Articles

CONTENTS:

A Modest Proposal: The Coming Eco-Industrial Complex
    What our real economic system (“Subsidism”) could be good for
The Green Triangle
    Living better is good for the earth
Sustainable Shrinkage
    Forget the feel-good slogan “Sustainable Development.” Ain’t gonna happen. What we need is Sustainable Shrinkage. Ernest Callenbach, author of the ecological classic Ecotopia, explains why.
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A Modest Proposal:
                                   THE COMING ECO-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
     American business thrives on easy money—not low-interest money from banks but stupendous sums of money from Congress, passed on through the departments of the federal government.  Some think the system should properly be called “subsidism,” not capitalism. But whatever we think of this mechanism, it created the victorious war machine of World War II and has generously supported the two dominant economic institutions of the post-World War II era: the military-industrial complex and the auto-highway-oil complex. But now the writing’s on the wall—the Cold War is over, the world market is nearing saturation with cars, and the climate consequences of internal combustion have become intolerable.
     We face here an opportunity for a dramatic economic transition. The U.S. is not a country in which altruism gets much done; perhaps no country is. Pious ecological exhortations, even if backed by government regulations, accomplish little. It is money that makes things happen. But, although a strong and durable public majority now favors greater government spending on environmental-defense actions, Congress and leaders of industry have been surprisingly slow to pick up on the obvious possibilities. For five decades they have happily colluded with each other (and successive administrations) to support the armaments industry. But now that staggering military outlays don’t produce politically useful “victory” any more, new connections need to be made in those famous Washington corridors of power. In the process, Congress and business could create an eco-industrial complex as potent as the endangered military-industrial one. Its constituency would be vast, for non-military outlays produce many more jobs per dollar spent than military ones. They also result in constructive, productive goods rather than ever more sophisticated (and ineffective) last-war toys. Build a tank, and you just have a soon-obsolete tank; build a tractor, and you increase basic social wealth.
    At least some Democrats sense strong public support for repairs and improvements on our “infrastructure,” meaning physical roads, bridges, sewers, trains, energy transmission lines, etc. Well-greased industry mechanisms already exist for doing such things. Local governments facing submersion in garbage have supplied funding for an impressive expansion of firms such as Waste Management, Inc. But the real ecological needs of the country are much more extensive and expensive—which is good, since outlays create profits for the rich and jobs for the people.
     * We must create a new renewable-energy system to end our costly need to control the world’s oil militarily. Wind and solar-thermal have become the cheapest new-power-generating technologies, and are also labor-intensive; photovoltaic and battery storage technologies are improving rapidly; geothermal is an enormous resource—and oil companies happen to know how to drill wells. The U.S. is rich in renewable energy resources, and should aim at total energy independence, which will save us vast sums in the long run.
     * We must rebuild our cities in the proven, compact forms of the world’s great cities, to reduce our dependence on petroleum-fueled cars. Our sprawling suburbs need to be transformed from cultural wastelands into communities with healthy centers and the creative cultural richness that cities have traditionally offered.  A lot of tracks need to be laid and urban and suburban concrete poured. If we walk to transit stops, like New Yorkers, we will even lose weight and live longer. If Bechtel can build mega-airports, civil and military, it can certainly build eco-cities.
     * We must develop a universal recycling system, so that all major materials (steel, paper, glass, aluminum, wood, plastic, even water) will be in steady and predictable supply without sabotaging our support system, the natural order. A giant job-intensive industry must be created here.
     * We must restore our forests, fisheries, and agriculture to stable, net positive productivity. At present, we are cutting more timber than we grow and catching more fish than can reproduce.  We are even putting far more petroleum-based calories into agriculture than we get out in food calories—in essence, we are eating oil, a non-renewable resource. And if we eat lower on the food chain and cut down on livestock, we will reduce our climate impacts even more than by getting rid of private cars.
     * We must put people to work restoring our rivers, waterfronts, and wetlands—trashed by generations of engineers, dumpers, and developers. Carry on with what the New Deal started!
     Of course the new eco-industrial complex will be corrupt and mis-managed and full of waste, just like its predecessors.  That spreads the money around; it’s the American way.  But if it gets done some of the big things that must be done to achieve a sustainable America, we can live with it.  Indeed, we may not be able to go on living without it.
