Economists insist that recovery is at hand, yet unemployment remains high, real estate values continue to sink, and governments stagger under record deficits. The End of Growth proposes a startling diagnosis: humanity has reached a fundamental turning point in its economic history. The expansionary trajectory of industrial civilization is colliding with non-negotiable natural limits.
Richard Heinberg’s latest landmark work goes to the heart of the ongoing financial crisis, explaining how and why it occurred, and what we must do to avert the worst potential outcomes. Written in an engaging, highly readable style, it shows why growth is being blocked by three factors:
- Resource depletion
- Environmental impacts
- Crushing levels of debt
These converging limits will force us to re-evaluate cherished economic theories and to reinvent money and commerce.
The End of Growth describes what policy makers, communities, and families can do to build a new economy that operates within Earth’s budget of energy and resources. We can thrive during the transition if we set goals that promote human and environmental well-being, rather than continuing to pursue the now-unattainable prize of ever-expanding GDP.
Richard Heinberg is the author of nine previous books, including The Party's Over , Peak Everything , and Blackout. A senior fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, Heinberg is one of the world's foremost peak oil educators and an effective communicator of the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels.
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About the Author
Richard Heinberg : is the author of nine previous books including The Party’s Over, Peak Everything, and Blackout. He is a Senior Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, a think tank helping chart humanity’s transition from the brief, waning reign of fossil-fueled megatechnology to the dawning era of re-adaptation to nature’s limits. Widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost Peak Oil educators, Richard lectures widely and appears on radio, television, and in films. With a wry, unflinching approach, he explains the trends that shape our world.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The New Normal 1
Why Is Growth Ending? 2
The End of Growth Should Come As No Surprise 4
Why Is Growth So Important? 6
But Isn't Growth Normal? 10
The Simple Math of Compounded Growth 12
The Peak Oil Scenario 15
From Scary Theory to Scarier Reality 18
Bursting Bubbles 19
What Comes After Growth? 20
A Guide to the Book 22
1 The Great Balloon Race 27
Economic History in Ten Minutes 28
Economics for the Hurried 34
20th-century Economics 38
Business Cycles, Interest Rates, and Central Banks 41
Mad Money 46
I Owe You 51
2 The Sound of Air Escaping 55
Houses of Cards 56
Setting the Stage: 1970 to 2001 57
Shadow Banks and the Housing Bubble 61
What Goes Up 63
The Mother of All Manias 70
Limits to Debt 72
All Loaned Up and Nowhere to Go 81
Stimulus Duds, Bailout Blanks 83
Actions by Other Nations and Their Central Banks 91
After All the Arrows have Flown 92
Deflation or Inflation? 96
The Bridge to Nowhere 99
3 Earth's Limits: Why Growth Won't Return 105
Other Energy Sources 113
How Markets May Respond to Resource Scarcity: The Goldilocks Syndrome 118
Metals and Other Minerals 138
Climate Change, Pollution, Accidents, Environmental Decline, and Natural Disasters 145
4 Won't Innovation, Substitution, and Efficiency Keep Us Growing? 155
Substitutes Forever 156
Energy Efficiency to the Rescue 164
Business Development: The Cavalry's on the Way 174
Moore's or Murphy's Law? 177
Specialization and Globalization: Genies at Our Command 181
5 Shrinking Pie: Competition and Relative Growth in a Finite World 189
The China Bubble 190
Post-Growth Geopolitics 208
Population Stress: Old vs. Young on a Full Planet 212
The End of "Development"? 217
The Post-Growth Struggle Between Rich and Poor 224
6 Managing Contraction, Redefining Progress 231
The Default Scenario 233
Haircutsfor All... or Free Money? 236
Post-Growth Money 241
Post-Growth Economics 246
Gross National Happiness 255
Our Problems Are Resolvable In Principle 259
7 Life After Growth 267
Setting Priorities 268
Transition Towns 270
Common Security Clubs 273
Putting the New Economy on the Map 275
What Might a Sustainable Society Look Like? 280
About the Author 321
What People are Saying About This
"Clearly written and argued . . . Heinberg's contrarian view on growth is highly recommended to all [listeners] interested in economics, sustainability, and future trends." -Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Much of the content here is from the headlines - but put together in a broad, meaningful display. Many ideas for solving the problems that face this planet have been collected from hordes of superb people deeply committed to future generations, and creating a new world without fossil fuels but with many solutions. What I find to treasure the most is the extensive information supplied, including the author's netsite, and the websites of many of his sources, as well as additional references. The over-all helpful tone impressed me greatly - for if you have children, or grandchildren, you need to be knowledgeable .... and prepare.
