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A Sustainable Economy
Old 11-25-2010, 11:11 PM   #1
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A Sustainable Economy

Apologies for my part in the thread-jacking, but it's a topic I do wonder about sometimes, so here goes.

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...It seems obvious to me that consumption cannot increase indefinitely. Eventually, we humans will have to find some other basis for our economy than "produce more, borrow more, spend more, consume more". I wonder what that "other basis" is, and what a sustainable economic system—one that can continue indefinitely—would look like...What if humanity as a whole decided to live within our means?
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In the context of "society" what does "live within our means" mean? Is it sort of like the notion that if dinosaurs had consumed vegatation and each other more daintily and in smaller quantities, they'd be here today?
What I meant by "live within our means" is "no consumption in excess of income", but seen in terms of energy and natural resources rather than in the monetary sense in which that phrase might be used in a discussion of personal finance. In our use of energy and resources, I think (especially in the developed countries) we humans are like a household that spends more than they have coming in, puts the difference on credit cards, and carries a balance. We are running up debts, and there is no bankruptcy court that can expunge them. Changing over to a sustainable economy would be like that household converting their finances to an all cash, pay as you go, basis.

Looked at in terms of energy and natural resources, the dinosaurs were, AFAIK, living in a "sustainable economic system", and did nothing that could not have continued indefinitely. They didn't go extinct because of overgrazing or over-hunting that they themselves caused. If not for an unforeseeable catastrophe, maybe they would still be here today. I don't think the same can be said of human beings. We do use up non-renewable resources, and use some renewable ones faster than they are able to replenish themselves.

What would be different if we stopped doing this? Are there aspects our lives that would differ little if at all? (Would we still be sitting about on a late-November evening, full of turkey and gratitude?) What changes would H. sapiens, as a species, need to make to convert our use of energy and natural resources to a "pay as you go" basis?
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Old 11-26-2010, 05:25 AM   #2
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My example would be of all the fishes in the sea. Did we H. Sapiens "over-graze/over-hunt," what should be an unlimited/self replenishing resource, in a wasteful manner? (Although the lack of universal birth control could be considered "wasteful," I guess.) Or is this simply the price we have to pay to exist?

Of course, we have, through artificial means, been able to "pick up the slack" but (IMHO) the long-term health effects of farmed and/or GMed seafood may only balance the scales -- a shorter average life-span, the less usage.

And this is only one small (infitisimal) part of the puzzle... but like Fractals, it mirrors all other issues affecting the subject question. The solution to any one of them would be a good first step.

See, for instance, Seafood Watch Program | A Consumer's Guide to Sustainable Seafood | Monterey Bay Aquarium
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Old 11-26-2010, 07:51 AM   #3
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There are a lot of experiments going on but getting everyone to agree on a solution is a pretty tall mountain to climb.

Here is an example of one that might be hard to institute world-wide:

Arcosanti - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Urban sprawl like Sun City is horrendously wasteful of resources, destructive of the environment and not conducive to cross pollination of ideas. Vertical living is obviously more efficient and when well designed promotes stimulating interaction. Solari in one of his books says that civilization began when, after agriculture, people built defensive city walls and lived within them---forcing folks to interact more as they came and went ----and this interaction--exchange of greetings and ideas set humanity off on its glorious advance into technology and art. I think this is true---I believe we all yearn to be creatively connected with others. The advanced personalities that I know are people who CONNECT. (not compulsively--desperately, controllingly or idley---but like Einstein, Darwin and others of their ilk--connect with intent, focus, sporatically, constructively---then DISCONNECT to think solitarily.
Mobile Kodgers: CAN ARCHITECTURE SAVE US?-----
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Old 11-26-2010, 07:52 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by kyounge1956 View Post
We do use up non-renewable resources, and use some renewable ones faster than they are able to replenish themselves. What changes would H. sapiens, as a species, need to make to convert our use of energy and natural resources to a "pay as you go" basis?
Ever read "The Bottomless Well?" You might find it interesting and applicable. Whale oil was essential and a significant industry in the USA at one time...

I fully understand the whole increasing population/energy demand vs finite resource situation - IMO we can argue about when, but not if. But we'll never run out of oil, in the sense that it will eventually become more expensive than alternatives and will then become a niche fuel at a higher price (but not as exorbitant as you might think since demand will drop dramatically). I'm not suggesting this won't radically change our lives, it will, but oil has not always been central to the world's economies.

The most interesting question is whether we'll acknowledge it's coming and act to ease the transition (conservation, efficiency, de-suburbanization, alternatives, etc.) OR bury our heads in the sand and have a much more painful transition (wait until gas is $20/gal with shortages)? Some would argue we've already begun the latter stage, I don't pretend to know.

Societies have changed radically before, and they will continue to do so. Energy/resources is only a part of that, but try reading "The March of the Millienia" for that subject...
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Old 11-26-2010, 09:03 AM   #5
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Interesting to think abut, but I think it all becomes self-limiting and we will find a way (unless we self-destruct in a nuclear war or something) - one that we probably cannot imagine at this time. Just look back at history for examples. At he end of the 1800's, one of the biggest threats facing big cities was the waste from horses and dead horses in the streets. But no one envisioned that the car/truck/tractor would completely change this scene, and drive some of those work-horse breeds to the brink of extinction in just a few decades.