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THE GREEN TRIANGLE
Living a sane and ecologically responsible life doesn’t mean self-sacrifice and austerity; on the contrary, it should mean a richer, more interesting, fuller, longer, and healthier life. But so far nobody has been able to dramatize this on a national level in the folksy, convincing way in which Ronald Reagan and Ivan Boesky  made greed respectable. Jimmy Carter may have been our only recent president to understand that an equation has two sides, but his wan demeanor on TV in a sweater, urging us to  save energy, did not exactly inspire the American people. (I know, he looks better and better now, doesn’t he?)
      Is it possible to talk attractive sense about a new life style for Americans? It had better be, or we can start preparing a suitable tombstone for our nation—and the rest of the globe, which follows our cultural lead. And what we say needs to have both human verve and internal logical coherence to be memorable—more than a cafeteria menu of 50 or 750 ecological  good practices we ought to choose among.
     Luckily, on the whole it works to assume that the universe displays reassuring regularities that we can rely on. This goes for science almost without saying, since without prediction of regularities it’s impossible to devise experiments. But it is also reassuringly true of our daily lives. However chaotic they sometimes seem, they have patterns; we can actually make sense of the ways things work, and react accordingly.
      One way I’ve devised of talking about some critical everyday regularities is what I call the Green Triangle. It’s a handy means of generating for ourselves ideas for personal and  community and national change. (Matters ecological are also inevitably social; we can’t do it all ourselves.)
The three points of the triangle are:
ENVIRONMENT
HEALTH                  MONEY
The principle that relates these three points is:
Anytime you do something beneficial for one of them, you’ll almost inevitably also do something beneficial for the other two—whether you’re aiming to or not.
      For example, let’s suppose you decide to take a step to improve your health, like eating less fatty meat and dairy products. This will of course decrease your chance of circulatory disease and probably prolong your life; it may even make you stronger and give you greater endurance. But since meat and dairy products are relatively expensive, you will also save quite a bit of money; moreover, you will also help the  environment—since meat production is a very land-intensive and damaging use of our farm resources.
     But the interesting thing is that you can start at any point of the triangle. Thus, let’s assume you do something beneficial for the environment, like walking or bicycling instead of driving your car. (Better yet, you push a bike-lane system through your local government.)  You cut down pollution emissions, you reduce smog and lung damage, you decrease acid rain, and you may postpone the greenhouse effect.  But you’ll help your health because you get more regular exercise, and you’ll also save money on gas, oil, and car depreciation.
      Some people are skeptical about good things stemming from thrift, which is an American virtue that has gone out of style temporarily in the well-to-do layers of our society, but the third point of the triangle is actually just as potent. Anytime you do something beneficial for your pocketbook, like not buying an expensive gizmo whose manufacturing expends a lot of energy and uses a lot of raw materials, or taking an expensive trip that turns a lot of petroleum into atmospheric pollution and noise, you’re also helping the Earth. But you’re probably also doing your health a favor since you’re less stressed out to earn the money to pay off the gizmo or trip; and not pouring a lot of emotional energy into interacting with the gizmo leaves time and attention for other human beings and the kind of spontaneous improvisation and fooling around that our species evolved to be good at. (And don’t keep this good news to yourself, or show reinforcing enthusiasm—or envy—toward friends boasting of their latest acquisition.)
      If you apply the Green Triangle to your everyday life, examples of delightful synergistic effects can be found everywhere; you come out with many delightful new perceptions. Some cases: Low- or no-cost fun with other people is almost always more ecologically and financially benign than hard work and heavy consumption; evidently evolution did not commit an ecological error in making us playful. (Making us willing to abide living by clocks is another story.) Exchanges outside the cash economy—trading massages, for instance, or passing on extra eggs knowing your neighbor will probably someday help you with a plumbing problem—don’t have monetary ramifications you have to worry about, whereas if you pay for a massage, the money may go into a bank, and you know what they do with it. Growing  or making your own is usually cheaper and healthier, as well as more ecologically benign. Fun, isn’t it? So go triangulate!
      One last word: even using the Green Triangle, we must still  remember that there is no such thing as innocent purchasing, even in countries with eco-labelling programs that guide consumers to “less damaging” products. Of course it’s good to buy things that do less damage, and we ought to have an  eco-labelling program in this country as soon as possible. To keep a sense of proportion, however, the really ecologically damaging things we do are to use cars, eat meat, have more than one child per parent, and live in dispersed single-family dwellings (apartment living is something like five times as energy- and materials-efficient). Even the most devoted recycling and conserving will not outweigh the enormous effects of these basic  factors. You may not be able to consider change in all of them at once, but how about trying just one?
