The Physics behind the end of infinite growth

I apologise if this has already been posted. I did a quick search but couldn’t find it. So here you go. It’s heavy but interesting.

[*Can Economic growth last? * (

Cheap and plentiful oil has been the prime driver of the 20th century, the supplies of the cheap and “easy” stuff is now reapdily declining and being replaced by oil that is much harder to extract as it’s in deep sea or polar regions, the recent discoveries are tiny in comparison with thise of the 1960s and earlier.

Food production for example uses something like ten jules of oil energy to produce one jule of food energy, something like 2 barrels of oil are used to raise a cow from calf to beefburger.
With so much of the economy totaly dependent on cheap energy, it’s little wonder we’re in a recession now!

The author seems to be pretty well clued in, given that he has addressed 2 issues which most people simply refuse to contemplate

Good. Most people flatly deny that technology is not going to help us out of this. We have to eliminate our blind faith in the myth of technology. It has fantastic uses, but squeezing blood out of a stone is not one of them.

No point in blaming politicians, it is WE who are responsible for raising our own levels of conciousness, and making adaptions ourselves.

It is somewhat reassuring that there has been a ground swell of voices calling for adaption to a non growth economy lately. Some voices of sanity amongst the madness of keynesians et al.

The problem with a no growth economy is that

a) all well structured economies grow by their very nature - so if its not growing its dying…and this soon turns into an exponential negative feedback loop. Northern Europe of the late antiquity will give you plenty of examples. In that case triggered by political instability, population decline and unfavorable climate.

b) a growing economy is one of the prerequisites for a fractional reserve banking system. No growing economy and you soon return to a standard of living of the pre-fractional days. Say 10% of today. Basically the standard of living of mid 18’th century England, but without the mortality rate. And the population was 10% of what is now, because that is carrying capacity of the much smaller economy.

Now the eco nuts may engage in these kinds of fantasies but anyone who thinks that mass murder and mass pauperisation (which would be the inevitable results of no growth policies) is not a good thing tend to think that all the unpleasant side-effects of growth is a small price to pay to avoid catastrophic collapse.

Yes. There is no such thing as growth or even up or down, in or out and so on, but as concepts they have their use but in entirely limited capacity and not to be understood as omni-gospel. A bit like local protocol for a regional citadel, a place in space and time but not much use anywhere else most of the rest of time, if that even exists either. Time that is. Probably an illusion too. I think about how the native American Indians say that the dream world, the world of the supernatural is so much more real than this time. I would have to agree. I find very much all of this to be totally unreal but it sure is fun and scary. So that takes me neatly to the Bill Hick rollercoaster quote and wonderful and playful analogy quoted time and time again here becasue it super fundamentally dimensional concept for this regional moment in space and time,

It seems to me the growth economy is cancer.

I don’t understand your last point. The “eco nuts” turn out to be the political elite who very deftly employ “mass murder” and “mass pauperisation” as you put it that is more aptly described as full spectrum eugenics by me, to further the bent of the cancer (growth economy). I would be completely confused if I did not know that none of it is real.

As for catastrophic collapse, again inbuilt, cancer. Then again is not real becasue there never is collapse. Only change.

You’re assuming the choices are:

  1. lets switch to a no growth economy cos its nicer
  2. continue with business as usual after patching up the current mess

Unfortunately neither are on the menu. We face declining energy and resource availability. There is no way to have growth with energy and resources in declining availability.

The real choices are

  1. switch to no growth and contraction managed proactively (much better done on a personal scale than on a large scale, thats why we dont need government to save us)
  2. collapse in a heap of shit

Which is all very well, but nobody needs government until they do. Those that don’t need it, think that nobody else should need it. That’s not much of a society…

If you are talking about perma low-growth, then it is probably that most people in the country will need government. Most of what currently exists in the country as employment will cease. Most of the products that are made here will cease to be made here (there is no compelling reason for them to be here).

my point wasnt to get rid of gevernment (they are sowing the seeds for that thermselves) it was to adapt without them. Very few of them have much of a clue. Eamon Ryan came out last year saying technology would save us in the end. (Not that I have any illusions about the green party. Theres something about the hardcore eco left that reaks of more hubris than the rest combined).

Another way of saying that is to use a strategy of dissensus as opposed to consensus, which is the way the real world works anyway. Everyone plods along doing their own thing. If someone finds a meme worth mutating to, others will follow. Compare that to government schemes built upon consensus, with massive one way bets on long odds, sure to waste $$$$$$$$

Fair enough.

Yogan remember the people are the Government. It is the efforts of a few to shield the many from this glaring fact that stop something otherworldly happening. Ultimately unsuccessful I might add, despite their efforts and try as they might the growth mongers do wish to relight the embers of a once glorious bonfire that burned all materially!

The awakening happens within first. Know they self.

The system as I have pointed out over the years perpetually ensures you rarely get a moment to consider this. Since Ireland, a supposed nation state, as it currently exists, is not really founded on a dream or deeper vision (if you look you will find the early sparks of dreamers but no legacy in testament to a dreamers idyll surrounds you). The things we love so dearly are borne from dreams and no system will survive if it ceaselessly continues to dam up the dream force of humans kind.

As a child you are asked by persons and by institutions, “What do you want to be when you grow up” as if you are incomplete, unsure, never asked “who are you?”… “If you are not sure please help us and join us and see if you can find yourself but in love we try to help you find the answer knowing that whoever you are you have a place at the table of humanity”.

Radical? No. Just engaging the powers that really be.

If employment ceases beyond some structural metric then you will know the transformation has begun and feel less inclined to wonder about unreal metrics as they will take on the form of the surreal as you gaze back into the misty caverns of the past your eyes barely able to discern that ancient hologram as they can hardly adjust in the blazing light of the future.