As a person, I generally like Richard Heinberg, and wanted to like his book. But often I found myself infuriated reading this. The book itself has a textbook-like sterility to it, with many infoboxes and charts giving more specific detail on certain topics. And the writing feels robotic, as if written from the perspective of an alien from another world looking impersonally down on the world. Beyond that the language is clearly calculated to avoid alienating the typical middle class reader. It seems clear that Heinberg deliberately skewers the strength of his own expertise in order to keep people from panicking.For instance, the thesis of the book, as the title suggests, is that economic growth has come to an end. Although one might assume that means the economy is headed towards a decline, he studiously avoids saying this in any clear terms. He actually seems to try to comfort his readers by suggesting that we can manage something of a steady-state economy, if one with a different series of assumptions and values than the current systems. He neglects to consider that what we're actually looking at is an economic crash of unprecedented speed and magnitude, in spite of the consistency of this idea with his own research.But where Heinberg frustrates me the most is when, after noting a few of the ways in which our way of life is killing the planet, he writes: "Declining oxygen levels, acidifying oceans, disappearing species, threatened oceanic food chains, changing climate-- when considering planetary changes of this magnitude, it may seem that the end of economic growth is hardly the worst of humanity's current problems. However, it is important to remember that we are counting on growth to enable us to solve or respond to environmental crises. With economic growth, we have surplus money with which to protect rainforests, save endangered species, and clean up after industrial accidents. Without economic growth, we are increasingly defenseless against environmental disasters-- many of which paradoxically result from growth itself." He goes on to say that "the end of economic growth cannot be counted on to solve the environmental problems that growth has previously generated".The first absurdity to strike me in the above passage is when the author says that "we are counting on growth" to solve our environmental crises. I don't know about Richard, but I'm certainly not counting on growth to solve anything. And although some people absolutely do believe this, that is largely because people are heavily invested in this system, and believe they can destroy the planet and live on it, too. Also, Heinberg tactfully ignores that far more capital is used to destroy rainforests, kill endangered species, and cause industrial disasters than to solve them. If we genuinely want to stop these disasters, we're going to need to reduce the power of capital, and reduce our total energy usage, by whatever means necessary. As for his statement that we cannot count on the end of growth to solve our environmental problems, this is true. The problem is too dire to count on any proposed solution. That's exactly why we need to do everything we possibly can as soon as we possibly can. Bringing fossil fuel economies to a dead stop, ending deforestation, and restoring prairies and wetlands will not absolutely, without a doubt, stop climate change from becoming runaway and devastating the planet's biosphere, but it sure sounds a far more reasonable avenue than hoping some magical technological solution will come along if we just hold our breath long enough. Certainly, the author tactfully avoids making any effort to show how his own proposals will help to prevent environmental calamities, let alone to proactively solve them.
Fascinating read especially in today's state of economic failure. Heinberg goes over the reasons why we are using old ideas and burning them up quickly. And how it's not just the US that's having serious issues, but the entire world as a whole and especially the majority of the first and second world countries. There is hope and solutions, but will we take heed?
