How Much Degrowth is Enough?

We know that it is possible to place only a finite number of pennies on a sheet of paper. That number becomes smaller if the paper is burning at the edges - in other words, if the flat resource base is being consumed.

Similarly, it is possible to maintain only a finite number of people at a given rate of consumption within the confines of our finite country. As consumption increases, the number of people that can be supported decreases correspondingly. Of course, the numbers can be inflated for a while if you cheat - like drawing down petroleum resources of other countries and using the resources and labor of foreign countries to supply your material goods.

As Professor Al Bartlett so succinctly stated:

"The first law of sustainability is that you can not sustain population growth; you can not sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources. That's just arithmetic - it isn't debatable. It doesn't matter what the Congress says."
 - Prof. Al Bartlett, from the 2009 ASPO-USA conference on peak oil, panel discussion

This ten minute video presents a tribute to Al Bartlett and includes excerpts from his famous talk Arithmetic, Population and Energy:


It is clear that physical growth can not continue. This is not to say that economic development can not continue. Indeed, there is intrinsic value in making things better, smaller, and more efficient. Yet our current economic system does not clearly differentiate between growth and development, so we have ended up with a lot of physical growth. As a case in point, real estate "development" is taken to mean increasing the physical number of houses, and new housing starts are included as a contributor to economic health.

Since we can not grow forever in a finite country, it is worth asking the question: have we grown too much already and if we have, how much do we have to shrink in order to provide for future generations?

The video How Much Growth is Enough addresses this question. In the presentation, Jack Alpert of SKIL (Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory) discusses the foundation that supports our society: resources, processes, and social framework. He points out that we don't have to calculate the strength of each link in the chain; we just have to calculate the strength of the weakest link in the chain.

Alpert discusses our country's energy requirements in detail, and presents the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). He then calculates the amount of degrowth required if we are to afford future generations the standard of living that we currently enjoy.

This video leads one to ponder our blind allegiance to the dominant paradigm of growth at any cost.