In view of it all over these years. A huge portion of the planets population have been drawn and woven astray. Opening a hole where spirit prey not. It is the great untapped spiritual bedrock soul that will see the transformation through. Those many will turn. In unison as they have always but guided not by a black light but a shining light. First inner and then outer. As above. So below.

Of course Ireland is founded on a vision – just not one that most people are interested in anymore.

Btw, when Bill Hicks died did he become God? … 'cos I keep coming across people who seem to think he is infinitely more than some mildly amusing dead guy. :slight_smile:

Historically, economic growth has been driven primarily by improvements in technology. There is no reason to believe that technology will not continue to advance.

If energy and resources become more expensive, then the kind of growth we get will be the kind that uses less energy and resources. We’ll probably get more electronics, healthcare and services, and less heavy industry and conventional agriculture. People may travel less, and use more teleconferencing. People may be more likely to put on some extra clothes than turn on the heating. Meat may once again become a luxury that is only rarely affordable.

The relative prices of things will change, in much the same way that a hundred years ago a middle class family could afford live-in domestic servants, whereas now they are the preserve of the super-rich.

Growth may slow down as the most energy-inefficient parts of the economy are wound down. But in the mid to longer term, growth will resume and continue, driven by improvements in technology.


To paraphrase Bobbysgirl, “Necessity is the mother of invention”.

To paraphrase Murphy’s Law, “Nature is a mother”.

Growth is a function of the increase in energy use. End of story. You are confusing the tertiary economy, with the real economy. All wealth comes from non renewable and renewable resources. The secondary and tertiaty economies come from the primary economy. Technology helps unlock the energy, but its the energy that drives growth. Without the energy, technology is useless.

Growth did not happen from technology. It happened by unlocking massive amounts off fossil fuels. The romans knew about the steam engine, but all sources of energy were used for other things at the time.

Have another read of the article posted by OP and do some more research for yourself. Your assumptions are all incorrect, but very common.

I think we’ve entered the realm of arguing about semantics at this point. If we define the “real” economy to exclude services, electronics, software, health care, pharmaceuticals, banking, education, and anything else that doesn’t require large amounts of energy, then you’re absolutely right. But by doing so, you are excluding most of the economy where real people actually work and make a living.

It’s not clear to me that changing the meaning of everyday words in order to construct an argument is useful.


Wrong. There was a very complex industrial society long before fossil fuels. The Greco Roman empire at its height was equivalent to the UK of the 1790’s. A very sophisticated fully integrated economy of 60 million people. Large scale industrial production in the Greco-Roman tradition only ended with the final period of the Byzantine Empire in the late 12’the century when it was undermined and destroyed by the Italian trading empires. And not a lump of coal in sight.

It was technology and culture that unleashed the modern industrial revolution. Technology put the evolution of economic development on an exponential curve, and culture made thrift a virtue and slavery a vice. A very good case could be made that it was the institution of slavery that prevented the Gerco-Roman world from making the jump to a modern industrial society. Because almost all the other preconditions seemed to have been there. A comparison of industrial development in the Northern and Southern US states pre and post Civil War would seem to support this idea.

So the the exploitation of fossil fuels is a pull rather than a push effect.

Plus I would not worry about fossil fuels. We’re good for another few hundred years. And once the bio-engineering guys create a bug that turns kerogen into lighter hydro-carbons the whole subject becomes moot.

A. Two farms.

One utilising 1920’s fuel oil driven machinery running at around 10% efficiency. Even more if you account for the alloys utilised in the blades so they blunt more quickly, and mechanisms that produce much more friction and do less work for each rotation.

The other farm utilises 21st century machinery driven by a hybrid combination of rapeseed and electricity produced by wind/solar on the farm, operating at 90% efficiency.

Which contributes more to economic growth for a given input of energy?

B. Three mines.

One utilising manpower and pickaxes.

One utilising 1920’s machinery and exploration methods.

One utilising modern methods of geology and the latest machinery from caterpillar and Volvo, and crushers from Japan.

Which contributes more to economic growth for a given input of energy?

C. Two factories producing bridges

One comprises a 1930’s style operation, utilising a large forge and milling machines, producing oversized steel section, and utilising big gussets for weld strengths.

The modern one utilises a much higher strength steel so it can be much more efficient in its use of raw material, and it has much better welding techniques so that it need not use big gussets. It runs CAD/CAM software, running CNC machinery, and can output the same product as the 1930’s factory in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the energy consumption.

Which contributes more to economic growth for a given input of energy?

The above are just a couple of examples from the primary and secondary economies. But the tertiary and quaternary sectors do indeed propagate economic growth. Both in how they feed back into the primary and secondary economies to enable them to do more with less, and in the growth that they are capable of generating themselves from less and less raw materials and infrastructure.

Take an extreme example. Imagine that tomorrow, all of a sudden, we had only 5% of today’s quantity of oil available to us, and its price went to 100 euro a litre. What would happen?

Would we park all of our ingenuity and energy? Would the collapse in economic growth stemming from that scenario remain like so indefinitely? Or would we find a way to renew it?

That extreme example won’t come to pass. But the same thing will happen slowly. It is happening already.

All sectors of the economy requires energy to function, the light energy users need heavy industry to provide the “backbone” that they rely on, the construction of infrastructure requires huge amounts of energy.

You can have all the Ipods and on-line banking you want, but if the energy becomes so expensive that you can’t afford to do your basic grocery shopping then it really doesen’t matter about growth in tose sectors as the decline elsewhere will more than cancel it out.