1. After Growth
2. The Year of Eating Locally
3. All for One, or One for All
4. The Wealth of Communities
5. The Durable Future
In this brief 3 page intro he lays out the project and situates his position ideologically…
New “happiness” research intersects with environmental realities concerning the limits of growth.
“More” and “Better” no longer go together.
We need a radical shift toward local economies.
This does not mean the end of capitalism or markets. Rather, markets are no longer to be worshipped as infallible, efficiency is no longer the highest goal.
We have to change our orientation toward what constitutes progress.
Claim is that this perspective is neither “liberal” nor “conservative”
It is really communitarian, although Mckibben doesn’t really to into a confession on this theoretically, the book is notably dedicated to Wendell Berry. Basically the claim is that communitarianism is key to individual happiness and our physical survival
“Deep Economy” evokes “Deep Ecology;” economics must mature as a discipline in the way ecology did in the seventies.
Claim is that ultimately we need to have legislation, but for now it grass roots activism is meant to break the consensus regarding the cult of growth, the need for More.
At the same time the book is punctuated with discussions of China. We have to keep the reality of global poverty in mind, and McKibben narrates the story of the Chinese peasant for whom More does mean Better sensitively and cogently.
He provides lots of evidence that the localism movement is growing. Farmers Markets are the fastest growing part of our food economy.
(While McKibben might seem banal at this point, I want to suggest that the right wing in the United States understands his type of economic challenge to markets as the primary ideological challenge. If you read National Review online or listen to Republicans on cspan they will often say…the left wants us to give up capitalism, but we are not going to abandon our economic system for an unproven theory regarding global warming…From the perspective of the consensus regarding capitalism it is radical that Mckibben challenges capitalism at all.
It is also interesting that many libertarians are on the Happiness bandwagon and that many of them moving to the left. There is a kind of ideological split happening now within the right…some libertarians are moving away from hardcore ideological right, and interestingly global warming has something to do with this. I think that this is partly because libertarians have a greater intellectual curiosity, a genuine anti-authoritarian streak, and have felt uncomfortable with right alliance…now in addition they are sick of deniers of global warming. It is perhaps important to understand the happiness theme of the book as directed at libertarians (who write about happiness) and economic types. The theme is less banal when viewed rhetorically, I think.)
1 After Growth pp. 5-44
This chapter presents an economic history lesson to help us understand exactly how profound of a difference fossilized energy implies to our way of living.
It also explores the ideological background of the cult of growth.
He interestingly claims that Adam Smith and other economists of the pre-posttwar period did not think that growth was totally unlimited.
(I think this was something that Lety’s Marx teacher was trying to argue last semester regarding Marx?)
Basically, he wants to say that the total commitment to absolutely unfettered growth, growth above all, only came into fruition in the post-war period. It is not until after WWII that economists came to be fixated on GDP, total size of the economy…many, but not all thought that the US economy was mature, it was time to think socially, not simply expand and grow more
In some way we could see this intersecting with contemporary libertarianism’s rethinking of its own posture. If we don’t need to think that Adam Smith believed in unlimited growth, we can take a more moderate view of markets, invite some room for regulation.
By contrast, increased efficiency became a religion really by the beginning of the twentieth century, Taylorism, Fordism. The evil logic we are all familiar with: break everything down into parts… Efficiency became a goal itself in a religious sort of way, in every aspect of life, in work, school, everything…
This is a nice discussion; intersects with philosophical critiques such as those of Heidegger or Foucault.
Point is that growth changed everything after WWII; in the Cold War, for Commies and Cappies alike, it was about growth…
In seventies oil shock, pollution, led some to question growth in the seventies
There were books such as Limits to Growth, Small is Beautiful, even work on so-called “Buddhist Economics.” Jimmy Carter was on board…this was a real movement…even beyond the counterculture…at end of seventies American popular opinion was 30 % pro-growth, 31 % anti-growth, 39 %ambivalent
Reagan changes everything…supply-side economics, collapse of communism. Now it becomes a question of who is more pro-growth: conservatives or mainstream liberals; Thatcher or Clinton? Democrats talk about “sustainability” and think more “inclusively,” but there is no controversy regarding the desirability of growth. Now of course we add the Chinese Capitalists too…but the extreme right-wingers are really a different breed all together. The hard-core supply-siders view growth like a kind of magic…grow, grow, grow.
