I’m currently reading a book called The End of Oil, by Paul Roberts, which details the swiftly approaching demise of easy and cheap oil. And it’s interesting because the book is mainly written from the perspective of conventional economics, which is to say that growth equals profit. But what I’ve been realizing as I’ve been reading this book is that the author is not detailing simply the end of the age of oil—he is also detailing the end of a certain economic perspective.
It is true that there are no means of supporting current and expected future energy demands simply through alternative energies such as wind, solar, carbon captured coal, or otherwise. Which essentially means that we will no longer be able to support lifestyles such as we are enjoying right now in industrial nations. Our economic system, which is completely reliant on hydrocarbons at every level, will seemingly collapse. But here’s where the new economic vision steps in. We can make money, and we can have fulfilling lives, without burning MORE energy and without creating MORE waste. But this doesn’t seem possible according to conventional perspectives of economic growth through increasing supply and demand.
All one has to do is to look at nature to understand that value and resource enrichment does not entail endless growth and expansion. When an ecosystem is developing, then yes, it does expand and grow. But eventually, as in an old-growth forest, it stabilizes and simply replenishes itself through an endless recycling of its own resources. And this is exactly where our economic systems will need to be headed.
So our economy, according to conventional perspectives, is headed for disaster. But if you’re looking at it in terms of a necessary and natural evolution, then it is actually headed for transformation. It is hard for some of us to envision, as it is difficult to completely redefine all that you have known in the old paradigm of growth and expansion capitalism (also known as colonialism). This does not mean that we are not in store for some extreme turbulence. No transformation is easy. There will likely be much more blood shed and a desperate last minute scrambling for resources as politicians and corporations embedded in the old paradigm try to hold onto their sanity and power. But like King Lear, once the paradigm has shifted, they will be left destitute and bitter unless they learn to adapt now, incrementally, rather than suddenly later.
We have been tied to this tired old capitalistic game of endless growth and expansion (even when only self-imagined, ala Enron) for far too long now, and the earth is letting us know, in no uncertain manner, that we have begun breaching the limits of resource extraction and depletion. So it is high time that us human beings learned how to root ourselves in deep and truly live like trees, rather than like Kentucky bluegrass.