Biophysical Economics and the Limits to Growth

“Common Sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

During the 18th century a group of politicians and economists in France realized that unless governments are guided by a policy that respects and works within the laws of Nature that govern our ecosystems, no economic system can last for long. Economics, guided by Natural Law, would be the basis of a strong and sustainable agricultural society. These people were called Physiocrats. Unfortunately, François Quesnay and his disciples’ balanced economic policies were soon overshadowed by the industrial revolution. However, in the 19th century, scientists such as Carnot, Ostwald and a social scientist named Podolinsky were all inspired by the discovery of the Laws of Thermodynamics. They began the process of expanding economic theory to include a human interwoven dependency on Nature and energy. By realizing that there are limitations and laws regulating the use of energy, these people advocated a more holistic approach to economics. Like the Physiocrats, these forward thinking people realized that all economic growth must be held accountable to physical and ecological laws. In other words, we ought to seek out a sustainable policy in energy usage. Modern Biophysical Economics or Steady-State-Societies acknowledge ecological services as the basis for any economy. Limitless growth economic models must be abandoned.
Our recent economic crash makes it imperative that we create a new economy based on the thoughts of these prescient people. The limits of economic growth can be found to have a mirror in Nature. Our energy derived from solar income is vast compared to our dwindling stored solar income found in fossil fuels. Alternatives to fossil fuels need to be the basis of a new biophysical economy acted out within strict ecological guidelines.  Self-imposed limits on growth are far better than the ones Nature will dictate if humanity doesn’t act swiftly to discard old economic models.
Humans will do anything rather than give up their allegiance to business-as-usual models. In the August 6 issue of the science journal ‘Nature’, we are told real flaws have existed in our economic models. Those models try to forecast at most a year ahead or run our economies as if we are in a perfect world that can’t even conceive of the crises that now assail us. “As a result, economic policy-makers are basing their decisions on common sense. The leaders of the world are flying the economy by the seat of their pants. “, J. Doyne Farmer and Duncan Foley tell us.
Schemes such as having several thousand wind-powered ships spray water from the oceans to make white vapour clouds that solar radiation bounce off of, is one of many geo-engineering ideas now circulating. We’ll do anything to circumvent simpler solutions that actually lower greenhouse gas emissions but are perceived as getting in the way of growth. Geo-engineering is viewed as the panacea of climate change deniers, corporations and policy makers that wish to prop up institutions that will inevitably collapse anyway once stimulus and bail-out packages are shown to be what they are. The greatest tragedy of these bail-outs is the wealth that has been squandered while more humanistic solutions such as decentralized community projects flounder due to a lack of capital.
If future generations are to even have a modicum of success we need to look more closely at Albert Einstein’s playful and creative approach to problem solving. As well, societies have to have more faith in its young people and nurture their creativity by letting them not only sit at the decision-making table but encourage them to take the lead.  Instead of governments spending trillions of dollars on throwing fraying life-lines to sinking and bloated centralized top-down-bonus-ridden companies, they should ask young adults how money should be spent. Democratic decision–making must employ the ingenuity of the young.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.