Ken Melvin’s Look Ahead

This one is by Ken Melvin…


We ever hear that we must keep on growing the economy. Given the operative economic model, growth implies more consumption, more production. Impossible! Simply impossible! This model only extends as long as there are unlimited resources, which of course there never were. [Much of the ‘growth’ to date has been at the expense of irreplaceable resources (there was no accounting for replacement)]. Yet, with resources stretched nearly to the limit and global warming breathing down our necks, we still hear the growth will lead us out mantra. Best, with China and India joining this grow (read consume) your way to prosperity parade and the rest of Asia, Latin America and Africa forming up to join at the rear, we figure out another way. Needed, new economics, economics that best provide for the most while using minimal resources.

Whither the economic model that requires just enough production, just enough resources to provide most those things essential a comfortable life? Time and time to start this search, and somewhere is good a place to begin.

First, a quick glance at where we are. Then, a few thoughts on what’s possible.

How much slack in the system? How much less usage of resources with more efficient utilization, reuse and recycling? Why make the buy today throw away tomorrow? Why make anything that won’t last? Why make anything other the reusable/recyclable of anything other the recycled/reusable?

Today: Millions upon millions of resource intensive automobiles are produced, most of which sit unused the greater portion of the time. Americans buy houses at least two times too large fifty miles from anywhere that sit unoccupied the greater portion of the time. People buy so much they don’t need they have to rent storage for the unneeded before they have room for the new unneeded they want to buy (‘Go shopping”, the President said.) How much is being wasted on the under-utilized and unnecessary?

How efficient is the automobile as a means of transportation? Not very, is it? What are the real transportation needs? What would be the cost in terms of resources of a system that provided the requisite transportation? How much CO2 producing fossil fuel energy goes into the production of underutilized automobiles? Now, … the same questions of the McMansion houses.

How efficient is exporting America’s manufacturing to China and then importing the manufactured goods? Let’s add the replacement cost to the price of fossil fuel used in this transport of goods then recalculate the cost of the imports from China. Shouldn’t energy costs now and henceforth also include the cost of cleaning up the atmosphere?

We are running, have run out of options on global warming; much of the pending damage is probably irreversible; yet, continuing on as we are will make it much worse. Thus it is that any cuts in energy consumption pay double dividends. (Note: Running out of oil may prove to be a blessing.)

It’s safe enough to assume that we could provide a very comfortable living for the first world using far fewer resources. With how much room to spare? Is it possible to do so, and vastly improve the lots of the billions of Chinese, Indians, Latin Americans, Africans, …? With less in toto resource consumption than now? Yes, that’s right, less! Big step, no?

That we can and must ever keep on growing the economy is one of two great fallacies abounding. The other is that conservation is the answer to the population problem. Conservation to allow for population growth facilitates population growth. Simply providing the earth’s current level of population a decent standard of living requires severe reduction of resource use and may not even be possible. Further population increase demands more of the earth’s resources, ensures more widespread poverty.

Mechanism for distribution:

Today, producing manufactured goods requires an ever diminishing, one-fourth that of forty years ago and decreasing, workforce per unit of production. Moreover, the current economic model’s wealth distribution is premised on the rewarding of the same said no longer needed productive labor. So imbedded this premise that today it is a moral issue. So we not only need develop a new economic model, we’ll be requiring a change in morals. But how moral the model that requires man labor in service another the forty-hour week? Less moral than the sixty or eighty hour week? Than child labor? Ah, morals, they serve us well. So, how immoral the ten-hour week?

How distribute wealth in this new economic system? We’ll need redefine work to include things other production. Perhaps, contribution is a better, more descriptive term? Maybe expand the concept of service to include such as the arts and mentoring? Arts are the measure of a great society, no? We can always use cleaner safer streets and more, more beautiful parks. Again, there is no reason people need ‘work’ a given number of hours per day, per week…

Distribution was a problem with the old model; oh, there were a few good years in the middle of the twentieth century when it worked pretty well, but of late and prior that time, it didn’t really work for most. In any new model, workers/contributors should be paid for their contribution and management for theirs; and, if investors are required, they’re entitled a return. For sure, the flow aspect of the old model will be greatly lessened due the reduced consumption; so, too, its role in distribution. Rather someone getting to hold onto their paycheck a few hours, maybe they get to hold on to a lesser amount for a longer time.

Am I being shrill? Hopefully. Too shrill? Impossible. Economics and global warming are inextricably linked. Humankind may try to muddle through this, allowing economics to evolve as before, but this time there isn’t time. Some risk you don’t take no matter the odds. Even if we could limp along a while longer with today’s economics to do so would only accelerate global warming.

If we don’t act quickly (and perhaps even if we do everything possible) many, many are going to be displaced; many are going to die. As food becomes more and more scarce and habitable areas few and far between, the rich will use armed militias to kill others so as to get their food and resources – a return to Barbarianism – in an effort to survive. But this is not that much different from what we are now doing under Bush and Cheney, is it?


This one was by Ken Melvin.

I note… I wouldn’t predict a return to Barbarism here in the US or in the “civilized world.” But we’ve certainly all collectively stood aside while a return to barbarism occurred in some parts of the world… the Sudan, for instance. So while the post above may seem pretty shrill, I’m not sure how shrill it is.