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

The Unbearable Lightness of Information

by Kurt Cobb

[This article is reposted with permission from Kurt Cobb’s April 5th, 2009 post on his Resource Insights website. Kurt Cobb is the author of the peak-oil-themed thriller, Prelude, and a columnist for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen. His work has also been featured on Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, 321energy, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique, EV World, and many other sites.]

This decade was the one that was supposed to usher in the era when bits and bytes would replace tons and barrels as the measure of what an economy does. The information economy would eclipse the economy of blast furnaces and railcars.

The allure of such an economy is that it was said to be less resource intense, less driven by the high-amplitude economic cycles of the industrial economy, and more driven by the need for and efficient use of information, something that is always in demand. It turned out not to be so. The tech bust of the early part of this decade highlighted the vulnerability of the so-called information economy to cyclical forces and also the reliance of that economy on the more substantial physical economy. Continue reading The Unbearable Lightness of Information