Richard Heinberg, author and Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, spoke to a substantial crowd on Friday, October 21st, 2011 at PNCA. Heinberg is no stranger to the Illahee crowd, and his message was as clear: the end of this recession is not in sight and even if it were, we will never go back to “normal”. To date, our economy has been based on cheap oil, cheap minerals, and cheap food. We are seeing the limits of growth today, and there are a set of converging factors that will make recovery very difficult:
Debt: Debt has out-shadowed our GDP and as a result, financial institutions have grown — both in size and in relative power. Heinberg maintains that there is an enormous amount of hidden debt that continue to fuel toxic assets. We may never know the true amount as long as our government continues to allow banks to lie about the exact amount that was lost.
Depletion: U.S. has reached peak oil production, even with new discoveries, and a shortage in precious metals and minerals is on the horizon. This is problematic with our “faith-based” energy policies, relying on undiscovered sources for a lot of our future supply. Our food systems overwhelmingly rely on oil for production, which drive up food prices that cut further into our already dwindling bank accounts.
Disaster: China is an example of a country headed for disaster with its growth at 10% a year (doubling every seven years). They consume over one half of the world’s coal every year. Like China, our economic future is “heading for a brick wall” with declining tax revenues, persistent high unemployment, declining household income, and financial instability.
Deep breath. Here comes some optimism.
The end of growth doesn’t necessarily mean the end of happiness, but we are going to have to work for it. We need to replace GDP as a measure of success with social measures and goals. We’re also going to have to build up our local resilience by consuming less, planting gardens, and investing locally.
As it turns out, there’s a great opportunity this weekend to start building a stronger local economy: November 5th is Bank Transfer Day. Do the research, then choose where you want your money to reside — on Main Street or Wall Street?