By giving us this account, this chapter situates us historically and encourages us to refuse the determinism of the cult of growth…capitalism need not have gone in such an extreme direction; we need not think of things so deterministically.
Three arguments against growth as we have it now
Political: growth as we now do it is creating more inequality and more insecurity
Physics and Chemistry: end of oil and pollution
Psychological: growth no longer makes us happy
First political…he goes over this quickly; in US real income of bottom 90% of Americans has declined since 1979 27k to 25k; Latin America stagnant
Growth is making that top 1% rich…
Why is this?
Decline un unions, advent computerization, trade agreements, tax cuts, no real ethos of egalitarianism in US anymore…even when inequality is questioned, the desirability of growth itself is not questioned
Physical and Chemical:
Remember before oil and coal it was all about how much you could grow, feed the animals, to get the power
Ethanol takes 100 btu to get 134 btu
Moreover we could have reached peak oil already and be out of gas soon
Fossil fuel is like a slave at our beck and call, renewable energy is more like a partner 17
Hence because alternatives are so much less productive, we absolutely need to curb growth. We should not trust in technological solutions alone. We have to curb growth, loose the growth religion: otherwise we just won’t sustain things.
He doesn’t really address the population issue directly, but makes the case implicitly: 6 billion people can’t live like Americans or even Europeans
Part of the problem is economic thinking, the ideology that more is better.
He cites Costanza, the environmental economist who is responsible for the notion of “real costs” as opposed to externalities.
Then he usefully itemizes some of the new thinking in economics, e.g. thought about “overerall well-being” in UK and Canada, rather than the economic measure of growth alone.
Economic principle of utility maximization
He says we need a new kind of utilitarianism
The one we have is not rational…we are in a trap where what we think is rational is not rational.
Punctuated by discussion of China.
Year of Eating Locally
In this chapter we have a discussion of the food system, examples of localism.
50 % of world’s assets and consumer expenditure belong to food system
He begins with an account of a year eating locally in Vermont.
They bought in September, canned, froze
Discover that oats used to be local…Thanksgiving is good in Vermont
Tells us all about the local farms, people who really enjoy farming
You could not feed Manhattan like this: but New Jersey “the Garden State” is next door
Many urban areas are discovering their outskirts cropland
Then we get a lesson on agriculture…perhaps useful for Miriam
4 companies slaughter 81%American beef
Same with every other commodity at increasing pace
Huge, huge food conglomerates
Wallmart biggest seller of food on the planet
Food prices are very low
Americans spend 11% income on food, half of what we spent before WWII
Victims of current food system
Small farmers and communities surrounding them
People in food industry, in every aspect of it, from the lobster divers in Central America to folks in meat packing plants, sometimes it is basically slavery as with the workers in Brazil clearing Amazon
Pollution, as hog waste in one place in N. Carolina produces more fecal waste than CA, NY and Washington combined
Security of food system…terrorism anybody, or simply bacterial contamination
But even beyond this the whole food system is unstable
We are running out of water
The whole system is dependent upon petroleum
National and international models of agriculture release 5 to 17 times more co2
The false claim is made that we need new biotechnology, pesticides and genetically modified food
Very interesting discussion of non petroleum agriculture…really is more fascinating than I would have thought
How small farmers have a more intimate knowledge of the soil, the nutrients…
Important improvements in organic farming techniques
Small scale agriculture preserves villages, environment,
Most fascinating of all is the discussion of Cuban agriculture after petroleum, since they were cut off after the Cold War
Stopped exporting sugar and started growing own food
May have the world’s largest semi-sustainable agricultures; they rely less on oil, chemicals, and shipping
Two hundred urban gardens in Havana, thousands all over Cuba
They even make a little profit
Very educated population, so high level of scientific stuff, soil analysis, etc
We don’t need to become Cuba, unless the worst peak oil scenarios are right, but we can go in that direction
We could move in this direction and there is policy stuff we can do to encourage this kind of activity…schools and institutions, communities can begin to buy local
The new food awareness intersects with new health awareness regarding obesity, diabetes
Federal government has to shift some portion of its subsidies away from big farmers, industrial farmers
He talks about the industrial aspect of organic now: Stonybrook buys milk powder from New Zealand
But if we are willing to pay a bit more
Not a white yuppie thing alone, minorities too have been proven in recent studies to have real interest in healthy food.
