The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg, New Society Publishers
The End of Growth had been on my reading list for some time, and after watching a podcast of Richard Heinberg’s address to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, I decided it was time to track it down and read it.
The author is a member of the United States-based Post Carbon Institute, which has numerous contributors and publications dedicated to exploring a resilient, post-carbon society. The premise of The End of Growth, is, not unexpectedly, that “(e)conomic growth as we have known it is over and done with.” In Heinberg’s view, an ever expanding economy and the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it is a fantastic Ponzi-like bubble, and the economic crisis of 2007-2008 (GFC), which continues around the world, was the inevitable culmination of that trajectory of growth.
After some Economics for the Hurried – a fascinating, but thankfully not dense, context for our current economic system – the author then devotes a large proportion of the book to detailing main reasons why growth has ended and won’t return: primarily a combination of financial and natural limits, which of course will be aggravated by climate change. The GFC revealed the financial limits of a growth-based economy. Resource scarcity – oil, water, food, minerals – climate change and general environmental decline [Tim Flannery’s work around contemporary biodiversity loss here in Australia is a telling example of decline and its huge impacts on our own human ecology] show that Earth’s limits have also been reached.
The prognosis is dire, and the author is of the view that efficiency, substitution and innovation, nor the China phenomenon touted by some as a cure-all, are more placebo than panacea and will not overcome the natural and financial limits of the global economic system.
All this sounds rather dreary but The End of Growth is about challenging well-entrenching doctrine and creating the impetus for creating alternatives, so it’s important that it be rigorous and thoroughly evidence-based. The End of Growth was written post GFC and new material is regularly added at endofgrowth.com.
Fortunately, there is cause for hope (and plenty of interesting reading in the endnotes to follow up!) in the burgeoning field of ecological economics, transition movements and the can-do approach of communities around the world, all of which feature throughout the book and especially in the final chapters. Those chapters, Redefining Progress and Life After Growth gave me cause for hope (OK, I admit I jumped ahead to these!) that there may be paths forward through the sometimes overwhelming mess we are facing.
The End of Growth urges us to realise that until we address the terminally flawed global economic system, the job of protecting Earth and healing the wounds made to her, will be impossible.
Despite its confronting realism, The End of Growth, is approachable and thought-provoking. Though, definitely the start of my reading on this subject.
Rating: Highly Recommended