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But we'll never run out of oil, in the sense that it will eventually become more expensive than alternatives and will then become a niche fuel at a higher price...
One of my favorite comments on this subject (and I forget the source at the moment), says something like: We are in an 'age of oil'. We were once in the Stone Age. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones. We found alternatives that were better.

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Old 11-26-2010, 11:55 AM   #6
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So what are the alternatives to fossil fuels?
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:04 PM   #7
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So what are the alternatives to fossil fuels?
As fossil fuels become more expensive, there will be plenty of alternatives. Nuke, geo-thermal, bio-mass, wind, many forms of solar. And maybe some we cannot envision now.

Those are all alternatives now, but some of them are so expensive that they are not going to be used at this time if one is paying for them out of his/her own pocket. We will adapt.

Why the heck did we change from whale oil to petroleum oil from under the ground? Simple - it became cheaper. A side benefit was that it "saved the whales". Which means the petroleum industry has probably saved many more whales than Greenpeace ever did/will.

Make it economical and they will come.

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Old 11-26-2010, 12:11 PM   #8
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There are a lot of experiments going on but getting everyone to agree on a solution is a pretty tall mountain to climb.
Very tall. I don't think everyone will ever come to agree on a solution, or even agree to look for solutions to the sustainability problem. But that doesn't mean that our species won't solve the problems, because the changes in outlook can be taken up by new generations. We just have to be patient and wait for recalcitrant oldsters to die.
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:17 PM   #9
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I think part of the problem is that more and more processes and work are being automated and mechanized, which would naturally have a continued drop in demand for labor. That would seem to be leading to serious, persistent economic difficulties unless the economy and our public policy can adapt to the changing reality.
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:19 PM   #10
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As fossil fuels become more expensive, there will be plenty of alternatives. Nuke, geo-thermal, bio-mass, wind, many forms of solar. And maybe some we cannot envision now.

Those are all alternatives now, but some of them are so expensive that they are not going to be used at this time if one is paying for them out of his/her own pocket. We will adapt.

Why the heck did we change from whale oil to petroleum oil from under the ground? Simple - it became cheaper. A side benefit was that it "saved the whales". Which means the petroleum industry has probably saved many more whales than Greenpeace ever did/will.

Make it economical and they will come.

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~7 Billion = no solutions
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:21 PM   #11
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~7 Billion = no solutions
I think we'd eventually adapt. For one thing, I think the aftermath of "peak oil" could be the decline of the increasing globalism of the last century or so; suddenly the "shrinking Earth" would start to look a lot bigger again. That has its drawbacks, but also has its share of benefits.
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:42 PM   #12
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I think we'd eventually adapt. For one thing, I think the aftermath of "peak oil" could be the decline of the increasing globalism of the last century or so; suddenly the "shrinking Earth" would start to look a lot bigger again. That has its drawbacks, but also has its share of benefits.
That might help to reverse globalization but I doubt it because of other factors.

Export: price of oil to transport + MFG country's cost structure (taxes, salaries/benefits, exchange rate)

must be greater than

Manufacture in country of consumption: country's cost structure (taxes, salaries/benefits, exchange rate)

I don't see the equation changing for many years.
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:46 PM   #13
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I think we'd eventually adapt. For one thing, I think the aftermath of "peak oil" could be the decline of the increasing globalism of the last century or so; suddenly the "shrinking Earth" would start to look a lot bigger again. That has its drawbacks, but also has its share of benefits.
+1

It may be painful (or not), the changes may be radical even unthinkable (or not), but mankind will adapt. Of course we can't see how yet, but 'every great invention was something that was once thought to be impossible.'
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:50 PM   #14
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That might help to reverse globalization but I doubt it because of other factors.

Export: price of oil to transport + MFG country's cost structure (taxes, salaries/benefits, exchange rate)

must be greater than

Manufacture in country of consumption: country's cost structure (taxes, salaries/benefits, exchange rate)

I don't see the equation changing for many years.
Not necessarily. Yes, that is a big factor but there are others. For one thing political stability in the country of manufacture is a factor. And to some degree so is domestic PR. A business isn't likely to ship jobs overseas for a small payoff given the one-time cost of moving the business and the domestic backlash it could generate (including bad press, boycotts and the like).

So I'd amend your statement to read as follows:

Export: price of oil to transport + MFG country's cost structure (taxes, salaries/benefits, exchange rate) + perceived cost of relative political instability/uncertainty + public PR/goodwill costs

must be greater than

Manufacture in country of consumption: country's cost structure (taxes, salaries/benefits, exchange rate)


And as oil prices get more expensive and the backlash against job exporting continues to grow, we come closer and closer to that tipping point. I make no predictions about when these would come close enough to equilibrium that the incentive to export jobs isn't there any more, but I do think the aftermath of "peak oil" and the growing public outrage over corporations exporting jobs will work us back in that direction eventually.
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