Richard Heinberg¿s ¿The End of Growth: Adapting to our new Economic Reality¿ is a convincing argument that we are facing a fundamental change in the world economy. Simply put the planet earth is the proverbial five-pound bag and we cannot expect to pull endless resources out of it. Unfortunately the current economic model expects just that, infinite resources extracted from the planet¿s finite supply. He points out that this issue has been written about before, most notably in the 1972 book ¿Limits to Growth¿ which has largely been ignored by policy makers. As Free Market guru Milton Friedman said, ¿ Only a crisis ¿ real or perceived ¿ produces real change.¿ To date we have not had a real crisis and those profiting by the status quo quickly dismiss any perception of one.The book¿s strength is Heinberg¿s ability to demonstrate that simple, basic economic laws such as the relationship between supply, demand, and price apply at all levels of the economy. Oil in 1900 was a kindergartner¿s drawing, with a large supply and a low demand. Today oil is a Picasso, everyone wants it but there is a very limited supply. However as Heinberg points out, we do not simply want oil. We NEED it. The modern economy runs on cheap energy but as demand out grows supply cheap and energy are words not likely to be used together. More frightening, although Heinberg did downplay the frightening aspect of it, is that modern food production relies on cheap oil for more than just fueling machinery. This year¿s Arab Spring was brought on by years of oppression but it was triggered by high food prices. An unknown someone once said that "No society is more than three meals from a revolution" but I wonder if in the Unites States the government¿s stability depends more on the availability of gasoline than food.Heinberg made a very convincing argument that resource depletion is a threat to the world economy. His prescriptions for adapting to the new realities are disappointingly uninspiring. His best piece of advice, in my opinion, is ¿Get to know your neighbors. ¿ When push comes to shove these are the people you may need to depend on.¿ The 1% or less tax on financial transactions he discusses to slow the massive volume of speculative trading would do more good but is there any real hope of any regulations on the financial sector?¿The End of Growth¿ is an important book. I disagreed with many of the points made early in the book but as I read I saw that my objections were being explained away or were irrelevant to the discussion. Heinberg has produced a sobering work on a subject that deserves honest debate.
I really enjoyed this book.The introduction gives an overview of where the book is heading and why the author thinks continuous growth is not sustainable. The book then goes through some history to provide some context for our current sitution. Chapter 1 gives a wonderful but concise history of economics, and Chapter 2 contains what is probably the best written (yet concise) account of the 2008 market meltdown that I have read.The author takes a very deliberate approach. There are lots of charts and sideboxes with extra information that serve to buttress the text with stats and stories. These become particularly important in chapters 3 through 5, in which the case that the end of growth is upon is is really made. The basis of this argument is one depleting energy sources and other natural resources. I found the data supporting the rare earth shortage the most troubling as that will have a huge effect on the information economy, a segment of the market that most believe to be immune from resources shortages.How we deal with the coming crunch is dealt with in the last two chapters and, while the solutions presented aren't bad, they don't feel like they will be sufficient to address the challenges that author spent the previous 230 pages outlining.This is a somewhat depressing book in some respects because it does such a great job of outlining the problem but, while it offers some solutions at the end, it is more of a call for people to adjust to a lower level of economic activity. No one likes to be the one to say that the party's over but Richard Heinberg makes a strong case.
I, too, found this book to be eerily similar to James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency." I had a very difficult time wading trough the pages that droned on , reminding me of a high school social studies book rather than a book about a subject that excites and frightens me! He did bring up some extremely important points but failed to expand on their eventual potential to destroy our civilization. ANY dependence on petroleum products, whether foreign or domestic has absolutely NO place in today's solutions. It's a finite resource, being used, for example, for packaging meant to be discarded.I strongly agree with Mr. Heinberg that the economic growth upon which we've built our house is truly sand and will be washed or worn away in the coming years. I don't think that we are nearly enough aware of the short time left to get into a sustainable position
This book covers much of the same ground as James Howard Kunstler's the Long Emergency (2006), but shows much greater precision and professionalism, and strikes a humanist rather than a misanthropic tone. Heinberg's core argument runs something like this: 1. Our global economy relies on perpetual growth, which is an illusion. Under the influence of that illusion, we've allowed debt in all forms -- household, corporate, governmental -- to swell to unsustainable levels. 2. While the 2008 Great Recession reflected the partial bursting of a housing bubble, it also marks the end (or beginning of the end) of growth, because: (a) the world is experiencing peak oil (and peak extraction of other resources), and in fact arriving at that peak is part of what caused the recession; or (b) even if peaking of resource extraction didn't cause the recession, it will make it impossible to relaunch the economy and unwind debt, and sooner or later the debt crisis will cause a massive global economic contraction. 