All for One, or One for All
This chapter presents a critique of “hyper-individualism,” primarily in America, but in Western culture more generally. It is again couched from a communitarian perspective, with a dose of the new “happiness” research.
He begins by situating us historically, in modernity: we see a process of individual liberation. Fossil fuel finishes what the Protestant Reformation began. But with advances in technology we are no longer free, we are obscenely individualized.
Interestingly, he claims to mark a turn, a historical turn where technology and ideology made us not merely individualistic, but hyper-individualistic
Suburban houses are bigger and bigger, tvs in each room so that even family members don’t see each other
Christian faith itself is transformed in the US so that people no longer think the biblical message is about charity, but about self-help, 75 % of people think the bible includes the saying “god helps those who help themselves.” The mega-churches preach about individual achievement and self-help.
This is all a matter of ideology in America and Europe, but there are signs of change
In the field of economics there are many in who are thinking new things
France movement for “post-autistic” economics
In America we tolerate wealth inequality unbearable in other places. The alternative to hyperindividualism is not state-socialism, nor is it simply a liberal model of more growth more equitably distributed.
We should try rather to turn back the clock a couple of decades in our political and economic life, and then correct our trajectory slightly so that we stay highly individualized, but not hyper-individualized.
Local communities are not only better ecologically, but better for the human person, for happiness…we have ten times more conversations at the farmers’ market than the supermarket.
Wallmart is presented in a critique of the economic thinking that views individuals as solitary consumers and not as members of a community. Meager savings each family gets does not take into account the cost in jobs, benefits, local autonomy
Wallmart would save each Vermont consumer about $58 a year
Here we can see how the Happiness discourse comes in…Richard Layard in Happiness
Actually that $58 bucks saved makes you less happy
In poor countries this $58 might make one very happy (particularly as they have communities and family relations still), in some developed countries a bit more happy, for the last 50 years in America LESS HAPPY
There are diminishing returns.
The communitarian reminds us that participation in religion makes people happy, political participation makes people happy. Isolation makes us morbid, depressed, more likely to die…did you know…the Amish are 1/10 as depressed as their neighbors
With the new happiness thinking…human interaction is the end itself, not the means to the end
Thus McKibben unpacks the flaw of economic thinking…a la Layard’s Happiness
So why are we (particularly in America) stuck in this hyperindividualism?
It is not just “human nature” as the economic liberals, triumphant with the demise of state socialism, would have us believe…
It is advertising, having to work so much, being compelled as one has no time, has no neighbors…in the extreme right-wing supply-side ideology in America…we take our cues regarding the good life from tv.
He then explores the economics of neighborliness, not Bush’s ownership society, but a membership society.
Relationships must be valued as well as efficiency.
He insists that this is not left or right, not ideological, and is consistent with faith.
Hey, lets all Sundays off…do things to increase community interaction
This communitarian emphasis he notes is consistent with Adam Smith’s pessimism regarding an unchecked market.
Thus he brilliantly finds communitarianism in Adam Smith’s worry about envy and greed and argues that the hero of the free marked would be horrified by completely unfettered capitalism…the world where there is less civic pride checking the rich
He suggests we go back to A. Smith’s Britain.
Let’s have capitalism, but be willingness to take 3% or 5% profit, rather than demanding 20%…as is happening with newspapers today
We don’t want the gossipy oppression of a small town of course…cause community can be a drag…
But some kind of happy medium is possible.
In one point which touches on the ideological, however, he shows that this is a right left issue.
