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Herman Daly: a Steady State Economy

Will this annoy James and Jordan simultaneously? Page is long because of comments.

Some themes:
- the Earth is in steady-state. As the economy grows to be a larger share of the ecosystem, it too must bow to physical limits.
- Production should be seen as a maintenance cost, not a good in itself. This would be clearer if companies bore the responsibility for disposing of their products.
- "What is the proper range of inequality—one that rewards real differences and contributions rather than just multiplying privilege? Plato thought it was a factor of four. Universities, civil services and the military seem to manage with a factor of ten to twenty. In the US corporate sector it is over 500. As a first step could we not try to lower the overall range to a factor of, say, one hundred?"
- Our system favors free trade and free capital movement, allowing evasion of labor and environmental regulations. Labor, of course, is not free to move.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
heron61
Oct. 8th, 2008 01:41 am (UTC)
I'm largely in agreement with the ideas expressed in that article, but it has a few crucial flaws. The most obvious being the fact that while material resources are relatively limited, energy is not. Barring large scale asteroid mining (which may happen, but isn't happening anytime soon), we're limited to the amount of matter on this planet. However, the amount of usable energy may ultimately be limited, but we are vastly below these limits. Thorium fission is sustainable, proven technology and has the potential to supply far more energy than we are currently using. Fusion could provide even more, and even relatively low-density sources like solar energy could be used far more widely and efficiently. Given that energy usage is not remotely in a state-state and is likely to grow (on average) for the next century at least, many of the assumptions of the article are somewhat suspect.

In general, this planet is a specific case of what seems to be a more general phenomena - useful matter is far less abundant that usable energy. So, a sensible long-term policy would involve using abundant sustainable energy production to enable high efficiency recycling. Ultimately, we could use something like enormous mass spectrographs to separate out individual elements from refuse dumps.

While I'm all for longer lasting goods, the fact is that if (as seems fairly obvious) we are nowhere near out maximum practical energy usage, there's a truly large amount of room for growth, it just will need to be somewhat different, since material recycling will need to be part of this growth. However, I'm fairly certain the people who support the worldview found in that article would be utterly horrified (in a typical eco-puritan fashion) with my vision of a sustainable future, which has no room for composting toilets or homespun garments as anything other than eccentric hobbies.
james_nicoll
Oct. 8th, 2008 03:58 am (UTC)
You do have to avoid generating from non-solar sources on Earth more than about one third as much power as the Earth gets from the sun, give or take, because that's the margin between a viable biosphere and a run-away greenhouse effect that boils the oceans and eventually leads to a sterilized planet. I think that is about 5000x our current energy usage (and you might want a little margin for error in there).

Wait, you could just blot out incoming sunlight watt for watt for the stuff generating down here. That would have the benefit of weaning people off of free sunlight.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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