by Charles Hugh Smith
Earthrise NASA/Bill Anders
This is the fantasy:
we can rebuild our
entire global industrial society every generation or two
"Earthrise" is one of the
most influential photographs ever published.
Taken on the Apollo 8
mission in late December 1968 by astronaut Bill Anders, it
captures Earth's uniqueness, isolation and modest scale:
a blue and white dot
on a vast sea of lifeless darkness.
The revelation that
strikes me is the insanity of pursuing eternal economic growth, not
as an option but as the only possible path: there is literally no
alternative to extracting ever greater quantities of the planet's
resources to enable ever greater consumption by the planet's 7.7
Stripped to its essence, this mad drive is about profit and power.
The necessity is sold as the only path to prosperity for humanity,
but it's really about securing wealth and power for the few.
A recent article in Scientific American magazine highlights how the
idealistic impulses of protecting the planet's diverse life from the
machinery of "growth" are inevitably subsumed by the necessity for
The Ecologists and the Mine.
Here's what these kinds
of articles never say:
markets cannot price
in the value of non-monetized natural assets such as diverse
Whatever cannot be
monetized right now is worthless, as markets lack any
mechanism to price in what cannot be valued by market supply and
demand in the moment.
There is no way to fix this fatal flaw in markets, and attempts to
do so are merely excuses deployed to enable the profitable
exploitation and resulting ruin.
(Recall that neoliberalism is the quasi-religious ideology of
turning everything on Earth into a market, so it can be
exploited and financialized by the few at the expense of the many.)
As for renewable energy:
as my colleague Nate
Hagens has observed, renewables are more properly called "rebuildables,"
as solar panels, windmills, etc. don't last forever but must be
replaced every 20 years or so.
Yes, dams last a long
time, but solar panels, wind turbines, and all the other forms of
"renewable" energy must be periodically replaced at enormous
And where do the resources and energy come from to replace the
immense base of "renewable" energy installations? From oil/natural
gas and vast pit-mines.
As Chris Martenson noted in a recent conversation with me
(paraphrasing his comment),
"I'll be impressed
with renewable installations when they can power the fabrication
of their replacements."
This is the inconvenient
reality few want to discuss publicly: none of the renewable energy
sources is remotely capable of generating enough energy to smelt and
mold industrial metals at scale, fabricate silicon wafers and so on.
The "eternal growth" model has dominated all political-economic
ideologies for hundreds of years. When humanity first industrialized
the planet, there were fewer than 1 billion humans.
Now 7.7 billion humans
all want the resource/energy intensive lifestyle of the
developed-world middle class.
There is no way our planet has enough resources to provide all the
goodies for 8 to 10 billion humans.
We can't even provide
clean fresh water to 8 billion people, much less,
vehicles, refrigerated medications, frozen spring rolls,
door-to-door delivery of the latest gizmo and cheap flights to
every corner of the globe.
The technological fantasy
is that new efficiencies will magically make eternal growth
But all these fantasies
cause the destruction of everything that isn't being
monetized for profit in the moment
energy all depends on cheap hydrocarbons in essentially
everything every generation creates what my colleague Bart
D. calls The Landfill Economy
In other words, the tech
"solution" to 500 million internal combustion engine (ICE)
vehicles is to toss those 500 million vehicles in the landfill
(recycling is a nice idea but not always financially practical) and
then go mine the immense amounts of metals, minerals and
hydrocarbons needed to built 500 million all-electric vehicles.
Then, in a generation, repeat the process, as "more efficient"
vehicles are developed.
This is the fantasy: we can rebuild our entire global industrial
society every generation or two forever, and fuel the entire process
of replacement with hydrocarbons, essentially forever, and pay for
it all with more debt.
The impossibility of this vision - a tech-enabled Landfill
Economy that tells itself it's "efficient" and "sustainable"
because the full costs are never calculated, indeed, cannot be
calculated in a market economy - is what drives me to keep working
on an alternative socio-political-economic system, CLIME - the Community-Labor-Integrated-Money
A Radically Beneficial World -
Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All.
One glance at Earthrise
informs us that the only sustainable path is DeGrowth:
squandering far fewer
resources on consumerist waste, a path that will spell the end
of the current Landfill Economy of profit-driven eternal growth,
and the entire financialization structure built on the Landfill
Model that enriches the few at the expense of the many.
are a tiny sliver of global electrical generation, just enough to
power the marketing of consumerist junk headed for the landfill.
Here's the energy production of the World's Workshop, i.e. China:
are a tiny sliver...