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140: The Growth Imperative

KMO welcomes Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of The Upside of Down, back to the program to discus the potential, connectedness, and resilience of adaptive systems like ecosystems and economies. Is restoring the growth trajectory of the global economy a viable means of securing long term prosperity? What impact is technology having on employment, and is full employment a workable or even desirable goal? Later, Tad reads from his forthcoming book, Carbon Shift: How the Twin Crises of Oil Depletion and Climate Change Will Define the Future

You can find a transcript of (large portions of )this interview here:


Thomas Homer-Dixon first appeared on the C-Realm Podcast in episode 36: Locus of Agency. I also played a portion of one his public talks in episode 86: Moments of Contingency.

Music by Jeff Andrews.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 5th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC)
Ecological Succession
Hello KMO,

nice show. Great to get Dixon back on the show, its nice to hear you interview Canadians.
Anyway, Dixon brings up a topic in this interview which I did extensive research for my graduate thesis.

Dixon is talking about the work of C.S. Holling on forest morphology. The idea that your guest keeps describing in this episode is technically called 'succession.'
The idea of designing our human environment for succession is rooted in the field of 'ecological design' and 'ecological architecture' (look to Howard Odum, and John Todd for this idea).

Succession is a very powerful model or metaphor for sustainable development. Sometimes development can be more appropriately accomplished by letting go of the notion of 'growth = good,' to humans' and the biosphere's mutual benefit.

Succession for a sentient and self-conscious species (e.g. humans), is an interesting case because we don't just go with the flow nearly as much as, say a forest does. Where a forest just lets itself fall into the omega stage of collapse and subsequently a re organizational stage, humans are so much less willing to let nature take its own course of action (Stubborn self-conscious creatures!). So it can be seen to be 'natural' that humanity would continue pushing along the growth phase, continually investing so called 'capitol,' to keep the game going, prolonging the inevitable crash which is staring us right in the face (humans are so afraid of their own extinction because we know that it is coming, sooner or later it gets everyone).

Perhaps, a new paradigm, or meme, will evolve suggesting that we look to nature for our models and metaphors of living, and investigate how the idea of succession can be mimicked for homo-centric systems and processes, again, to the benefit of ourselves and the biodiversity with which we share this earth. Along with this new paradigm would come a discouragement of growth, in replace of more healthy mentalities like 'density,' 'diversity,' and 'miniaturization.' Generally what is needed is an embrace of the collapse (which is so inevitable) for a much more graceful period of transitioning, and reorganizing. The key point to remember from Holling's work is that after the phase of reorganization comes another growth phase which results in higher levels of adaptability, and higher levels of connectedness. The question really is, do humans play a part in the stages after collapse through to the other side of some new era, to reach for a new level of climaxed potential?

Feb. 5th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Ecological Succession
Hi, arconaught. I forwarded your comment to Thomas Homer-Dixon. His response:
Very impressive comment, KMO. You clearly have a thoughtful audience. Thanks!

Thank you for listening.
Feb. 6th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
Hardly a new thought for this blog, but...
...I like the way John Michael Greer worded this:
The most insightful and thus inevitably the most vilified of the 1970s collapse literature, The Limits to Growth was the first book I know of to point out the central paradox of a perpetual growth economy: if economic growth is pursued far enough, the costs of further growth begin to rise faster than its benefits, and eventually force the growth economy to its knees.
Feb. 6th, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
A comment for Thomas Homer Dixon
Hey KMO,

I have read "The Upside of Down," and have much respect for THD. I'm sure I'll devour his new book as well.

That said, I think that THD misses the main force behind the growth imperative. I don't find any fault with his logic/findings that there is a motivation for growth due to technology displacing workers that subsequently need another job. Thus the economy must grow.

However, I think there is a much stronger force behind the growth imperative. This is the Debt based, fractional reserve monetary system. When money is created, it is issued as debt that must be repaid with interest. The interest for this loan is not created, thus more and more debt must be incurred just to keep up with the interest payments. I was rather disappointed that THD didn't mention this in your interview. You mentioned the money supply in one of your questions to him but he didn't comment on it. Perhaps this was cut out during editing due to time constraints, which I'd completely understand.

Chris Martenson's Crash course, which I know you've watched, really explains the growth imperative due to the monetary system very clearly. I'd be interested to hear of any comments that THD has regarding this. I just think one is remiss talking about the growth imperative without looking at the monetary system, that's all.

Feb. 8th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
Re: A comment for Thomas Homer Dixon
In response to your comment Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote:
He's right about the general issue of debt and growth, I believe. We use growth to amortize debt of all kinds, including national debt, and it's not clear how we can have the kind of financial system we have currently without growth.

Thanks. Again, a really thoughtful listener. Says a lot about your program.

Feb. 8th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
Re: A comment for Thomas Homer Dixon
Thanks for the response!

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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