Review: The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg

The future of cites will rest on their ability to change economic thinking patterns that have only benefited the top few percent of corporate executives.

By Maggie Hughes
Published August 22, 2011

Richard Heinberg is very understated when he offers titles to introduce him. He is much more than the author of ten books, the most recent being The End of Growth.

Heinberg is also one of the leading Fellows, for the Post Carbon Institute, an organization dedicated to providing individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, environmental, and equity, crises that define the 21st century.

The goal of the institute is to help communities to re-localize into thriving ecological bonds.

Heinberg tries to demonstrate the How To's in his new book, as well as including all the statistics any government organization may need to consider their future survivable urban planning.

The future of cites will rest on their ability to change economic thinking patterns that have only benefited the top few percent of corporate executives.

This pattern of putting Wall Street first has seen corporations becoming bigger than governments and cities themselves. Unlike civic societies, corporate societies do not concern themselves with the well-being of every citizen.

Since the late 1970s, it has been big business that has dictated to government and decided how policies should be set when it comes to trade deals and mining natural resources.

Heinberg uncovers each of the theories that policy makers have used over the past fifty years, and clearly explains that it is the mantra of constant growth that has depleted the very life base that humans need to continue survival on Earth.

Depleting natural resources no matter where they are found on the planet has led to more poverty, starvation, and the loss a livable environment. Constant growth has seen the abuse of clean water and clean air, along with whatever minerals or fossil fuels are the source of wealth for corporations.

Big business has run its course. We can see the results in our local cities, with particulate matter choking the air, while waste treatment plants are hard put to truly clean the water.

These changes in air quality are a big part of climate change. Rising greenhouse gases levels in our atmosphere lead to hotter temperatures quickly melting fresh water sources. Much of fossil fuel discovery and processing has added more and more pollution to drinkable water sources.

We are a planet out of control. Job losses, wage freezes, and increased food prices are the new norm. The only possible future must be one in which communities can feed and house their people.

The best start in that direction is laid out in Heinberg's book. Smaller livable communities, with less attention given to transportation, and more attention given back to farmers and food growers, just may be the only way for people to get over the tremendous hump of change that is coming faster than we think.

We are a World that has allowed "growth" to be the only economic indicator, inciting people to seek more and more wealth-based upon monetary increases, rather than a world that realizes that true wealth is in abilities of its people to enjoy natural comforts and have more time socializing: a lifestyle based upon the limits of our surroundings is a full life.

Stripping those resources and allowing the benefits to go only to a few world moguls has caused a great imbalance of resources and the basic needs of life.

We have lost the middle class in North America, while our governments seem to know of only one way to fund projects: pulling more taxes from the working class.

It is no surprise that masses are taking to the streets in cities and countries around the world. For them there is no future in the status quo.

Maggie Hughes hosted The Other Side, a weekly independent podcast. The Other Side looked at the issues that mainstream media tends to downplay or ignore, using interviews and lectures to show the effects that economic, corporate and political policies have on society. Maggie died in November 2012 after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. The Hamilton Independent Media Awards were established in her honour.


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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 22, 2011 at 15:30:38

Thanks for this. Heinberg is an inspiring figure - while other pundits are grandstanding, he just puts his head down and gets to work. I've enjoyed the other books of his that I read, I'll have to pick this one up too.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2011 at 19:54:21

Maggie: How does one reconcile this report from the National Energy Board of Canada:

Canada's Energy Future - Reference Case and Scenarios to 2030 - Energy Market Assessment

with Post Carbon Institute / Richard Heinberg's views:

  • The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality (June 2011)

  • Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis (2009)

  • Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (2007)

  • The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil

  • Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse (2006)

  • Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (2004)

  • The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (2003)

Are these both very different perspective on the same energy/resource depletion problem -- or are they just the same but with a different tone? And how do you see Hamilton's economic future and its built-form in this mix?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2011 at 22:43:57 in reply to Comment 68345

None of the scenarios touched on in the report really touch much on peak oil, or bring it up as a serious concern. They all make similar assumptions about economic growth, continued tar sands development and a reletively stable global energy market. Even if Canada's peak is decades off, the Middle East's obviously isn't and might already be behind us. The kind of business-as-usual projections contained just aren't realistic. Once I saw the projections for future oil prices on page 19 ("continuing trends" see a constant $50/barrel from 2007 onwards) my jaw dropped, then I realized. This was published in 2007 (and like most government reports, was already dated), obviously before the price of oil hit $150/barrel and the bottom fell out of the world's economy.

Heinberg et al., predicted the oil price spikes, the economic crash, the political upheavals and vanishing resources we are now witnessing a decade ago, with frightening accuracy. By 2003-5 they just wouldn't stop talking about things like housing market securities and credit default swaps...

Gold hit $1900/oz today. This isn't going to happen. It is happening.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 23, 2011 at 01:11:49

Undustrial: "This was published in 2007 (and like most government reports, was already dated) .....Heinberg et al., predicted the oil price spikes, the economic crash, the political upheavals and vanishing resources we are now witnessing a decade ago, with frightening accuracy..."

