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Hrens: The First Death Rattle of Our Unsustainable Economy

If the collapse of Wall Street these past few days has proven anything, it’s that our economic system is unsustainable—the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism (Never-ending growth! Infinite resources!) are a fairy tale. The free market model just doesn’t work. We hate to say we told you so. Rebekah and Stephen Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit, have much more to say on the subject.
Last week’s gyrations on Wall Street come as little surprise to most folks who have taken a critical eye towards our economic system. What you are seeing is the first death rattle of our truly unsustainable economy. We’ve been told for a long time that our way of life is unsustainable, which, we hate to point out, means that it cannot be sustained. To rephrase, it must end sometime! And that’s precisely what is happening. At the root of the financial debacle is the housing slump, which has a variety of causes. Primary among them is the fact that many lower and middle income folks are cash-strapped and can’t make their mortgage payments, especially as adjustable interest rates rise. Many of the homes sold to subprime lenders were new constructions built out in the boondocks, where the only available transportation is the automobile. As gas prices rose, these mortgage payments became that much more untenable. And gas prices rose because oil supplies have plateaued, having barely budged in the last four years. Even as supplies stagnated, demand in China, India, Russia, and Middle East has been growing at 5% to 10% a year, meaning less and less for us each year. Neoclassical economics, which is the philosophical underpinning of our financial system, did a decent job of describing what was going on in the world when access to supplies of raw materials were generally increasing. It is a philosophy of continual and never-ending growth. Unfortunately, when access to materials begins to become constrained, the multitude of inherent contradictions rises to the surface like the bloated carcass of a whale. A perusal of a few of the most obvious fallacies should prove enlightening. Just as we would look askance at a mother who believes her child will grow forever, or a gardener who believes their tomato plant will one day reach the heavens, the sanity of the economist who believes the economy can grow forever must be similarly suspect. Infinite growth is not possible in a finite world! Remember, it must end sometime! Likewise, the idea that neoclassical economics (also referred to as capitalism) is the most efficient economic system is complete and utter malarkey. What is efficient about everyone owning a car that they only use an hour or two a day? Or a lawnmower they use for thirty minutes once every two weeks? Or a tiller they might use once a year? Not only do these things have to be made from the finite materials of the earth, but people have to work in order to build them and afford them. From a resource use point of view, sharing is vastly more efficient than individual ownership. Capitalism is efficient at taking resources and converting these into a product, and then selling us this product whether we want it or not. What it does not take into consideration is that there might be any ill effect from the energy used, the waste created, the limits of raw materials, or whether the ownership of that product will in fact make us the slightest bit more content. Other than that, it’s perfect!
Read the whole article here.


Author Petra Kuenkel: The Art of Leading Collectively

More than ever before, there is a focus on new, collective forms of leadership—and an urgency to get collective change processes underway, all over the world. What’s behind the recent push to move collective leadership to the fore? Whether we find ourselves in societal or organizational change, it requires collective energy and drive to bring […] Read More

10 Books to Curl Up With This Winter

William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do? We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading […] Read More

Top 8 Chelsea Green Books the Self-Styled Oregon Militia Should Read

The ongoing armed militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is showing no signs of ending — so, rather than send them snacks, or sex toys, we had an idea: Send them a book! Better yet, send them several Chelsea Green books. Don’t worry, we’ve picked five key titles that we think […] Read More

Author David Stroh: First Steps to Becoming a Systems Thinker

Systems thinking is often seen as something relegated to scientific and business analysis – economics, resource depletion, and climate. However, Systems Thinking for Social Change focuses on how to use systems thinking to make breakthrough progress on intransigent social problems. We asked author David Stroh how this approach can make an impact, and how readers […] Read More

Use Systems Thinking to Make Lasting Social Change

What can be done when our best intentions create unintended problems—such as temporary shelters increasing homelessness or food aid accelerating starvation?After decades of helping change-makers in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors address tough social problems, systems-thinking expert David Stroh shares the pioneering framework that both demystifies systems thinking and shows how it can lead […] Read More
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