Sunday, May 27, 2012

Clive Thompson — Nothing Grows Forever

On moving from an unlimited growth to a steady-state model.

Read it at Mother Jones
Nothing Grows Forever
By Clive Thompson
(h/t Kevin Fathi via email)


Septeus7 said...

Yes. When our cells stop growing and replacing themselves ( a growth process) we call this death. On the species level then steady state occurs just before extinction. A steady economy in economics is called the Malthusian disaster. The goal the "progressives" in progressive era historically has been to oppose the royalist anti-poor economics of Malthus and other British Imperialist.

Why keep bringing this pro real austerity agenda up? What good is it to believe in MMT which points out the monetary issues of running out of money is a bogus argument and thus the arguments fiscal austerity are false but then turn around and attack real growth. Isn't the purpose of soft currency to have real growth?

Why point out the fallacy of fiscal austerity but then call for real physical austerity? I simply don't understand.

Clonal said...


Cell replacement followed by cell death is not the same thing is growth. The only cell masses that continue to grow indefinitely in the human body are cancerous growths.

See Cancer cells vs. normal cells: what's different?

Tom Hickey said...

I think that the issue is what constitutes "real growth." Neoliberalism has a particular view of that which is now being contested and alternatives offered. The idea of steady state is not using up physical resources unnecessarily just to grow GPD through neoliberal capitalism.

The biological model is actually a good model. The organism is constantly replacing cells but physical growth ceases upon maturity. That's just the beginning of the productive life of the organism. Growth is becomes qualitative rather than quantitative.

Is qualitative growth less real than quantitative, or unreal? Depends on one's definition. Is expansion of distributed prosperity based on innovation and doing more with less less real than burning through resources? Is expansion of leisure over labor not qualitative growth?

The point is that there are other ways to "grow" than despoiling the environment and creating the potential for an ecological disaster so that a small portion of the population can enjoy an increasing opulent lifestyle.

Trixie said...

Haven't kept up with the EZ as of late, but looks like someone is finally standing up to Merkel:

Unforgiven said...

Europe's getting tired of the Merkle-jerk? That's the best news I've heard in a while!

Trixie said...


Also know as Jerkle. You need to be sitting in a Cerkle first.

Trixie said...

Wait, let me qualify:

Cercle Jerkle

Take THAT metaphor and "correct" it.

Leverage said...


For most of its history humanity hasn't 'grown' in economic output terms. Growth is a very loaded word nowadays, what is growth anyway?

Most growth that has occurred in last decades that is not monetized is not accounted as growth, however the impact in our lives has probably been higher than a lot of the growth in production output and trade.

For 150k-200k years humanity has had very slow growth, in the last 2 millennia, most of the time there was no growth in output, periods like the ones we have experienced are rare events in nature and are not necessarily followed by extinction (that's just bogus), in fact ecosystems can remain fairly stable even without growing populations and consumption of energy, for millions of years, and what is better, keep evolving with time!

There has been short periods where growth explosions happened (like our last 2 centuries), a lot of times followed by as disastrous collapses. We still have thermodynamic limits (also usually ignored by economists), and we need to have breakthroughs in technology for production output to continue.

If you could grow yourself into prosperity Egypt would be a thrilling nation, but is not, Egypt is the example of what happens when population growth reaches physical limits. Japan, to the contrary, despite all the nay saying by westerns, has been fairly stable the last 2 decades, despite decreasing population and no growth, and that hasn't mean a collapse in consumption either, which has continued well and good.

growth for the sake of growth is an absurd idea just entangled into the status quo. In fact, despite geometric growth and consumerism, we haven't achieved more happiness, to the contrary, we have had an increase in mental illness and consumption of psychopharmacs in the last decades, really sad.

The explanations of orthodox economics are each day more dissatisfying and totally disconnected with reality and history.

Matt Franko said...

Ive often wondered if 7B humans could physically exist today if for the last centuries people didnt go underground and bring up hydrocarbons that were subsequently oxidized into CO2 that was subsequently sequestered in plants that humans eat (either directly or indirectly) to build their actual flesh and bone bodies.

Where else could the Carbon have come from? (Closed system again).

Human flesh and bone bodies are 18% Carbon by mass. We eat and excrete and re-sequester (undergound) multiples of that 18% human body mass of Carbon every year.

If we didnt go underground and bring up Carbon to oxidize how long until we would all be dead? Having "eaten" all of the Carbon out of the atmosphere. (darned Closed system again)


Leverage said...

Closes system in practice, but not really that closed. All this captured and concentrated carbon forms come from Sun power.

The whole galaxy may be the closed system in practice in the distant future, the Solar system may be the closed system in the not so distant future, and we are now fairly limited to the closed system that is the planet. But even so, by our wonderful universe laws, disaggregation or addition of particles can create an insane amount of raw energy in the process, so we are virtually unlimited on the energy we need. If there is a God, certainly has provided us with more than we will ever need.

The problem is how much of this power is retained, and how fast is transformed into these concentrated forms, or how efficient we are recapturing and reusing the energy in the current closed system (waste reduction).

It's a question to find ways around the problems presented by thermodynamic limits through technology, as depending on which level we are working with nature we can measure the quantity of energy we can capture and use in one order of magnitude or an other.

paul meli said...

"…Closes system in practice, but not really that closed…"

Closed in the sense that the number of elemental atoms remains unchanged regardless of the energy input.

Energy input can cause chemical reactions that change some molecules into other forms but the number of elemental atoms don't increase or decrease.

Leverage said...

That's true in the sense that there aren't high energy natural reactions (with the exception of some natural 'nuclear reactor' below the mantle) in the Earth to create new atoms through fission or fusion.