I am no expert on peak oil, hence I am asking you this: How would you factor this below in helping us better understand as to what exactly is going on here?:

"WTRG Economics gathers data from industry, government & proprietary sources and uses years of experience, sophisticated economic, statistical and financial analysis tools to compile its current and historical Oil Price History and Analysis."

Or how such deep convictions came to pass: "We are convinced that the age of skyscrapers is at an end. It must now be considered an experimental building typology that has failed. We predict that no new megatowers will be built, and existing ones are destined to be dismantled." (note: I am deeply conflicted here, for Nikos Salingaros whom I hold in the highest esteem seems to have inadvertently got his name involved in this rare fumble - possibly on account of the implicit shock of the event referenced here).

Could there be a remote chance that a massive cognitive dissonance, is driving peak theories to not take into full account - all the facts on declining natural resources, new technologies, the transition phase of an economic shift, population growth and migration?

As I said I am no expert on this peak oil stuff -- but would you be willing to consider the above for a brief moment, if only to see where this may lead us?

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-08-23 01:21:05

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 23, 2011 at 11:25:46 in reply to Comment 68352

Oh Kunstler. If only he could settle down a bit... This definitely deserves a bit of a note about the extremely difficult nature of predicting anything more than a year ahead.

It wasn't long before most of those who were talking about peak oil and weren't just alarmist wingnuts started realizing this would be a lot more complicated than a steady march onward to $500/barrel then a prompt apocalypse. Ryan's comment below is a good example - high oil prices rely on a strong economy, which relies on low oil prices. So rather than a constant and predictable fall, we're far more likely to see prices lurching wildly. Beneath all of this will be the trends we're talking about.

"Peak oil" describes a fairly abstract concept - the point at which oil production begins to fall as scarcity and increasing energy requirements overtake our ability to continue raising production. There's nothing "neat" about it - areas peak at different times, and a global peak might never be totally definable down to the day. That day isn't what's important though, it's the falling EROI (Energy Return on Investment) which we need to consider.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2011 at 13:45:26

Ryan: "You have to be careful not to conflate two separate issues: (1) predicting the geological peak in oil production, and (2) predicting the myriad effects on the global and local economies. The former is pretty clear and even linear, whereas the latter is a problem of organized complexity."

Undustrial: "Peak oil" describes a fairly abstract concept" ...a global peak might never be totally definable down to the day. That day isn't what's important though, it's the falling EROI (Energy Return on Investment) which we need to consider."

Geological predictions made in that cross over space between ideologies and scientific facts (1) - form the basis for predictions of the myriad effects on the global and local economies (2).

It is not about conflation here - it is about connecting the dots to see thru the haze, and realizing that science is in service of politics, and politics has always been fear-based.

Yes, "Peak oil" is a fairly abstract concept indeed!!

While we are busy focused on one kind of EROI (Energy Return on Investment) (A, B C ); here is a very different view on the types of EROI's (1, 2, 3 ) that are at play in a parallel world.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2011 at 15:45:38 in reply to Comment 68412

The military expenses of acquiring oil are a very good example of increasing EROI. Since the most attractive sites get drilled first, there's going to be a shift over time to less friendly and stable regimes, with all the conquest or compromise that entails. The US Military is the country's largest user of fossil fuels, and though the war in Libya's been relatively cheap (so far), the war in Iraq has been unbelievably expensive.

Add to this the destabilizing effects of having large oil reserves, or having another intervention happen in a nearby country or region, and you've got a recipe for large-scale chaos.

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By Engles (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2011 at 16:28:50

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-25 16:57:19

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By WinstonSmith (anonymous) | Posted August 28, 2011 at 06:51:59

stop focusing on Peak Oil or even Climate Change.

the bottom-line big-picture is this:

we're not going to grow, consume, indebt and complicate our way out of the problems of growth, consumption, debt and complexity.

"The world population, currently at seven billion, is well beyond Earth's ability to sustain. By 2050, with a projected population of 10 billion people and without a change in consumption patterns, the cumulative use of natural resources will amount to the productivity of up to 27 planet Earths, the study found.

"Sustaining the current seven billion people on the planet requires a major shift in resource use. At present, the average U.S. citizen's ecological footprint is about 10 hectares, while a Haitian's is less than one. The planet could sustain us if everyone's footprint averaged two ha..."
- Data Shows All of Earth's Systems in Rapid Decline
( )

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted August 29, 2011 at 09:50:31

Halliburton Oilfield Services in Canada has a such high demand for its oil fracking services that they are holding job fairs all over Ontario and the Maritimes. If you have a pulse and a clean driving record they will hire you on the spot and have you in Alberta for training in under 2 weeks. They were here in Hamilton about two weeks ago, I went because US Steel in not looking too good right now.

So what could this simple observation on Alberta employment add to a thread filled with links of reports and expert analysis? Fracking services in Alberta are busy to the point of not being able to service clients properly with current staffing levels. Why are they so busy? All of the easy oil is almost gone.

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