      The other difficult-to-accept principle is this: buy less in general. Hard though it may be for moderns to admit, Jesus was perfectly correct in saying “Blessed are the poor”—because  they do less ecological damage.  There are a few things that we the rich peoples of the North can buy that really do positive good for the earth: photovoltaic cells and solar hot-water heaters, for instance, which move us toward a solar economy. But learning to live more contentedly with less income and less consumption of goods vastly outranks all the other things we might choose to do to save the earth. That’s why, in Ecotopia, people are appreciated for what they produce—in human relationships, in art, in community life, in work, in science, in politics—and to call somebody a “consumer,” even a green one, is an insult.
©1991 by Ernest Callenbach.  This article is drawn from Living Cheaply with Style (Ronin Books, Berkeley,  CA)
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SUSTAINABLE SHRINKAGE
Forget the feel-good slogan “Sustainable Development.” Ain’t gonna happen. What we need is Sustainable Shrinkage. Ernest Callenbach, author of the ecological classic Ecotopia, explains why.
In 1987 when the UN’s Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” appeared with worldwide fanfare, its slogan of “Sustainable Development” reassured environmentalists who focused on the term “sustainable,” while pleasing business interests who understood “development” to mean continued material growth. What was to worry about? But many thoughtful observers then and since have pointed out that the slogan is an oxymoron—nonsense. On a finite planet, you cannot have both sustainability and continued material growth. More than two decades later, it’s past time to abandon this linguistic sleight of hand and rally around a new and this time realistic slogan: Sustainable Shrinkage!
If we are to survive on our little planet in some reasonably civilized way, human activity (and its impacts) must shrink. If we don’t shrink it, Gaia will shrink it for us, catastrophically.
Population must shrink. Nobody knows exactly how many people eating what kinds of diet the earth can support, but we know there are too many of us already. We’re steadily decreasing the fertility of the globe’s limited arable soils, increasing our dependence on fertilizers produced with fossil fuel, and rapidly pumping dry the essential aquifers on which millions depend. If global heating thins the Himalayan glaciers as it is thinning lower-elevation ones, several billion people will be unfed. They will not go peacefully. While it is shameful that world food supplies are distributed so unfairly, greater equality of access is both highly improbable under capitalism and moot in the long run: humans, like any other species, tend to breed to use up whatever food is available.
Consumption must shrink. Sheer numbers matter in food consumption. Sheer wealth matters in food and everything else. Rich people and rich countries (North America, Europe, Japan) buy more, mine more, burn more, dispose of more. Ecological impacts of manufacturing, shipping, distribution, use, and disposal are directly proportional to the money spent, with only rare exceptions—solar panels and wind machines, for instance. Unless we shrink overall consumption, we have no chance of cutting global-heating emissions, oceanic biology impoverishment, habitat loss, extermination rates, and feedback phenomena (methane release, for instance) that threaten runaway planetary heating. The only means yet known to reduce consumption is economic recession/depression; we badly need to find others.
Best candidate so far: a substantial carbon tax, the only conceivable way to motivate ourselves and our corporations to stop trashing our planetary home. Idealism, or even pious hopes for long-term survival, don’t significantly motivate either ordinary people or corporate/political leaders. A carbon tax would force us all to get smarter about using energy. Businesses would be intensely and permanently motivated to reduce their energy use. We’d drive less and travel less. We’d waste less of everything: food, wood, steel, glass. We’d spend more time at home, with family and friends and neighbors. We’d wear sweaters instead of turning up the heat, and replace air conditioners with swamp coolers. We’d find amusements less expensive than shopping, and more rewarding of the incredible responsiveness, ingenuity, flexibility, endurance, and spontaneity of our species. We would no longer have a problem with where to store unused stuff. We might even get outside and enjoy hiking in nature, without the distraction of cell phones.
Switch from Consumption to Maintenance. For the past several decades, most Americans’ real income has been slowly decreasing. This has been mitigated by the influx of women into the work force, and by super-cheap, mainly Chinese imports; it’s still been possible for many people to live a respectably comfortable life by buying a lot of stuff at WalMart. But as our chronic unemployment grows and real income continues to shrink, this won’t be so possible.  We can’t return to borrowing our way out of it. We will actually have to face frequent choices between making things last and doing without. Doing without sometimes seems painful, especially to  children and others who don’t understand budgets, but it can usefully simplify life in some cases.
