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Everything is Shrinking Now
Endless growth has ended.
Recently, Arizona did something almost unheard of in American history. They made a decision to slow down economic growth.
They’re halting new home projects in Phoenix if they rely on groundwater. Developers can only continue if they find an alternate source, like recycled water. Of course, that’s going to be difficult in a region plagued by mega-drought. The governor made the decision after new reports said the state was facing a major water shortfall that isn’t going to get better. It’s going to tamp development in the fastest-growing parts of the city. The governor is having to reassure citizens: “Nobody who has water is going to lose their water.” So, that’s where things stand. Governments around the world are promising their citizens they won’t go thirsty.
You know, maybe we shouldn’t have built the nation’s fifth-largest city in a desert, over the stern objections of scientists.
Everything is shrinking now.
State Farm recently decided to stop selling property insurance in California. They’re also trying to raise rates on existing home insurance policies by an average of 28 percent. Just recently, Allstate has started moving in the same direction. They’ve stopped selling property insurance there.
Meanwhile, at least a dozen insurance companies in Florida have already shut down. They can’t afford to keep paying for houses and hotels to get knocked down by hurricanes. Nationwide, insurance companies now face $1 billion in claims every year due to severe weather, a sixfold increase since the 1980s. They’ve run out of options, and now they’re simply abandoning areas of the country where unpredictable disasters make property uninsurable.
Across the U.S., the economy is contracting. The construction industry is shrinking. The cost of materials keeps fluctuating higher, and it’s getting harder to find workers. The beef industry is shrinking. Droughts and heat waves are killing cattle or forcing ranchers to cull their herds because they can’t afford to feed them. The coffee industry is shrinking. Drought, floods, and frosts are hitting coffee farmers hard. The poultry industry is shrinking. Farmers are battling a strain of bird flu with a 90 percent mortality rate. It’s so contagious that a single spurt of wind can blow airborne particles from bird droppings into barn vents, contaminating entire flocks. They’re culling tens of millions of hens.
Media companies do a little trick to soften the blow. When a particular industry or crop recovers slightly, they call it growth. They hardly ever look at long-term trends. If they did, that would scare investors.
They would make more responsible decisions.
They would take fewer risks.
The stock market reacts to all of this with glee. They love bad news. For example, coffee futures bolted 80 percent when floods slashed Colombia’s coffee output. We’ve seen the same thing with bird flu, when companies like Cal-Maine Foods bragged to shareholders about their record profits from rising egg prices. They aren’t looking at the big picture. They keep making the mistake of assuming things will get better, even when they make no effort to solve the actual problem.
None of them are really growing anymore.
These industries aren’t shrinking because of bad financial decisions. They’re shrinking because of severe droughts and flash floods. Farmers across the world are even having to contend with increased risks of flash drought. In a flash drought, “the air gets so hot and so dry that it sucks water right out of plants and soil.” There’s one starting to happen in the midwest right now. Flash droughts can kill crops in days, and there’s almost nothing you can do to stop them. According to a new article in Nature, they’re becoming the new normal.
Across the world, it’s becoming undeniable. Some politicians are finally having to admit it. Even some billionaires understand now.
They can’t grow the economy forever.
They have to slow down.
They’re having to think about the longterm future. They’re having to balance their desire for profits with the need for sustainable decisions that conserve their resources. They’re having to face the hard truth. No, the planet can’t sustain endless growth. That was a myth the whole time.
Everyone from economists to bankers have been scoffing at the idea of degrowth and steady-state economies for years now.
Here’s the thing about that:
It’s happening whether they like it or not. It’s happening no matter how loud they complain about hippies and socialists. Nature doesn’t care about their ideologies. It doesn’t care about their feelings.
It doesn’t care about quarterly profits.
There’s a very practical, common sense attitude behind steady-state economies. It’s the simple idea that nothing can grow forever. Look at any living organism or ecosystem. None of them support endless growth.
They’re all about equilibrium.
In nature, only parasites and cancers try to grow endlessly.
So do all of these deadly viruses.
They kill their hosts.
For the last hundred years or so, westerners have told themselves they’re not animals. They’re better. They’re special. They can live above the laws of nature. They can live beyond the planet’s means. They’ve bragged about their technology. They’ve ignored warnings from the very scientists who created those technologies. They’ve steeped themselves in the abundance mindset, the notion that humans can always find more resources—so they never have to conserve.
You might know Jonas Salk, the guy who invented the polio vaccine and then gave it away for free, practically eradicating the disease. He referred to the western obsession with endless growth as Epoch A. It’s characterized by consumption, excess, waste, and short-term thinking. Salk predicted that Epoch A would burn out during the early 21st century as we depleted our resources. In its place, he said Epoch B would emerge. Epoch B would be defined by community, balance, and a life in equilibrium with our environment. His son turned his ideas into a book.
It’s the opposite of endless growth.
If we’re looking for advice on how to run civilization going forward, it would be wise for us to listen to the guy who eradicated polio, not some hedge fund manager or an oil prince, wouldn’t it? I mean, it doesn’t seem smart to base your economic models on what viruses, cancers, and parasites do. When you really think about it, that’s how all these bankers and stock brokers act.
They think like parasites.
If western governments and corporations keep fighting for endless growth, it’s going to result in a lot more pain for everyone in the end. The record profits won’t last. Eventually, demand destruction will set in. In other words, stuff will get so expensive that everyone stops buying it. Resource depletion will continue until we run out of the energy to produce anything efficiently, including the solar panels and wind turbines that are supposed to save the planet. Everywhere you look, it’s becoming financially unfeasible to operate on the economic models that prioritize growth and profits. Climate change is forcing adaptation.
The argument between endless growth and steady-state is already over. It wasn’t decided by humans. Since the majority of westerners failed to listen to scientists, the planet is now making decisions for us.
Nothing can grow forever.
It never does.
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