He notes that the WSJ, which spent 20 yrs denying climate change, runs an article on island vacations and their vulnerability to climate change
“If planetary ecological collapse is viewed in terms of the problem it presents for our vacation plans, then we may have passed some sociological tipping point.” p. 128
The Wealth of Communities
In this chapter McKibben takes up the notion of community property. Historically, this is interesting of course because it is argued by economic liberals that we must have private property to have efficiency and productivity. But he discusses community property in a wide ranging discussion that surveys communication, energy, transportation, money, entertainment, the internet. Basically he argues that we can rethink our relation to commodities.
Communication: the example of public radio, local radio.
Barre Vermont is a gritty town that makes tombstones and has a heroine problem
Local radio very fabric of society,
And it is local, not conservative or progressive/liberal…not red or blue but purple
Radio, like food, he argues, used to be local
Deregulation of broadcasting means, however, that there is very little that is local now.
This means that the radio is not a source of information in an emergency…if there is a chemical spill and you call a Clear Channel station don’t except to find a person.
He gives a lovely defense of the inefficiency of local radio, of the plurality, of the public discussion, of the importance to the democratic fabric of society
Communities and “communitarianism” are fuzzy concepts. He suggests that we do not need to think in tiny terms…
Lets recall that greatest cities of old were not so big…Rome of Michaelangelo 55,000
He offers some examples of thinking regarding community property.
Red state communities protest Wallmart in Wyoming and open their own clothing store
550 investors with 500 to 1000 dollars each…get in their coop 7% return
Renewed local economy in farmers markets, local radio, mercantile coops
Small scale energy production
We need to start thinking about community-based energy production
Not the single hippie with solar panels on his roof, off the grid, but imagine a community where all the houses facing South have solar panels, where there are requirements for solar roof tiles and shutters, where there are windmills scattered about town, all tied to the local grid, with small scale fuel burning power plants that produce electricity but heat that is pumped back out into local buildings. P.145
In fact the our current way of doing things with one plant far away is totally wasteful
And it is safer to have diffuse energy sources.
Buildings and institutions already use technology that goes in this direction
We should follow Europe in subsidizing such projects
Japan is king of solar projects, originally subsidized
He says that with temporary subsidies we really can get about ¾ of our electricity
Policy wise, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, start subsidizing solar
Decentralized system is the key for other parts of the world as well; it would half China’s carbon output, although currently they are rushing to develop centralized model
We have to take this seriously
We have to build wind turbines off Cape Cod and all sorts of other places
We need taxes to subsidize new forms of technology asap
Part of the reason why the local is good is that people are more willing to build and invest in wind and solar when it is used by them, not wasted by others
New technology is important but you need the public mentality to go with it.
Curitiba, Brazil has the best bus system. Buses have doors like trains, special lanes, and traffic lights are timed to turn for them…Curitibanos use ¼ energy of the urban Brazilians.
In America we used to have way more public transportation
Cohousing communities are springing up
Denmark, retirement homes, ecovillages
Irony is that this is that this is a conscious attempt to recreate the community present all over the world, but currently under assault as globalization advances and American hyper-individualism spreads.
McKibben indulges in a moment of historical speculation: “could it be that this modernity, this hyper-individuality is a phase through which humans need to pass before they can figure out its limitations?”
He says you can do the same kind of community property analysis (food radio energy above) for any commodity, e.g. lumber. He offers the example of Vermont Family Forests. Ecologically inspired they convince buyers to use irregular wood too. They thus get profit on lesser thinned trees, and it turns out this “imperfect” wood is much more beautiful than the homogeneous stuff typically demanded.
Local currency is explored.
Presently there are 4000 complementary currency schemes around the planet such as Burlington Bread, and Berk-shares.
Not really working, Berk-shares has three local banks, but the eey might be to have city-government get involved…employee pay, welfare, community projects, people could use to pay utilities…
We can have local entertainment too
Not just jam bands like Grateful Dead ☹, but all over England ☺it is about local talent
In Iowa in 1900 there were 1300 local Opera Houses…thousands of tenors earned adequate if modest livings
Less fame and fortune, but more chances to follow your dream
Education shows localism: from homeschooling, charter schools, specific attention to particular traditions
Smaller scale means more political participation in a real sense: in Vermont the politician lives next door. Quite the opposite in New York…with the black box of Albany, “where ideas go and disappear.”
