Prosperous Equality

By Elliott Campbell

Frustration. That is my typical response to the news of the world. There are so many ills and so little substantive dialogue, in media or government, about real pathways to change. And for those of us concerned with peak energy and the potential collapse of civilization, there is no dialogue, no acknowledgement of even the potential of a problem. A feeling of helplessness and even resignation is a natural response to disenfranchisement. Adherent to the Maximum Empower Principle, the world is self-organizing to maximize empower. That means that energy and resource use continues to expand as long as possible and a growth based economy maximizes empower. In the current state of energy resources, stopping growth and transitioning to a steady state or dynamic equilibrium economy is simply not possible, even as we exhaust our earth’s resources and constantly increase our risk of catastrophic climate change. There is a certain fatalism to that can be demoralizing. Why bother working for change if significant deviation from the growth paradigm is not possible, due to thermodynamic law?

Figure depicting the income gap in the United States

What is possible is preparation, by creating a society that can correct its course, to adapt. The way we govern and run our economies is not now structured in a way that it would even be possible to transition successfully to a lower energy world. This is something we can change, and we will need to in the coming years. In their book, A Prosperous Way Down, the Odums laid out a pathway for preparation, transition, and descent. The policies and actions for preparation are what we should be working towards now. A recent work by Richard Wilkenson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level, provides strong evidence for action towards perhaps the most important step for adjusting society to be able to descend: reduction of inequality. They present evidence linking higher inequality to increased instances mental health issues, increased drug use, decreased physical health and life expectancy, decreased average educational performance, higher rate of teenage births, higher rates of violent crimes, higher rates of imprisonment, and fewer opportunities for upward mobility. The authors compared degree of inequality and social ills between 23 rich countries, and within the 50 US States, and found statistically significant relationships between inequality and all the problems listed above. The US has the highest degree of inequality in the world, with the gap increasing rapidly for the past 30 years. Continue reading Prosperous Equality

Pushing the Prosperous Way Down

By Elliott Campbell

In my experience the concept of a “prosperous way down” from the perspective of one immersed in the current cultural and economic paradigm of constant growth is anathema to some and dubious to most. I was asked to speak to two environmental groups, The Baltimore Green Forum and the Greenbelt Climate Action Network, as a result of the post I wrote for this blog last October. While the organizers of the groups, Sam Hopkins and Lore Rosenthal, of BGF and GCAN, respectively, were very supportive I was skeptical of the reception the ideas espoused by the Odums in A Prosperous Way Down would receive. This fear caused me to debate whether or not to present prosperous way in the class I taught last semester at University of Maryland, Energy and the Environment. However, I strongly believe that talking about the prosperous way down, spreading the knowledge, is one of, if not the, most important contributions I can make to society as a scientist, so agreed to both presentations and made the prosperous way down lecture the last lecture in the class.

Click this image to go to his personal site
Click this image to go to Chefurka’s personal site

When communicating these problems I find it is informative to think in terms of Paul Chefurka’s 5 stages of awareness, analogous to the Kubler-Ross model 5 stages of grief. Continue reading Pushing the Prosperous Way Down

A Sobering Report from the Eco-Summit

By Elliott Campbell, PhD

Bio: Elliott recently received his doctorate from the University of Maryland, studying with David Tilley and received a MS degree from the University of Florida under Mark Brown, both of whom studied with H.T. Odum. Elliott’s grandmother is Betty Odum, widow and longtime collaborator of H.T., and father is Daniel Campbell, a senior researcher at the EPA, so it is safe to say ecology is in his blood. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Elliott Campbell

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Eco-Summit, held in Columbus Ohio and hosted by William Mitsch at Ohio State University. This was a large conference, over 1600 people, featuring preeminent ecologists from around the world including Simon Levin, E.O. Wilson, Robert Costanza, Bernie Patten, Sven Jorgensen and plenary sessions by popular authors Jared Diamond and Lester Brown. As a recent PhD graduate and nascent systems ecologist I found the Eco-Summit to be edifying, inspiring, as well as incredibly frustrating. Continue reading A Sobering Report from the Eco-Summit