Enough is Enough

by Paula Apynys for About Ohio, Book Recommendations

by Rob Dietz & Dan O’Neill

The book’s tagline is Building A Sustainable Economy In A World Of Finite Resources.

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Rob Dietz is the former Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) and Dan O’Neill is the Chief Economist for CASSE. From their Mission page:

CASSE offers a positive solution to our economic and ecological predicament – a steady state economy provides a hopeful way to achieve sustainability and equity in an increasingly constrained world.

Enough is Enough

Basically the folks at CASSE argue that pursuing ever more growth in a system with finite resources is a recipe for disaster. Our existing economic system is fundamentally reliant on “growth” as the answer to everything but we are starting to knock up against limits in fossil fuels, all sorts of environmental damage, and overpopulation around the world. In the U.S. productivity gains in combination with the outsourcing of our manufacturing base has resulted in persistent unemployment and underemployment, yet our economy remains heavily reliant on consumer spending. The conventional wisdom is that we need to “grow” our economy in order to increase employment and boost incomes, but while we want growth in the U.S. so do nations around the world where populations are exploding and a desire to catch up to our standards of living is literally not possible given limits on available natural resources. The U.S., Europe and Japan (about 20% of the world’s population) consume a disproportionate share of the worlds resources  (approximately 80%) as it is, and we are already facing limits.

From the Faq’s page at CASSE Ecological footprint analysis shows that globally we are using more resources than the Earth can regenerate each year, a situation known as overshoot. Conservation biologists have documented the sixth mass extinction event, an ominous name for the current spate of biodiversity loss caused by exponentially growing economic activity.

At present 80% of the world’s population is making do with 20% of the world’s resources. The majority of the earth’s inhabitants live in conditions that are almost unimaginable here, indeed a good proportion of our comforts are widespread here precisely because people are severely exploited or neglected in faraway places. But this is not a state of affairs likely to endure indefinitely, and as others around the world begin pursuing their share of resources — and why shouldn’t they? — there’s going to be trouble.

Western, developed economies face problems on two fronts: the physical, as embodied by an increasing scarcity of resources, and the idealogical, as embodied in the belief that economic well-being and progress can only be achieved through “growth”.  One word for limitless growth inside a finite system is cancer.

What to do?

Enough is Enough was written as an attempt to make the principles of a “Steady State Economy” accessible to the general public. From the book’s introduction:

Enough is Enough was conceived as a collection of policy proposals for achieving a prosperous, but nongrowing economy (also known as a steady-state economy)…much of the information on these pages stems from workshops, presentations, and discussions that took place at a remarkable conference held in Leeds, U.K. during the summer of 2010. Participants at the Steady State Economy Conference offered a wealth of ideas, and these ideas form the core of this book. The conference concentrated on tough questions about how to build a better economy and tasked the attendees with generating viable answers.

The goals and/or foundation of a steady-state economy are:

  • Sustainable Scale
  • Fair Distribution of Income
  • Efficient Allocation of Resources
  • High Quality of Life For All Citizens

Economic modeling supports the idea that an economy can thrive without continuous growth, while offering improvements in quality of life. But we have to get there from here. Transitional steps can take us from the current system to one that:

  • Limits the use of materials and energy to sustainable levels
  • Stabilizes population through compassionate and noncoercive means.
  • Achieves fair distribution of income and wealth.
  • Reforms monetary and financial systems for stability.
  • Changes the ways we measure progress.
  • Provides meaningful jobs and full employment.
  • Reconfigures the way businesses create value

The book elaborates on the goals and steps needed to get there, as well as creating/increasing public awareness and acceptance of the need for change:

  1. Replace the culture of consumerism with a culture of sustainability.
  2. Stimulate political debate and media coverage of the limits to growth and the steady-state alternative.
  3. Change national goals regarding growth and improve international cooperation.

This book does not have all the answers but it raises the questions needed to start the process towards finding the answers. It also offers a number of steps, the details of which need to be worked out, but the fundamentals are offered.

One thing is clear: we have to develop new approaches to changing economic conditions rather than reflexively attempting to return to strategies that are no longer relevant.

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