Town hall meetings
Political participation is about happiness, makes you feel better about yourself, more alive
He relies on research here, but we could talk Hannah Arendt or Machiavelli
Regarding things politically, he finds it notable that responsible change in the US is coming from the “bottom up,” not from the “top down” as of yet. States, cities and regions are taking action on the environment, reducing emissions, buying local
Example of the internet: fits into the local in its democratic distribution,
more like a farmer’s market than a supermarket
Recall what the internet did for the Fair Trade Movement; this is an excellent example of movement which puts priorities other than efficiency and growth
And while he doesn’t mention it…stepitup2007 is another example of the internet put to use.
The Durable Future
In this chapter we have a comparative discussion of economic models: the China model of unfettered economic growth and other, counter models.
He begins with a visit to Yiwu, four hours by train from Shanghai
Factory town as mind-blowing as anything you find in China, Great Wall included.
An elaborate description of the miles of stalls of plastic shit to consume, stalls of merchandise from specific factories, the self-proclaimed “Sea of Commodities”
Now according to liberal economists or free-market propagandists such as Thomas Friedman, this Sea of Commodities reflects the allegedly necessary process of the division of labor…which allegedly makes the whole world richer — because it is more efficient — this is of course the gospel of free trade and globalization that the mainstream imbibes.
The “moral” part of the mainstream argument is that the growth of globalization is the only cure for poverty…to cure global poverty we must be to speed up the cycle of economic expansion.
We should follow the China model and/or look to the other Asian Tiger Economies: S. Korea and Taiwan
MK offers a pretty fascinating account of Chinese growth: the poor are leaving the countryside at about 30 million a year…
Ignorant peasants come to strange Las Vegas like urban places and suffer as did the unwashed in the European industrial revolution. Although, the realist notes that there is little doubt that for them More is meaningful increase in happiness as individuals.
But the fact is that the Chinese model can’t work for the Chinese or for any other nation… we humans cannot all drive cars, or eat meat like Americans.
The fact is that 40% of Chinese can make enough junk for the whole world…even with 60% of them still on the farm, hence people are loosing jobs everywhere.
The basic point is that the globalization model where China produces everything is bad not just for US jobs, but for jobs everywhere, in Mexico, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, you name it…
On this current model the rest of the world population moves to urban shanty towns as plantations emerge, pushing agrarian populations off the land. And although this trend might seem inevitable, we cannot just have all the poor, country people move to the slums…because unlike in China there are not jobs for them there.
China itself is becoming ecologically devastated, deserts advance, lacking water. National Geographic reports that they are committing “ecological suicide.”
Plus: if China continues to increasingly import food, food will become more expensive for everyone, everywhere.
The Chinese growth model where all is measured in GNP rapes the natural resources all over the planet, without measuring real costs, environmental costs, etc
Fact: NAFTA and free trade has meant disaster for farmers of the world
But the tide is changing: It seems there is an awareness in many parts…about inequality, the fact that people aren’t really so much happier, diets are worse, everyone under pressure
Latin America is against the neoliberal growth at all costs model, and has voted social democrats into power
In India Vajpayee’s party voted out in 2004
Social unrest even in China
And yet Americans of course are oblivious. And what is it that we currently export to the rest of the world: visions of obscene wealth through bizarro bling culture; we promote the culture of hyper-individualism at every turn.
In a cute point he notes an alternative to such obscene American exports; he notes that economists have calculated how much each American owes the rest of the world for excess carbon burning: between $273 and $1, 086…p.197
From here the chapter turns to a specific communitarian economic argument
One of the key economic justifications for industrialized farming is the claim that the traditional way of a communities sharing common land is not only inefficient, but allegedly doomed. The claim is that there is a “tragedy of the commons” which happens when one person of the community exploits some of the common land more than others…
But MK argues that this alleged historical necessity is not necessary at all, rather a historical contingency. The “tragedy of the commons” has happened in history when hyper-individualism came into contact historically with older, more community oriented ideas about land. He says that even in the US there are examples of successful community property. In New Mexico for instance, there are commonly managed irrigation ditches, operated with shared labor and an ancient code of conduct.