But recombination of atoms and molecules and capture of exogenous energy (irradiated by the Sun) works good with the current climate temperatures. I'm certain that we have more than enough carbon in the planet to get going (as well as other elements) basically at our hands (don't have even to dig for it).

Only it's a very slow process, so we have to find artificial ways to accelerate the recombination of these atoms/molecules to fit our purposes. But I think we will be able to do it, though if we keep thinking we have run out of money we will head into the abyss.

Hopefully in the future we will even be able to create matter out of energy and the other way around, even creating elements from other elements (finally some use for all that useless gold) in a sustainable and massive scale way, ie. not using nuclear reactor or through particle accelerators which can't do it in a massive way (neither efficient).

Clonal said...

Andreas Rossi says "Within a week we will have important news regarding the high temperature reactors."

Clonal said...

Also Rossi: Reliable E-Cat Stability at 600C “Very Close”

Q: Does it start with the same time of the the “first” ecat or is it more faster to began to work? A: Faster

Q: Does it uses the same quantity of Ni/H? A: Less

Q: Do you think it still can work for 6 month with one recharge or the new version “burns” NI/H faster? A: Yes

Q: Are the “ashes” still composed with 30% copper or something’s changed? A: Changed

Q: Do you think this new product will require a different certification from the “old” version? A: Yes

Q: When the new product will be released, this will replace the first version or do you think you’ll sell both products: A: No: they have different purposes

The very important target right now is to stabilize reliably the reactor that works at 600 Celsius. We are very close.

Matt Franko said...

Hey Clonal,

If that guy isnt completely bullshitting, OMG!!!!


Clonal said...


That isn't all - I am developing something that will allow people to keep all their natural teeth well into old age - now that is revolutionary!

Leverage said...

The Rossi thing is too controversial, nothing definitive for now... Too much deception going around.

But look at this, also very interesting:

Tom Hickey said...

"That isn't all - I am developing something that will allow people to keep all their natural teeth well into old age - now that is revolutionary!"

Hey, Ayurveda did that centuries ago.

Clonal said...


Much Much better than that!

Clonal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clonal said...

Then there is this - What Happened to Cold Fusion? - This is Michael McKubre speaking at Cafe Scientifique at SRI International

He talks of Rossi starting part 5

Septeus7 said...

Re Clonal: "Cell replacement followed by cell death is not the same thing is growth. The only cell masses that continue to grow indefinitely in the human body are cancerous growths."

I disagree. The economy is not one thing growing but rather many different markets for many kinds of goods and services just like a body has growth of many different kinds of cells.

Economic growth is qualitative not quantitative. The typical Malthusian idea of growth correctly point to the limits of a particular quantitative growth of of a thing but incorrectly say that is determinative.

True economic value exists in as a different kind of thing. It exist in an entirely different mathematical space.

It's true that limit physical limit to the number of 3-Axis mills that would be practical but that doesn't mean we will have an end to growth when we reach that number because someone just needs to invent a 5-axis mill and it's economic value is of a higher qualitative value and thus economic growth continues.


Septeus7 said...

Real economic growth is measure by the qualitative transformations and the nature of such physical transformation is not subject to thermodynamics and thus economic development cannot even be reduced simplistic Newtonian physics (you've defined the wrong phase space reductionist idiots).

Let's go back to biology. It is true that every organism reaches a quantitative limit of cells beyond which we call cancer but there another limit which is qualitative limit beyond which we call scenesense and taking an organism as whole in terms of of it being singularity of reproductive cycle whereby the species must have a replacement rate of higher quality cells at a rate which female don't reach reproductive scenesense and therefore qualitative growth is requirement of life for billions of years.

Clonal, ask yourself the question how do you determine the age of species as a whole?

There is no steady state in the physically qualitative sense if people are creative and intelligent enough to recognize qualitative physical changes (most scientists are no longer able to do this because of the pseudoscience of information and systems theory so their opinions are decreasing relevance for the reason Telsa stated back in the 1920s) then there are no limits to growth.

Clonal said...


Read William Catton's overshoot and also see Bartlett's Lecture The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See

You can only do so much mathematical magic before collapse occurs - because people want to exchange financial wealth for real hard things which take real resources to make, and are not imaginary or "qualitative" - you can only fool most of the people for only some of the time! Somebody or the other wises up!

Leverage said...

This is a failed attempt to deny reality, facts. Facts are that the consumption of REAL RESOURCES provided by the biosphere has progresses geometrically in the last 10 years, period.

Humanity has yet to achieve the dissociation of resource and natural capital consumption from growth; I'm all for quality growth, but reality is that the current model does not pursue this fundamentally, and so is limited by thermodynamic limits, period.

Developed nations haven't been able to develop sufficient 'qualitative' growth to achieve sufficient social sustainability and cohesion and hence decided to pursue consumption based growth (it's the nature of capitalism) creating production bubbles everywhere (real estate, and by derived effect, consumption of goods and ultimately energy). This has only been tamed by the obvious: demographic stabilization (and slow decline), the only hope we have is this specie has to survive.

Developed nations need to stabilize consumption and leave the little spare biosphere capacity to provide goods for developing nations growth, electrification and education must be pursued fast if humanity has to survive the next couple of centuries. Once this has been done developing nations have to stabilize and decrease population.

Otherwise collapse is "imminent" (in the next two centuries) and mass extinction unavoidable (>50% of the world population), pursuing consumption growth is a failed model which will drive us to extinction until we can secure sufficient energy extraction from the environment and work around thermodynamic problems of a semi-closed system like the earth (rising temperatures, ie.), hopefully qualitative growth product of human creativity, which is unlimited (correct about that) will offset the unavoidable malthusian forces (Malthus, which was forever right and the onyl economist who has yet to be demonstrated wrong) that lead us to collapse, but meanwhile risks are too high and too much is a stake, and changing growth models pursued by the current economic establishment of denial.