[Marxism] Is Growth Over?

ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu
Fri Jan 18 20:09:54 MST 2013

Shane made an eloquent case that we can continue to grow if
we switch to renewable energies.  I reproduce his essay
below because he sent it three days ago.  My answer is:
energy is *the only* resource where our planet receives a
new supply every day.  In every other respect, the earth is
a closed system.  Therefore only that production is
sustainable in which every waste of one production process
is the raw material for a different production process or
can be used as food by some life forms, and for
sustainability it can only use inputs which are waste
materials from other production processes or living
organisms instead of depleting the finite store of
low-entropy ores.  Modern industrial production does not
meet this test, on the contrary, it literally makes a mess
of our planet.  Modern industrial production is like an
elephant in a porcelain store which gets bigger every day
and smashes more and more porcelain every day and is about
to drown in a sea of porcelain chards.  For instance the
nanofibers which Shane wants to introduce into the
environment on a large scale cannot be broken down by living
beings; they form long microscopic needles which destroy
life on a cellular level similar to asbestos crystals or
alpha radiation.  Most of our technology fixes one problem
by creating a different problem.  We are far away from
technology which integrates into the earth system in a
sustainable way.  In this respect I am a technological
pessimist: we are not gods who can make nature subservient
to us, we are part of nature and we must learn to live in
harmony with nature.  The fossil fuel bonanza has given us
the illusion that we are omnipotent, it is time to wake up
from this dream.


On Jan 16, 2013, at 2:40 PM, ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu wrote:
> The times of cheap and abundant energy are over and climate
> change is starting to make everything more difficult and
> expensive...

  But are they?  I say not.  Far from over, the times of cheap  
(virtually free) energy have yet to begin.  But they are literally in  
the process of beginning.  The sun, powered by an absolutely  
inexhaustible energy source, delivers to our planet much more energy  
than a world population twice our size could conceivably utilize. It  
is merely a matter of capturing that energy and restoring it to its  
original form, electricity.  That is what solar photovoltaics and  
aeolian turbines are all about,  And far from "everything" being more  
difficult and expensive we are seeing rapid and accelerating declines  
in the cost of energy captured by these techniques and of the  
necessary equipment itself.  This without the many more advanced  
technologies now being developed and disclosed constantly all over the  
world. And without any of the conceivable and likely scientific/ 
technological advances yet to be made.

Now more than ever in history scientific/technological pessimism is  
utterly stupid.  Raw materials are absolutely no constraint when  
carbon nanofibers can be made into substitutes for every metal that  
are superior to the original in every respect.  Scientific progress  
(based on information technology) will obviously go on accelerating as  
long as Moore's Law applies (doubling the information-processing  
ability of a single computer chip every three years or less).  Three-D  
printing is already widespread, even in homes. Robotic technologies  
are displacing labor all but entirely when applied. If growth is  
conceived as continual increase in humanity's material abundance there  
is no constraint to its indefinite continuation.

The "utopian" socialists, Fourier and Saint-Simon most notably, really  
did anticipate this evolution. Their great successor, Marx,  
demonstrated the social conditions for its realization.  But also how  
a social order based on private profit and the preservation of capital  
values stifles and ultimately destroys the very possibility of not  
only progress but even survival itself.  A century ago the Great War  
demonstrated, in Trotsky's words (in "War and the Second  
International") the "revolt of modern productive forces" against the  
narrow bounds of national sovereignty and capitalist social  
relations.  This contradiction has now reached
its breaking point in the form of global heating.  That means the only  
politics worth anything is the struggle, *within political  
institutions tied to the capitalist social order*, to abolish all use  
of fossil fuels and to replace them with solar-derived electricity at  
as close to breakneck speed as can be imposed. The primary political  
demand has to be the imposition of a really big carbon tax to be  
substantially increased every year until the world's coal, oil, and  
gas industries have been totally euthanized.  The scientific,  
technological, economic, and environmental realities facing mankind  
will inevitably force into being a political movement able to do this.  
But will it happen soon enough? Of that there is no inevitability!

Shane Mage

This cosmos did none of gods or men make, but it
  always was and is and shall be: an everlasting fire,
  kindling in measures and going out in measures.

  Herakleitos of Ephesos

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