On the whole, however, we will try to make things last. Modern appliances aren’t designed for repairability, but sometimes repairs can be improvised—there is a vigorous subcategory of internet information, helping you to fix almost anything (go to RepairClinic.com, for example). Laws such as the European “take-back” regulations can force manufacturers to redesign their products for recycling and repairability both. Patching of clothes, which was fashionable among hippies in the 1960s and 70s, will come back, and indeed some people (not only women) will re-learn how to sew simple garments. We’re already keeping our cars longer, and buying used rather than new.
Control shrinkage, not let it control us. Smart shrinkage doesn’t mean collapse. To get a rough idea of what’s required, think back to about 1965, when our impacts on the planet were evidently about half what they are now. It took more than five decades to contrive the auto-dependent, truck-dependent, space- and energy-hogging way of life we now enjoy. Shrinking it needs to go faster than it has been going so far, but it needn’t be unduly shocking. (Average new-house area is now 2,000 square feet, compared to 2200 a decade ago.) When gas prices hit $4, we cut down a bit on driving, but people weren’t committing suicide because of it; quite a few of them just sold their SUVs and bought fuel-efficient cars. Wal-Mart decided to make its giant worldwide fleet of diesels more efficient. Utility magnates had second thoughts about nuclear and started investing in solar. Imagine gas creeping up toward $10 a gallon and you can construct your own idea of what sustainable shrinkage would actually mean. Challenging, but not the end of the world as we know it. We can adjust to it if we have to. (The real planet-scouring trouble will only come if we DON’T adjust.)
Decline need not mean fall. It just means giving up the dummy’s idea that something or somebody will somehow restore “growth.” In the real world, as opposed to economists’ pipe dreams, we’re already more familiar with decline than we realize. Wages take sickening drops when recessions hit, but average Americans have been on a long-term downward slope so long that it doesn’t make news. Real income for all but the top 10% in the US has been shrinking gradually since the early 1970s—if you feel poorer it’s because you ARE. (“Real” means how much your dollars buy, not just their number.) U.S. predominance in scientific research and industrial innovation is giving way to China and India, especially, while Europe holds its own. (We’re no longer training engineers or doctors in numbers competitive with other countries, and most of the kids coming out of our schools are untrainable. U.S. education has been declining in quality for decades—especially in spectacular cases like California, which until its infamous Proposition 13 tax “revolt” led the country but is now down there with Mississippi.) By global comparisons we’re becoming a can’t-do nation. The maintenance of U.S. physical infrastructure has been declining for decades.  In health and a host of other indexes, we rank dismayingly low on the world scale.
However, there’s interesting good news: shrinkage may also mean transformation. When old institutions falter, they make room for new and more responsive and efficient institutions. We stand near the end of an unprecedented period of heavy industrial and population expansion, and we confront an utterly new and yet age-old challenge: living better on less, figuring out how to live on a limited planet in a comfortable way.
Nobody, outside of a few visionaries, has bothered to think much about what a stable-state society might look like. However, in England especially, a movement called New Economics is now afoot, which tries to incorporate real-world environmental factors into economics. And even in the U.S., a few socially and psychologically astute economists have realized that the abstract formulas of traditional economics do not in fact match how people or economies actually behave, which is of course not straightforwardly rational. We have to devise a new economics sophisticated and flexible enough to equip us to think about a stable-state world.
To get to stable, we have to shrink first. Material growth in the industrial era has been astonishing, and it has resulted in many good things as well as bad. But what if material growth as we have known it is no longer possible? What if, despite the astounding, spectacular, money-spinning information-technology corporations, and the bonus-bloated joys of the banker looting class, almost all the rosy projections are wrong? Let’s look at a few particulars.
What if world oil supplies, no matter where we drill, grow inexorably more expensive? What if extraction from tar sands consumes so much energy, not to mention water, that if all the costs are accounted for, it’s only marginally economic, not to mention environmentally unacceptable? What if profit-making in most industries (obviously in airlines and trucking, but really almost all) becomes much more difficult, and taxpayer subsidies begin to be harder to finagle? What if procurement of certain essential minerals is becoming critically difficult and expensive? What if nuclear, with its pipe-dreams of a renaissance, is in fact a doomed 20th-century technology barely surviving on public-money life-support? What if our vaunted agribusiness, which puts between 4 and 10 calories of fossil energy into every calorie of food, cannot sustain 7 billion humans?