3. Innovation and substitution can't save us because we've reached the practical limits of both of those.Chapter 5 suggests possible implications for the world economy over the next several years. Chapters 6 and 7 are essentially bibliographic essays outlining a range of macro policy solutions and individual household approaches to weather the coming economic storms. Heinberg believes it's not too late to save civilization, but he's skeptical that our existing governments and power structures will take needed actions on a national or international scale, so individuals and communities need to prepare now to sustain themselves.As you might guess, the linchpin of Heinberg's argument is his belief (articulated in chapter 4) that innovation and efficiency cannot punch a way out of the world's debt overhang and resource constraints. But this part of his argument, it seems to me, is deeply flawed, in at least two respects. First, Heinberg suggests that everything we do falls into a few categories of activities -- communication, transport, trade, and manufacturing -- and we have approached the limit of doing these things quickly and cheaply. But that misconceives innovation, for which the key measure is the ratio of human time required to produce a given quality of life. The whole point of sustainability is that we have vast room for improving this ratio. Given the huge externalities in our current economy, there's a lot of opportunity left to use the same or greater time for a much, much higher quality of life. For example, Heinberg notes that few consumer products (like shampoo) have significantly changed in the last several decades; advances mostly reflect tastes driven by marketing. But wouldn't it be a significant step forward - with a positive return for society -- for companies to redesign shampoo to omit endocrine-disrupting chemicals? (And anyway, why should advertising-driven changes in tastes, or, for that matter, planned obsolescence of consumer goods, not be used to carry growth in a steady state economy?).A second, related problem is that Heinberg is focused on the wrong scale -- he argues that we're reaching the limits of positive returns on improving individual goods and services. But we use goods and services in systems, or as part of a lifestyle, and the relationship between the individual goods we buy and their collective impact on our lives is not linear. Changing a few goods can radically shift how they collectively work in our lives, and which we value the most. That opens up new vistas for growth. For a simple example, think about the difference between a walkman, an ipod, and an iphone. For Heinberg, these would appear to simply be a progression of improvements in the same basic functional unit: a portable audio player. But in context, the ipod offers a huge quality of life improvement over the walkman that means it is actually used differently (people stop buying cassettes; they may even give up havin
Important book and should be required reading for anyone who votes.There is a disconnect between natural law and economic law; natural law stating that there is a limit to growth while economic law recognizes no such limit. Yet the fates and fortunes of businesses, governments, countries and their people hinge on the unlimited growth idea. Author Richard Heinberg argues that this idea is flawed and continued adherence will result in economic and personal calamity. As a Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, Heinberg is an expert on fossil fuel resources and how these resources drive the engine and idea of unlimited growth. And here the problems lies - if the resource is limited how the dependent factor of growth be unlimitied? In Heinberg's own words "We're counting on Moore's law (technology will continue to get faster, cheaper, and more powerful) while setting the stage for Murphy's (anything that can go wrong, will)". Easter Island anyone?While the information in this book is not new the synthesis and focus present the problem in a new light. Heinberg clearly and methodically lays out his arguments with supporting data. Especially appreciated by me is the fact that Heinberg doesn't waste time trying to vilify any corporate entity or political party but rather lays out the facts. And it's not pretty. There is no easy way of of this dilemma and no way to avoid some kind of pain in the long or short term. Yet even considering that, Heinberg offers hope and solutions that can lead the way to a more sustainable and ethical future.The ideas in this book are important and should be part of public discourse. The main complaint I have of this book is that, while Heinberg draws from many different sources for his information, there is no formal reference section where readers can easily find further research resources. Still I find this book well worth the read.
I read this book very quickly and wrote a review at the time that it arrived late last summer, which happened to coincide with my daughter's wedding. The review seems to have gone missing for some reason. I do remember that I found it discouraging and depressing and the writing very dry.
Within the first sentence of his book, author Richard Heinberg clearly states his central assertion--economic growth as we know it is over. Heinberg, a Senior Fellow of Post Carbon Institute, goes on to explain in detail and in language understandable to those who are not economists the evidence that supports his claim. He provides an overview of how our dependence on economic growth evolved and then details the circumstances that have brought growth to an end. He points to three factors responsible for growth¿s end¿resource depletion, environmental impacts, and systemic financial and monetary failures. He provides evidence of how each of these factors has stymied growth and why we cannot expect economic growth to resume.This is a scary read. Heinberg paints a bleak picture of what we can expect as our current economic assumptions hit environmental and financial realities. However, he also provides hope. He outlines three strategies that individuals need to pursue to prepare for the end of growth¿disengage from consumerism, get out of debt, and become more self-sufficient. Collectively our highest priority needs to be maintenance of social cohesion. Local communities must unite to solve the problems brought by mounting economic and environmental challenges. Heinberg describes experiments already being undertaken by communities to create new economic models. Throughout the book, Heinberg refers to enough printed resources to fill a bookcase.This is an important book. Heinberg challenges us to examine our economic assumptions and to transform how we individually and culturally define success and happiness. Resisting current economic realities will heighten the future pain we experience as individuals and as a society. There is hope, however, if we can set a course toward sustainability that upholds the integrity of our living planet.
