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Richard Heinberg: After the Burn

October 7, 2015

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After a two-century-long burning bender, the globe is in for a heck of a hangover. Our guest this week on Sea Change Radio is Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post-Carbon Institute, and author of a dozen books about growth, peak oil, and energy issues. His latest book is called Afterburn, a collection of essays that center on the impending consequences of what he terms “The Great Burning” – our chronic habit of fossil-fuel binging. Heinberg and host Alex Wise talk about what it will take to truly transition off of fossil fuels, including the need for bold leadership and radically different policies. He explains why the GDP is a flawed metric for success, and talks about why we should move away from the outdated Gross Domestic Product, and toward the Global Happiness Index as a better metric of national well-being.

  • stevenearlsalmony
  • postcarbon

    Steven, thanks for sharing – great op-ed. The fantasy of infinite growth on a finite planet is a seductive illusion for many, indeed. If you haven’t yet seen the PCI video “Who Killed Economic Growth” (narrated by Richard Heinberg), it’s worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQqDS9wGsxQ

  • stevenearlsalmony

    Do reasonable, compassionate and responsible human beings have a “duty to warn” of looming threats to future human well being and environmental health, and then to sensibly help one another respond ably to the challenges? Or are we to pose as if we are blind, deaf and dumb to the human-driven global predicament looming before all of us and thereby let the least fortunate, most poorly situated and simply unaware among us suffer the consequences, come what may?

    What we know thanks to well-established scientific knowledge about evolutionary biology, humankind and the finite physical world we inhabit would lead sensible people to conclude that there is precious little that can be done to change the ‘trajectory’ of human civilization. So powerful is the force of evolution that we will “do what comes naturally” by continuing to overpopulate the planet and await the next phase of the evolutionary process. So colossal, reckless and relentless, too, is the unbridled expansion of the global political economy now overspreading the surface of Earth and polluting its frangible environment. Even so, hope still resides within that somehow humankind will make use of its singular intelligence and other unique attributes so as to escape the fate that appears ‘as if through a glass darkly’ in the offing, the seemingly certain fate evolution appears to have in store for us. In the face of all that we can see now and here, I continue to believe and to hope that we find adequate ways of consciously, deliberately and effectively doing the right things, according the lights and knowledge we possess, the things which serve to confront and overcome the ‘evolutionary trend’ which seems so irresistible.

    Somehow we have to grasp much more adequately the sum and substance of our distinctly human nature, with special attention given to improving our ‘reality orientation’ with regard to such vital issues as human population dynamics. Although relatively small in number, evolutionary biologists and scientists in other fields of research understand what the best available science indicates to us about the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time. Research of outstanding scientists indicate that the population dynamics of the human species is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. We have uncontested, apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome scientific evidence regarding the ‘placement’ of the human species within the order of living things that is everywhere denied; whereas, preternatural theories (eg, Demographic Transition Theory), political ideologies (eg, Conservatism and Liberalism) and economic theologies (eg, neoclassical economics) are deceitfully and ubiquitously presented as supported by science. To elect to extol the virtue of ideas that have been refuted by scientific research cannot be construed as the right thing to do. Even though ‘political correctness’ is predominant and accepted everywhere as what is real and ‘all that really matters’, when theory, ideology and theology are directly contradicted by science, then the best available science must be widely shared and consensually validated. Scientific knowledge must come to prevail over spurious theory, self-serving ideology and specious theology.

    There are several things we can at least begin to think about: learn how to live without fossil fuels; adapt to the end of economic growth; substitute a steady-state economy for the endless growth economy we have now; stabilize human population numbers worldwide; and deal with the relentless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources, the reckless degradation of its environs, the wanton extirpation of its biodiversity as well as confront other human-induced threats to our planetary home as a fit place for human habitation. In any event, I trust most of us can agree that stealing the birthright of children everywhere, mortgaging their future, and exposing them and life as we know it to foreseeable danger cannot somehow be construed as the right things to be doing. We have to think clearly and as keep our wits about us as we move courageously away from outrageous overconsumption, unconscionable hoarding and big-business-as-usual activities to a way of life that embraces true sustainability. Perhaps necessary and positive changes toward more sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises are in the offing.