What if... The economy never grows again!

There are a number of scenarios that would result in the economy resembling a retreating tide rather than an advancing one (imagine the waves on a beach is coming in during a rising tide, each wave advances further than the previous one, the reverse being true for a receding tide).

The decline after peak oil (2005) continues to destroy demand due to the ever increasing costs involved in extracting the 80% that left as it’s harder to get!

Chindia decides to look inwards (& east) and drop their trade with the west.

Measures implamented to stop Global warming/ climate change (if you believe in it) stifle the economy.

Some other vital resources become scarce.

Something else.

If any of the above scenarios were to happen, how would an economy structured to indefinite growth adapt?

just to pull you up on one thing
there will be few if any meaningful measures to restrict climate change
there will be plenty of money spent on dealing with the consequences, but to prevent?, not a chance
How do I know that?
well look at copenhagen etc, we can expect that trend to continue
when times get tough, we wil be more concerned about what else we can consume unsustainably (ref recent thread about ‘what animals we can eat’ :slight_smile: )

regarding politics, again we can expect current trends to continue, more taxes, declining services, move towards self suffuciency, reduced economic and political freedom, more economic bubbles, rise of right wing politics, xenophobia and the biggie, collapse of the welfare state

its hard to predict the future, but not so hard to note trends and extrapolate

but seeing as you have provoked some speculation, we have a fertile country (we produce 1/3 europes beef) and the lowest population density of any developed country in the world that doesnt have a substantial barren wilderness land mass, as well as being the only fertile country in the world that doesnt have substantial soil degradation, apart from Japans south island (but thats not very fertile) In conjunction to that, we lare located beside a high density island that is grossly overpopulated in terms of food self sufficiency, and we are on a path to losing our sovereignty…go figure…

Yes, I’ll go along with all of that, the climate change stuff was just to fill in the list as I can’t see any agreements there as they involve activly restricting “growth”

With oil, the Export land model indicated that could be no oil at all for us in 30 years or so, I can see the US ringfencing dwindling supplies for themselves when push comes to shove.

I would be interested to see if anyone can see how any economic system can work sucessfully in a declining world!

Wars over arable land, a very real possibility in the future, greater risk from mass migrations first though.

Plenty of people agree with you.


Or the long one:

One potential workign scenario I can see would be based on a decentrailised [anarcho-capati(Anarcho-capitalism - Wikipedia) ethos combined with pervasive knowledge of ecology and ecosystems throughout the population, so that communities will know how to make best use of scarce resources in a way that will leave a tolerable living inheritance for their decendents. One very notable concept which will evolve will be that of succession, which is well underway now.

Fortunately as Irish people we are internationally recognized and admired as being a very hardy, resilient race, with strong social ties: Any Irish person alive today has survived the devastating cull of the worst famine to hit Europe in 1000 years only 6 generations back, so the strong survivalist gene is there in most of us. This, combined with our natural advantages noted previously, should make the transition substantially easier for us compared to some of our less fortunate cousins. The big question is how we protect our sovereignty against invading hordes, who have previously demonstrated a keen interest in our natural assets

However, in the short term we will probably have a more difficult than average time, being one of the most oil dependent countries in europe and suffering heavily from the economic bubble we recently participated in, resulting in large scale emigration (wrongly in my opinion, the destinations of most emigrees are not well placed in the longer term) for short term economic reasons

energybulletin.net/stories/2 … end-growth

The more I look the More I find that my viewpoint is not as doomeristic as I originally thought.

No, I don’t think it is doomerist at all. Indeed, given population ageing, and not just in the west, I think that permagrowth has peaked, at least for the moment. Personally, I expect a generation or two of stagnation as technical advances either only match or fail to match resource constraints (including people in the resource category).

I reckon there is a 50-50 chance that viable nuclear fusion (not tokamak based) will be demonstrated in the next five years, and take permagrowth to the next level.

I would agree with this.

Wait till everyone else figures this out, that’s when the fun starts :confused:

Judging by how long its taken some of the country to figure out about property prices, it’ll be quite a few years before the ‘fun’ starts.

I think that the “fun” will start in about 10 years when the supply of oil drops below that required for BAU, even after demand destruction caused by a series of price spikes. If the US decides to maintain BAU will they start ringfencing supplies from the Middle east and deny Europe!