And, most ominous of all on the economic side, what if the stupendous stimulus outlays of governments cannot return us to business as usual, or indeed anything like it? What if the real incomes of American and other advanced-country working people continue to decline toward Third World levels, while the bankers get ever richer? Can we imagine such a society remaining politically stable? How do we avoid despair, which is certainly not a constructive stance? And how do we avoid false hope, a witless nostalgia for the return to Things As They Were? (and, in the U.S., a possible gateway to a homegrown fascism).
In the face of such circumstances, I raise the hopeful banner of gradual Sustainable Shrinkage. It is the only way that we can avert sudden and terrible collapses, it is the only way we can hope to attain, in time, a shared future that will be secure, healthy, and sane. It is, in fact, an honorable goal, whereas business-as-usual is denial and self-deception leading only toward chaos.
So let us try to see what gradual Sustainable Shrinkage means, and what are our chances of achieving it. Let’s suppose we abandon our naive attempts to return to a vanished era. It took us sixty-odd postwar years to build a petroleum-dependent, suburbanized world. Can we rebuild it in a way that enables our survival in a civilized way?
Some of the requirements are familiar, but that doesn’t make them easy. Our fossil-fuel energy systems must be replaced by renewable sources. Our sprawling auto-dependent urban agglomerations must be rebuilt into compact eco-cities that offer access by proximity to the necessities of life (including jobs) and to each other. Beginning with the local, always a good idea, consider cities like San Francisco that cover their rooftops with solar cells. They create green jobs for workers displaced from dying industries. They offer a compelling alternative to American-style auto-dependent suburban sprawl, making life easier for pedestrians and bicyclists, and harder for cars. Or look at countries like Sweden that limit nuclear in favor of centralized town heating—keeping people warm collectively.  Consider that computerization and miniaturization do more with less material and less energy, enabling a new kind of global shared brain. And that intelligent engineering can vastly reduce the energy requirements of both our domestic and industrial machinery. Wherever we can squeeze “negawatts” (Amory Lovins) out of our system, they are cheaper than any way of generating megawatts. Conservation is always the first choice, and conservation is something that, being social animals, we mainly copy from each other. In an era of shrinkage, this will seem more and more obvious.
We will find, as unemployed and under-employed and health-bankrupt Americans already know, that we have to share housing, both with family and others. It’s not easy to live near or with other people, but that’s our history as a species. We’re not prowling, usually solitary individuals, like the cats. We are groupy and interdependent even in the best of times. So we will learn to live together better. We will share space, friends, amusements, vehicles, tools—we may even learn again to sing and dance and play games together, like the friends who gather in the candle-lit apartment of the film No Impact Man, and find it’s more fun to play charades than to watch TV. Humans are a sociable species, playful, sexy. Spending more time together rather than interacting with expensive electronic toys will mean going back to our human nature. It will feel good. It will make us psychologically healthier: people in supportive groups are physically healthier too, live longer, etc.
And, though demographers continue to prognosticate further growth in world population, at some point (even without plagues or other disasters) this trend will reverse. What would it be like, if through better access to general health care including contraception and abortion, and a growing realization that fewer children would mean happier lives for both kids and parents, world population began gently to decline? (Not just rise more slowly, which is the extent of most hopes heretofore.) In places like the U.S.. Western Europe and Japan (in the absence of massive in-migration), there would be plenty of decent, modest-priced apartments for rent. Some office buildings abandoned by failing corporations would be converted for dwelling space. There would be a surplus of electricity and gas, so utility rates would fall. Because of fewer people, the water supply of most regions would be ample. Instead of a growing population loading the planet with  increasingly hungry consumers, we would have a planet at least potentially capable of supporting the people it has.
How would shrinkage affect our immediate natural environment?  Because population would be dropping, we wouldn’t need to pave over more land—indeed we could rip up unneeded roads and maybe even tear down a few dams, and restore salmon runs. We could put a lot of people to work restoring natural areas which developers no longer coveted. A few minutes’ walk outside town, there would be wild places that humans entered as guests, not masters; the butterflies and snakes and small mammals could live there unmolested except by their natural predators.
Because “growth” is the ignition fuel needed for speculation, the stock market and real estate would dwindle in importance. Economists would proclaim that the economy is in ruins, but people would be better off: even continuing our present scandalous division into rich and poor, nobody would need be hungry and nobody would need be unhoused. Because there would be fewer people, we would not have to invest in more power plants and roads and cars and shopping centers and courts and police and prisons and psychiatrists.  We could cut back on petroleum-intensive farming and pesticides and herbicides. Because there would be fewer young people, outlays for education and prisons would drop. The schools would have too many rooms for their students, and they could reduce the number of students in each class.