From a political theory perspective it is important to note this point. This is a moment where a cultural challenge to capitalism emerges
He is speaking about the enclosures of England two hundred years ago in the same breath as the “enclosures of the commons” of the broadcast frequency of radio!
Interestingly, he points out that commons that have been weakened can be strengthened…we can move in the other direction!
From here he turns to an international perspective to show how communitarian ethics can work and is working in specific locations.
As in India, the Navdanya, Nine Seeds Movement, protects local varieties of rice and staples.
In Gorasin, Bangladesh we have the New Farming Movement, Nayakrishi Andolon, totally organic, villagers themselves stopped using pesticides, tied to movements for feminism and biodiversity, food is not toxic, more nutritious
Asia and Africa alternative fertilizer, e.g. fish in rice paddies,
Do not need super sophisticated technologies for effective farming
A nice example from China is a guy who does rabbit farming, with an original fund from Heifer International. Now he has transformed a whole village with steady income, food, fur, and trade.
This guy Rens Xuping, has a local model where all the poor villagers become entrepreneurs yet remain locally rooted, without doing extensive environmental damage
Another model of Chinese rabbit production is from Wang Yumei, a 28 year old woman who wants to be the Perdue Style Queen of Chinese rabbits…
A nice example of the choice between the local and industrial…she will be calculated as part of growth and a success…he will not really hit the radar but will be better for the community and the environment.
Future Generations is a American nonprofit organization that promotes investment in people, not simply greater productivity…one example of their projects in from
India, in Himalayas, creating a bio-reserve with indigenous people
McKibben acknowledges that these examples are totally anecdotal, nowhere is there a really large scale…
Although he reminds us from Chapter 2: the spread of sustainable farming: Indonesia, Central America: All of these blend the local wisdom, and community knowledge, instead of the abstraction of Adam Smith filtered through WTO and World Bank
Other anecdotal evidence: people are moving away from cars
Brazil bus system to Holland’s bikes, to London’s congestion pricing
Best model alternative for developing countries to the china model is Kerala in South of India
30 million, very poor, per capita income a few dollars a day
Yet high life expectancy, literacy like 100 %, higher percentage post-graduate degrees than US, low birthrate, no holocaust of baby girls
People’s Science Movement, community gardens, spirit of equality
He acknowledges that the region is poor, clearly imperfect from a strictly economic standpoint as it does not have high productivity; it has deficits, low growth rate.
You could say that as it does not contribute to climate change it is a more successful economic model than ours is.
Reminder: Europe uses half as much energy as we do
Smaller houses and cars, more public transportation, more efficient appliances, workers are productive, have less income but work less, are more satisfied with quality of life, are happier!
Claim is that Europeans have more communitarian ethic, are more environmentally aware, are concerned to make a better world, are less materialistic
This I believe is part of European consciousness, that there is a significantly different, more life-affirmative world-view…a real alternative to the unfettered free-market ideology of the US.
On the positive side, there are ways of running our economy that waste less, spew less carbon, and produce more satisfaction…such a future is not only possible, but models can be found in embryo, adolescence and some places in maturity around the world.
But on the negative side, this change toward the local is likely necessary for human survival. Such change not only can help mitigate the effects, but will correspond to being able to survive the effects…i.e. we might want to move to Vermont.
Let’s keep in mind the whole oil issue
Some new stuff found, but biggest oil fields are playing out more quickly than expected
We are looking at a permanent energy crisis
Global warming is likely worse than we projected; positive feedbacks as planet warms…ice melts less reflection of the sun, soils are more microbially active, giving off more CO2
Hansen says we have less than a decade, James Lovelock says we are past the tipping point
McKibben reminds us, this all goes back to the ideology of growth
Local is important, because in the world that is emerging, you want a durable economy, a reliable community, heightened skill at democratic decision making…local is better for survival
We need farmers markets, local radio stations, neighborhood windmills
We need new thinking away from the cult of growth!