Richard Heinberg

Richard Heinberg is an American journalist and educator who has written extensively on energy, economic, and ecological issues, including oil depletion. He is the author of ten books. He serves as the senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.

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Why end of growth can mean more happiness

Who Killed Economic Growth?

Excerpted from: 
Richard Heinberg propose a startling diagnosis: humanity has reached a fundamental turning point in its economic history. The expansionary trajectory of industrial civilization is colliding with non-negotiable natural limits.

** Please understand that we fit all we could into a five minute video. Yes, there are many issues and nuances left out. You'll find most addressed in the book from which this material was excerpted:***

"Why have mainstream economists ignored environmental limits for so long? If Heinberg is right, they will have much explaining to do." -- LESTER BROWN, Founder Earth Policy Institute

"Heinberg shows how peak oil, peak water, peak food, etc. lead not only to the end of growth, but to the beginning of a new era of progress without growth." -- HERMAN E. DALY, Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

"By the time you finish Heinberg's book, you will have 2 conclusions: This is the end of economic growth and it is our problem, not our childrens'. It's time to get ready. This book is the place to start." --PAUL GILDING -- Former head of Greenpeace International

"Richard has rung the bell on the limits to growth. Our shift from quantity of consumption to quality of life is the great challenge of our generation. Frightening...but ultimately freeing." --JOHN FULLERTON - President and Founder, Capital Institute 

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Simplification, Contraction, and Decentralization

Civilizations are complex societies organized around cities; they obtain their food from agriculture (field crops), use writing and mathematics, and maintain full-time division of labor. They are centralized, with people and resources constantly flowing from the hinterlands toward urban hubs. Thousands of human cultures have flourished throughout the human past, but there have been only about 24 civilizations. And all (except our current global industrial civilization—so far) have collapsed.
Tainter describes the growth of civilization as a process of investing societal resources in the development of ever-greater complexity in order to solve problems. For example, in village-based tribal societies an arms race between tribes can erupt, requiring each village to become more centralized and complexly organized in order to fend off attacks. But complexity costs energy. As Tainter puts it, “More complex societies are costlier to maintain than simpler ones and require higher support levels per capita.” Since available energy and resources are limited, a point therefore comes when increasing investments become too costly and yield declining marginal returns. Even the maintenance of existing levels of complexity costs too much (citizens may experience this as onerous levels of taxation), and a general simplification and decentralization of society ensues—a process colloquially referred to as collapse.
During such times societies typically see sharply declining population levels, and the survivors experience severe hardship. Elites lose their grip on power. Domestic revolutions and foreign wars erupt. People flee cities and establish new, smaller communities in the hinterlands. Governments fall and new sets of power relations emerge.
It is frightening to think about what collapse would mean for our current global civilization. Nevertheless, as we are about to see, there are good reasons for concluding that it is reaching limits of centralization and complexity, that marginal returns on investments in complexity are declining, and that simplification and decentralization are inevitable.
Thinking in terms of simplification, contraction, and decentralization is more accurate and helpful, and probably less scary, than contemplating collapse. It also opens avenues for foreseeing, reshaping, and even harnessing inevitable social processes as to minimize hardship and maximize possible benefits.

Keep reading in MuseLetter #237 / February 2012 by Richard Heinberg

Richard Heinberg- whose latest book describes The End of Growth- isn't looking for when the recession will end and we'll get back to "normal". He believes our decades-long era of growth was based on aberrant set of conditions- namely cheap oil, but also cheap minerals, cheap food, etc- and that looking ahead, we need to prepare for a "new normal".

The problem, according to Heinberg, is our natural resources just aren't so cheap and plentiful anymore, and he's not just talking about Peak Oil, Heinberg believes in Peak Everything (also the title of one of his books).

Heinberg thinks for many, adjusting to a life where everything costs a bit more, could be very hard, but he also thinks the transition to a new normal might actually make life better.

"Particularly in the Western industrialized countries we've gotten used to levels of consumption that are not only environmentally unsustainable, they also don't make us happy. They've in fact hollowed out our lives. We've given up things that actually do give us satisfaction and pleasure so that we can work more and more hours to get more and more money with which to buy more and more stuff- more flatscreen tvs, bigger SUVs, bigger houses and it's not making us happier. Well, guess what, it's possible to downsize, it's possible to use less, become more self sufficient, grow more of your own food, have chickens in your backyard and be a happier person."

This is not all theoretical. In the backyard of the home Heinberg shares with his wife, Janet Barocco, the couple grow most of their food during the summer months (i.e. 25 fruit & nut trees, veggies, potatoes.. they're just lack grains), raise chickens for eggs, capture rainwater, bake with solar cookers and a solar food drier and secure energy with photovoltaic and solar hot water panels. 

Their backyard reflects Heinberg's vision for our "new normal" and it's full of experiments, like the slightly less than 120-square-foot cottage that was inspired by the Small Home Movement. It was built with the help of some of Heinberg's college students (in one of the nation's first sustainability classes) using recycled and natural materials (like lime plaster).

Heinberg admits it's not a real tiny house experiment since they don't actually live in it- his wife uses it as a massage studio, he meditates there and sometimes it's used as a guest house (though that's hush hush due to permitting issues). But their tiny cottage points to the bigger point behind why a transition to a less resource intensive future could equal greater happiness.

"Simplify. Pay less attention to all of the stuff in your life and pay more attention to what's really important. Maybe for you it's gardening, maybe for you it's painting or music. You know we all have stuff that gives us real pleasure and most of us find we have less and less time for that because we have to devote so much time to shopping, paying bills and driving from here to there and so on. Well, how about if we cut out some of that stuff and spend more time doing what really feeds us emotionally and spiritually and in some cases even nutritionally."

Original story here: