Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and Zak Stein discussing whether Integral needs to drop spirituality to have a mainstream impact.  It will be hard to choose between some of the “Pioneers” presentations to attend: Don Beck, Terri O’Fallon, Bruce Alderman, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Gail Hochachka, Terry Patten, Zak Stein, Steve McIntosh, Bonnitta Roy, etc. 
I’m also hoping at least a few people attend my talk on Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent
Abstract:
This paper will consider current concerns about resource depletion (“energy descent”) and the unsustainability of current economic structures, which may indicate we are entering a new era signaled by the end of growth. Using the systems thinking tool of PatternDynamics™, developed by Tim Winton, this paper seeks to integrate multiple natural patterns in order to effectively impact these pressing challenges. Some of the Patterns considered include Energy, Transformity, Power, Pulse, Growth, and the polarities of Expansion/Contraction and Order/Chaos.
 
We tend to have horrible visions associated with downturns and “collapse.” Can we even entertain the possibility that we might be entering a period of decline in energy and standard of living?  Can we re-examine our assumptions about “growth” and “development”? Jean Gebser’s emphasis that every mutation of structure is preceded by a crisis will be considered, and Howard T. Odum’s ideas about energy as the basis of man and nature will inform the discussion. Edgar Morin’s dialogic Method of active inquiry in regards to the interplay of polarities assists in our understanding and response to the complex challenges we face.
You can download my paper here.
Here is the basic info about ITC 2015:
ITC 2015 will be held July 16-19 on the beautiful campus of Sonoma State University in the heart of California Wine Country. Come experience the world’s largest academic, professional, and artistic conference devoted to Integral Theory and its application.
EARLY BIRDS. For you there’s:

7:00AM – yoga and meditation practices (daily)

7:30AM – a groundbreaking art exhibition, In the Spirit of Wholeness: Integral Art and its Enchantment Aesthetic, curated by Michael Schwartz (daily; open all day)

8:30AM – a special event with Ken Wilber (Sunday)

9:00AM – keynote presentations by Karen O’Brien (Friday), Bill Torbert (Saturday), and Elza Maalouf (Sunday)

NIGHT OWLS. For you there’s:
Talented artists and cultural performers taking you on a journey every night.

8:30PMMETAPHORPHOSIS, embodied poetics and integral slam with six award-winning poets and spoken word artists, followed by a DJ Dance Party (Thursday)

7:30PMWRESTLING JERUSALEM, a solo performance and riveting display of integral consciousness and artistry in action (Friday)

7:30PMDEEPER THAN DAY, live music, theater, and dance with the brilliant musician Butterscotch headlining (Saturday)

Click here or the poster for details!

DAYDREAMERS. For you there’s:

11:30AM and 3:45PM – two full blocks of presentations by Integral Pioneers (Saturday & Sunday)

12:30PM – Pop-Up Playground Lunches organized by Marilyn Hamilton’s Integral City team (daily)

2:00PM – hot-topic panel discussions (Friday & Saturday)

The Mission of the Integral Theory Conference

  • To be the world’s premier conference dedicated to Integral Theory and its application in both academic and professional contexts.
  • To facilitate the theoretical development of Integral Theory by drawing on the most sophisticated integrative meta-theories and transdisciplinary scholarship currently available.
  • To provide a forum in which metadisciplinary and transdisciplinary scholars and practitioners can present research findings and best practices in an atmosphere of engaged, critical discourse with others of similar qualifications and interests.
  • To encourage robust production of professional and academic literature, provide networking opportunities, and enable collaborative project-creation among integral scholars and professionals.
  • To bring the quality of scholarship in metadisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies to a level fully on par with the standards of excellence expected by the mainstream academy, while simultaneously generating increased openness to multiperspectival approaches to the study of human society and its environment.
  • To foster a non-parochial, global academic community that is open to multiple frameworks and methodologies that would seek to engage issues of complexity and epistemological integration.
  • To offer students of Integral Theory, graduate students, and practitioners access to the world’s leaders in the field.
  • To explore the historical antecedents and cultural influences that have contributed to the creation of Integral Theory; these currently suggest that Integral Theory is the most recent expression of a mode of integrative thought and praxis that extends back to at least the mid-eighteenth century.