This amazing book sets out clearly to explain what is happening in the world today, and why economic growth cannot continue even if we want it to. I was very impressed that the book predicts things like the current debt crisis in the US that happened after the book went to press. I was most interested in Heinberg's analysis of possible solutions to the economic crises that are facing countries across the globe. At first thought, things look rather bleak, but if more people read this book and try to understand the future, we can still look forward to a better, more human and humane world, with less disparity between rich and poor, and hopefully less of the obscene wealth that certain segments of society have been able to amass to the detriment of others. I even read in the paper yesterday that billionaire investor Warren Buffet believes that wealthy Americans should be paying way more in taxes in order to pay down the deficit, insisting that this move would not decrease investment or jobs.I plan to come back to this book again and again to better understand the world today, so I can discuss it with others. There are extensive notes and references to other publications as well as a website with supplemental materials and continuing discussion.I personally look forward to a world with less consumerism, where things are built to last, where all our jobs aren't shipped off to other countries, and cheap oil is no longer available so we will buy things made where we live, by people who aren't unemployed. I can only hope it will happen before we completely destroy the environment and use up all of our finite resources.I highly recommend this book. Read it and think carefully about the future.
Several of the other reviews have done a good job of summarizing the basic premise of this book. I will say that I found this a difficult book to read. It's difficult to stick to a text that makes so much sense, yet is so dark. At the same time, I want to keep it around and keep referring to it as we make this journey. I also want to highlight the last chapter, which highlights both the idea of "Gross National Happiness" as an alternative to the GDP, and emphasizes the role of local communities in the coming age. This is an important book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to truly understand the idea that the post World War II economic system that we are still living in is a house of cards that is living on borrowed time.
Richard Heinberg¿s newest book, The End of Growth, gives an overview of the coming Great Contraction. Heinberg argues that the global economy is at a major tipping point. It is his contention that the global economy is at the end of growth and that growth is absolutely necessary in order for the current economic system to function in a healthy and stable state. Without growth, global economies will contract and civilizations will fail.The book is well researched and written. However, for those individuals who have been following the literature of impending global civilization collapse, this book holds few surprises. What it does very well is explain in clear language, the existing global economic system and how it has arrived at the very unstable and unhealthy state that we find it in. The book then fits this impending contracting and collapsing economic situation in with other trends that are propelling the civilized world toward collapse. In particular, it is based on the author¿s fervent belief in the physical limits of planet Earth and the necessity of building a new economic system that supports sustainable living. The author warns readers who are unfamiliar with the literature of global civilization collapse that his book will likely undermine their ¿mental equilibrium in a way that is both deeply uncomfortable and exhilarating.¿ I agree.If you wish to read two pages in the book that the author uses to outline exactly how the book is constructed and summarizes the content of each chapter, use the ¿Look Inside The Book¿ feature at the top of the main page for this title in Amazon and search for the text string ¿Chapter 1 is a potted history.¿ Reading this may help you decide on whether or not this book is for you.The book is designed for readers with little to no formal training in economics. For those of you who are already convinced that we are headed toward global civilization contraction and collapse and desire a focused economic perspective, the book is recommended. For those of you who desire a broader or more academic treatment with rigorous arguments about the why and when of the predicted coming Great Contraction, you will probably want to look for another book. A far better book that covers this general topic powerfully is Thomas Homer-Dixon¿s The Upside of Down. That book was published at the beginning of 2008, so it has little light to shed on the current global economic instability other than to establish eloquently the trends that existed that would eventually cause the meltdown. I¿d give Heinberg¿s book a solid three-and-a-half stars, while Homer-Dixon¿s books would win an enthusiastic five stars. I am not alone in my praise of this other book; it was designated as the ¿Best Book of the Year¿ by the ¿Financial Times¿ and won the Canadian National Business Book Award. I recommend that you read Homer-Dixon¿s book first, then, if you desire more on this theme that focuses primarily on the economy, read Heinberg¿s.