Our food production would become more local, more healthful, and less energy-consumptive. Our manufacturing would follow nature’s example in recycling waste, turning outputs into inputs, achieving the efficiencies of zero-emissions. Our fisheries need to learn how to sustain yields, rather than maximizing them short-run until collapse. Since trees sequester lots of carbon, we would have to defend them against land development and deforestation.
These are big changes, and some of them will require capital, which will be harder to get. But some will thrive in conditions of declining capital, which makes them newly attractive. Saving money is the same as making money (sometimes better) and it is usually less destructive ecologically. Some of the necessary changes will bring joy and happiness. Some will demand harder and smarter work—which may be good for our health. A lot of the changes, it’s important to note, will involve creation of many new jobs: the renewable energy industry (solar and wind, mainly) already provides more jobs in the U.S. (about 88,000) than coal-mining (about 81,000); intensive agriculture has higher outputs per acre than commercial fossil-fuel-driven farming, but it requires more labor. This is GOOD! And many young Americans are moving that way after college. . . .
While some changes will require massive technological innovations, others will spring up and spread by ordinary cussed human determination, like the gardening taking over large abandoned areas of Detroit and Flint, after the decline of General Motors. Some are within the power of present-day corporations, financed by our existing financial institutions. E.g., rooftop solar if we adopt German feed-in tariffs, plug-in cars, more efficient appliances. Some changes happen faster if helped by government: incandescent bulbs are now illegal to import into the European Union, which is consequently far ahead of the U.S in adopting them.
A stable or shrinking economy will still be tumultuous, full of opportunities for entrepreneurs and jobs for all kinds of people. (The standard work week may shrink too, as in France—a kind of job-sharing.) But growing companies will be balanced by declining ones. Some industries will contract drastically, as airlines and construction are doing now; but other industries will grow, like medical services and, let’s hope, education. The huge energy throughputs of the internet can be reduced, and participant sports (not spectator sports) can grow. Battery-building and other types of energy storage will thrive, while internal-combustion-engine manufacture will decline. Wind turbines will become a big business (they already are), while coal- and nuclear-plant construction will collapse. There will even be a new construction-and-destruction industry of retrofitting car-dependent suburbs into compact, dense towns with lively centers and good transport connections, taking the place of the sprawl-construction industry. Airplane builders will convert themselves to train and streetcar and bus manufacturers. Bicycles, already bigger in unit sales than cars, will further expand, along with low-energy devices like scooters and light motorbikes.
There will be fascinating, titanic struggles. For instance, power companies and oil companies will joust over propulsion energy for vehicles. Centralized power generators will be mortally threatened by distributed-energy producers: solar and wind entrepreneurs. None of this, any more than life in the past, is going to be easy. For people interested in the mortal combats inherent in business life, it will be an exciting and challenging time. We will slowly shift toward “distributed” everything: electric power, ethanol production from agricultural wastes, construction supplies, food. Shrinkage will bring localization, even perhaps political devolution. The break-up of remaining huge ungovernable nations is likely. Vermont and Texas may secede. The Blue States may refuse to continue subsidizing the Red States and let them sink into reaction, poverty, and ignorance.
We can’t entirely give up on Washington, DC. Some innovations, like a “smart grid” or high-speed trains, demand government initiative. Some changes, like green taxes to motivate lower-carbon energy use, will test to the utmost our social institutions: do semi-democratic countries like ours possess political mechanisms capable of fundamental changes that must inflict costs on some powerful interests? Or are we in the grips of a self-destroying machine, whose economic-political iron laws of control and profit extraction will ruin the planet?
In summary, then, there is a lot to be hopeful about. We CAN envision a lively and inventive and wholesome future of Sustainable Shrinkage. Because it will have to respond to real-world constraints, it will look something like my Ecotopia, though every bioregion and cultural region will invent its own adaptations. It will host new ideas about everything from microbiology to cosmology, with biology the central science, not physics. Our descendants will enjoy new ways of living and working together. They will probably wonder, if they bother to look back, how we ever lived in such extravagant and wasteful ways. But they will share hopes we can only dimly envision. We who are alive now are all runners, on their behalf, in the marathon of hope for the earth. When necessary, we will carry on against grim odds. But we must never give up that hope.