A Question of Balance

“It’s a question of balance.” I guess, this might be the most often-used phrase on this blog. Today, again, I would like to write about an important balancing act that is not easy to achieve. Particularly so, as we have to achieve it (almost) everyday. It is the balance between being satisfied, on the one hand, and not being satisfied, on the other. Continue reading

Productivity Growth in a Post-Growth Society

In Robert Solow‘s (in)famous growth model, perhaps the most important part was what is now called the “Solow residual” or “Total Factor Productivity” (TFP)–the part of economic growth that cannot be explained by changes in the input of the factors “capital” and “labour”, which is, in effect, the result of technological progress. In other words, TFP is a reflection of us learning how to produce more with the same amount of input. A recurrent theme in this blog is that quantitative GDP growth is highly problematic, mainly due to the related pressures on natural ecosystems. However, even if we decide to stop growing–or, better, to stop focusing on growth–, it is not obvious that we can actually achieve it. And TFP is one of the reasons why this isn’t as simple as many in the degrowth movement seem to believe. Continue reading

Progress as Changing Patterns of Dependence

Progress. Hardly any word describes better what is special about the last 200-250 years of human history. Up to then, technological, economic, social progress was scarce, the European Medieval was characterized rather by regress, for instance. But then, then came the Great Transformation, the Industrial Revolution, and changed everything. Today, it is clear to (almost) everyone that the pursuit of progress is what defines humanity, even though it is not the whole definition. Yes, we have difficulties when it comes to agreeing on what progress is. But we mostly identify progress, at least implicitly, with technological progress – all the nice innovations, not necessarily technical in a narrow sense, but also e.g. institutional, that make us less dependent on nature. This is, indeed, what defines social progress in the end – our ability to overcome scarcities and obstacles “created” by nature, be it with regard to natural resources for production, be it our psyche. When it comes to the former, however, it may be argued that we do not really become less dependent – we only change the source of dependence. Continue reading

The Climate Is Too-Big-to-Fail

How is it that we really do care about too-big-to-fail banks and largely embrace the sacrifice-laden efforts of governments to bail them out, but apparently don’t care enough about our too-big-to-fail climate system to accept personal and collective sacrifices needed to “bail it out”, i.e. to keep catastrophic climate change at bay? Well, this is a question psychologists and sociologists are better suited and trained to answer than I am. Instead, I would like to sacrifice a few minutes of my spare time in an attempt to sketch the consequences of the fact that our climatic system is too-big-to-fail in conjunction with the fact that we have not really cared to stop dangerously interfering with it so far. Continue reading

From Efficiency to Consistency, from Consistency to Sufficiency

It is a near-consensus that the way we produce and consume goods and services in modern economies is not sustainable. We systematically (and knowingly) overuse natural resources, ignore the social cost of (ab)using Nature’s services… So, the diagnosis is more or less uncontroversial and agreed upon. However, the question about the right therapy is still unsettled: how can we do it all in a better way? Generally, there are three strategies that are often named as necessary to achieve true sustainability: efficiency, consistency and sufficiency. Continue reading

Renewable Energies Are Not Enough

We can do two things to push the biophysical limits to growth further back: increase resource efficiency (do more with less) and replace finite resources with renewable energy and materials – in other words, we need to tap the potentially infinite sources of prosperity.

These are words by Ralf Fücks, the president of the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, derived from a recent commentary in Die Zeit, translated into English for the TripleCrisis blog. Though I generally agree with the author, there are some parts of his argumentation that I am rather skeptical about. One of them is a common error made by people calling for a transition to a “green” economy: the argument that replacing non-renewable with renewable resources will solve the problem. Continue reading

Lomborg Again

This time I must admit, I agree with the general message of the new article by Bjørn Lomborg, whom I normally am rather critical about (see here and here). In “A Race to Hunger” he is commenting on the recent boom in the so called biofuels, using the example of the US.

What is the problem with biofuels? Despite some imperfections in his argumentation, Mr Lomborg is generally right – while there is the claim from politicians especially that biofuels are an important contributor to the transition to a “emissions free” world, there are many reasons to reject this idea. Continue reading