This book has such important implications for the future I plan to give a copy of it to my financial advisor.The book effectively uses representative and systematic data to argue we are in ecological overshoot and economic overshoot. Either one is alarming; together they sound a critical alarm; if only it can be heard!The author distinguishes between economies¿the exchange of goods and services¿and economics¿a money-based model of an economy. Fractional reserve banking, debt-based currencies, and displacing externalities allow the two to diverge significantly. As a result, our financial accounting systems are giving us false signals. We live in a world with ever-increasing levels of financial debt¿public and private. We are also depleting the earth¿s natural resources, including fresh water, fertile soil, forests, marine ecosystems, biodiversity, fossil fuels, minerals, and pollution sinks. Since debt represents a promise of future repayment of labor and resources the book argues it is inevitable that the aggregate promises to repay will eventually exceed the available resources for repayment. In fact, that may have already have happened.He argues convincingly that ¿we have created an economic machine that needs debt like a car needs gas,¿ and that ¿the existing market economy has no `stable¿ or `neutral¿ setting: there is only growth or contraction.¿ Economics relies on several premises which are clearly false:1)Growth can continue indefinitely,2)Externalities can be safely ignored,3)Natural resources represent income that increases as they are extracted rather than capital which depreciates as it is depleted, and4)Resources can be substituted for one another with infinite flexibility. He concludes ¿¿the world economic system is held together largely by the belief and faith that it will continue to grow. It¿s a confidence scheme, in the purest sense.¿Limits to ecological growth are well documented in the book: global marine seafood capture peaked in 1994, global oil production is probably past its peak, and we are approaching peak coal, peak water, and peaks for several key minerals. Unfortunately efficiency, substitution, innovation, and other technological magic are insufficient to close the gap between our present consumption and earth¿s limits.As these limits are recognized more broadly, competition to retain a large slice of a shrinking pie will intensify. This is likely to unfold as increased struggles between nations, competition among world currencies, old vs. young, rich vs. poor, consumption and opulence vs. conservation and flourishing, short term opportunists against long-term thinkers, and along other lines of conflict. Planning can reduce the chaos while denial, delay, and panic will aggravate the disputes.He concludes: ¿We have accumulated too many financial-monetary claims on real assets¿consisting of energy, food, labor, manufactured products, built infrastructures, and natural resources¿ to ever be repaid. This leads to his rather bleak default scenario¿his prediction of what will happen if leadership remains absent. It features various forms of debt-jubilees¿schemes to discharge debt¿with various big-time winners and losers.Compared to other literature on limits to growth, I find these scenarios grimmer. I hope this is only his hyperbole, but I fear it is his expertise and candidness. Our post-growth world needs to meet several criteria:1)The economy must be steady-state and not one that relies on growth,2)Renewable resources will be harvested at a rate slower than they are replenished,3)Non-renewable resources will be extracted at declining rates, supported by increased rates of recycling,4)Human population will stabilize at a level supported by these sustainable practices. To help us imagine life after growth the last chapters describe several communities experimenting with sustainable economies designed to increase well-being and happiness rather than GDP.The transition will be difficult, but the soone
This book has lots of good details but starts out with a misleading oversimplification. Yes, total usage of fossil fuels will start long term decline within a few decades. But total value of all capital goods in use will continue to grow exponentially far into the future. Even making do with less energy, we will produce higher value consumer goods that are smaller, more complex, and smarter, and make better use of properties of materials. Even after total population stops growing the total world economy will grow exponentially very far into the future, just as it has for the past five thousand years.Also, the world economy will evolve by becoming more complex and differentiated, doing more with a given amount of material and energy, and that evolution itself could be called growth.But yes, though I word it differently I very much agree with what he is talking about. I emphasize that we need to decentralize, create new organizations, and each of us create the new economy in our every day lives.
BORING and REPETITIVE!