Glenn Hardie was kind enough to provide some notes from this past Sunday's meeting.
After the usual half-hour period set aside for socialization and chit-chat, the 25 members and guests present turned their attention to two topics: first, to some discussion of the Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver held today, with mention being made of a book titled “Biological Exuberance” which apparently outlines homosexual behaviour in a variety of species, and secondly, to a video introduced by Conrad Hadland and titled “The End of Growth.” The main speaker was Richard Heinberg, an economist from California who recently addressed a conference of futurists in Vancouver.
Dr. Heinberg commenced his review by asserting that economic growth simply cannot go on forever. He gave, as an example, the fact that baby hamsters double their birth-weight every week for several weeks. If that was to continue for a year, hamsters would top out at several million tonnes each. He then discussed the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indicating that growth comes from energy, and the cheaper the energy, the greater the growth. But population and wealth are also growing, leading to over-production. Three solutions to counteract this were developed: the invention of advertizing, encouraging consumers to increase consumption; the establishment of consumer credit; and revision of financial systems to make the value of money relate to debt instead of to precious metals.
The banks then create debt, consumers borrow that debt which has to be paid back with interest, and interest is generated by increases in the value of the money borrowed by investment. Up until about 1980, things were more or less OK, despite warnings. Then the debt started to grow faster than the GDP putting downward pressure on wages and increasing the power of the financial industry to manipulate the economy. The result was a “credit bubble” which forced governments to borrow to maintain the money supply. This was all forecast and explained in a book titled “Limits to Growth” which was discredited by “experts” at the time, but has since been shown to be true.
Oil, gas, and transportation became the keys to growth. However, exploration and production of oil and gas stalled, forcing prices to go up. This in turn caused the costs of exploration and production to go up. While correlation is not causation, there is a relationship between oil prices and industry production of food, among almost everything else. But countries are now in excessive debt, and we are at a turning point in our society; we have to develop adaptive and resilient strategies. Some of these will include education in economics, population control, increased diversification to local industries, more efficient use of land and money, and reduction of dependency on non-renewable resources.
Despite all of this, Dr. Heinberg managed to end on an optimistic note. He suggested that society could substitute “GNH” for “GDP,” where GNH means Gross National Happiness. He recommended the establishment of local economic laboratories, where entrepreneurs and citizen in general could go for advice on the development of viable enterprises. He concluded that humans had gone through major societal shifts with the development of fire, of language, of agriculture, and of industry. The next shift will be the “Sustainable Revolution.”
Following the video, those present contributed some suggestions to further the cause. Densification of urban areas, better use of rural areas, reduction of petroleum products in our lives, identification of the true costs of production, and the anticipation of new and undreamt-of technologies, based on scientific discoveries like the Higgs Boson. All in all, an invigorating experience.