We don’t need to wait for nuclear fusion. We already have nuclear fission which will do the job perfectly well for us. Of course we will probably have resource wars as our industrial and agricultural industries are based on oil but long term nuclear will close the gap. Ideally the nuclear deterrent and the fact that the US has already secured the major remaining reserves will prevent any large scale warmongering.

Nuclear fuel is a finite resource too, And like oil it is getting harder and harder to extract as all of the best ores are used up.

This isn’t true. Currently only 4% of the fuel used in conventional light water reactors is actually used, the rest ends up sitting in a pond. Imagine the entire nuclear industry is based on using only 4% of their fuel with the rest available for reuse after reprocessing. So of the used fuel there is still an enormous amount of fertile fuel (not fissile so it requires a different reactor to run, namely a breeder). This is because modern reactors are designed to burn up fissile U-238 and not U-235 which requires a breeder reactor. There is an enormous amount of depleted Uranium (U-235) in the world, as most of it is discarded during enrichment to produce LEU for nuclear fuel rods which can be added to the amount currently sitting in ponds.
If proper breeder reactors are used this can be turned into a fissile fuel by neutron capture.
Uranium has not been in great demand for a very long time due to the lack of new reactors and no active development of existing mines or prospecting for new mines has been conducted. Unlike oil which has been subjected to serious prospecting over the last 60+ years.

This of course assumes we only use uranium for our breeder fuel, we could instead use thorium in breeder reactors and thorium is not a rare element. In fact it is estimated to be 3-4 times more abundant than uranium.

The main reason none of these avenues have been explored in any commercial detail is because the nuclear plants are perfectly happy to use single pass fuel rods with no recycling as there is no really need to go through the hassle of reprocessing as there is no shortage.

EDIT: Just to put the tonnes of depleted uranium mentioned in the article in context, approx. 30 tonnes of used fuel is removed from a nuclear reactor every year of which 96% (28.8 tonnes is depleted uranium). Therefore each 1000MW reactor actually transmutes only 1.2 tonnes of fissile material a year. That’s all 1.2 tonnes of U-238 is producing 1000MW for a whole year!! Incredible isn’t it.

Available resources depend on available technology. Stone-age man didn’t count offshore oil among his available resources. Not sure that the ‘end-to-growth’ people get this.

I agree with you, but imagine if stone-age man ran out of stone. He may, in theory, know that bronze can be produced, but there may be a lag between running out of stone and producing bronze. Rarely is a civilsation faced with a technological wall to climb without which (without climbing) it loses impetus. Of course, by rarely, I discount all those civilsations that hit the wall face first…

And yet we don’t see fission replacing coal and gas right now, which is a sure sign that it is more expensive for whatever reason. It may well be that those reasons are political and regulatory, stemming from fears over proliferation and safety. Nevertheless, in the US it takes decades to build a new reactor, and here in Ireland we seem to have ruled it out forever. A knock-on consequence is that engineering expertise in building fission plants is thin on the ground, and R&D (e.g. into MSR/LFTR and pebble bed) thinner still. I think we’ll need a hefty price/supply shock to wake us up.

A clean version of fusion on the other hand would be an instant game changer. (Although admittedly, they said that about fission too, many decades ago).

You hit the nail on the head regarding the political and regulatory issues. Add to those the enormously powerful oil/gas/renewable energy lobby who have an interest in starving the nuclear industry of resources. People don’t understand nuclear energy so they’re afraid of it.

You are correct about the lack of expertise regarding building energy plants in many countries however this is not an insurmountable problem and many countries have a much more enlightened stance than our backwater ignorant republic and the USA. Lots of countries such as France, China, Korea and India have plenty of nuclear expertise both industrial and academic. When we face an oil shock rest assured that the very best will be recruited to solve the problem. China is particularly proactive (surprise surprise) and has plans to build their own line of reactors based on the AP1000. Finland are building a new reactor right now.

I agree with you we will need a price shock to wake us up. The transition will be extremely painful however I am simply stating it might be the end of the world as we know it for a period of time but we can and will recover from peak oil using existing technology and expertise. We do not have to wait for the magic silver bullet of nuclear fusion.

If we make a breakthrough in non tokamak reactors such as the polywell great. However I really don’t see nuclear fission in a breeder configuration as inferior. Especially as there are no major theoretical or engineering problems.