Economics of Happiness-Gustavo Esteva

Bare Bones Biology 106 – Richard Heinberg

Bare Bones Biology for this coming week is entirely taken up with an interview with Richard Heinberg, who also gave the keynote introductory lecture at the conference of The Economics of Happiness. I’m pretty sure that talk will be posted on the web site of The Economics of Happiness. If not, I can give you my personal copy, just let me know. Later that day, Richard took five minutes out of his busy schedule to give an interview for us in Texans and former Texans. Because he introduced himself so well, I have given the entire program to his words.

“My name is Richard Heinberg. I’m Senior Fellow at the PostCarbon Institute and the author of a recent book called The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality.

“The book is based on quite a lot of recent research that shows that we’re really entering into a new economic era, particularly in the US but I think around the world as well, and that new economic era is one where growth in GDP, growth in the total amount of money we’re spending in the economy on an annual basis, is going to be a lot harder to achieve. There are a number of reasons for that.

“One reason is that we are reaching a number of limits to debt. We’ve used debt to grow consumption and to grow GDP for the last several decades. And here I’m not just talking about government debt. I’m talking about consumer debt. Debt has grown faster than GDP in just about every year. People want bigger homes, and bigger cars, and we’re constantly being advertised at and talked into wanting this stuff, but real inflation-adjusted hourly wages for American workers haven’t been going up for three decades or so. So how we financed all this consumption is with more debt. You can only do that so long, because people get loaned up to their eyeballs, and they can’t afford to make payments on the debt they have, and banks don’t want to lend them even more money, so we’ve reached the end of that particular strategy for increasing the scale of our economic activity.

“Another problem that’s impinging on economic growth is energy costs, and of course here we’re talking primarily about the price of oil. That’s being driven by speculation and other things, but a lot of it is that we’ve already harvested the low-hanging fruit. I’m not suggesting that we’re running out of oil. Obviously, in this country, our real oil production has actually increased in the last few years, but where it’s increased is in the production of much lower quality resources. We’re talking about the shale deposits in North Dakota, and the Eagle Ford Play in Texas” (you can download maps of the Eagle Ford Shale and the Texas Aquifers from the lower right side of this page) “shale gas. The costs of production are higher, and with gas of course, we had very high natural gas prices a few years ago, and that drove up a glut of supply. We look at that and say: “Oh, well now we’ll have natural gas for 100 years and it’s always going to be cheap.” But actually most of the producers are losing money on production right now, because their production costs are so high and the natural gas prices are so low. The same thing will happen with the shale industry, if price of the oil goes down, if we do get gas prices down, well that’ll just mean that the industry will have to consolidate, and instead of seeing increasing rates of production in the US it will go back down again.

“So once again, the problem is not that we’re running out, the problem is that we’ve used all the low-hanging fruit, and that means we will be paying more for energy. We’ve got to get used to that. That will be a drag on economic growth.

“The third factor is increased incidence of weird weather. You can call that climate change, you can call it anything you want. You can attribute it to cow farts or volcanoes, or to CO2 emissions. If you’re an insurance company and you’re looking at the costs of what you are having to pay out for droughts, floods, fires, and other events like that, the costs are increasing. There’s no getting around it, and they’re increasing exponentially. So that is another drag on growth.

“So take the drought situation in Texas as an example of that. That kind of thing is happening around the world, and it’s getting worse. So economic growth as we’ve known it is coming to an end. Well, how do we adapt to that? What do we do instead?

“Well it turns out that actually we could make life better for people and for communities without necessarily having to have the kind of economic growth we’ve had in the past. But we will have to pay attention to different things. We’ll have to pay attention to what really makes our communities work better; we’ll have to pay attention to what makes our environment more livable.

“If we do that, I think we can have a better quality of life even as our economy changes. We live in a time of rapid change, and the intelligent path is to see where that change is going and adapt sooner than later.”

Bare Bones Biology 106 – Richard Heinberg
KEOS 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
You can download the audio here or at:

Recommended Reference: The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality

Bare Bones Biology 105 – Economics of Happiness II

Many of you watched the movie The Economics of Happiness that we showed in several venues locally. If you have not seen it, talk with Donna, she has a copy, or go to The Economics of Happiness web site (you should do that anyhow) and buy a copy for yourself that you can share with friends. Last week Bare Bones Biology aired the first part of an interview by Helena Norberg-Hodge, who produced that movie, and now you are about to hear the concluding part of her little interview, in which she gives us the Bare Bones version of a solution. I hope this energizes you, as it did me, to take advantage of her wisdom and experience, and fact check her suggestions and then participate in an effort to nonviolently dethrone the corposystem. Here is Helena:

“If we could just get the message out: wait a minute, we don’t need to continue deregulating. In order to produce food and feed people and to produce the building materials, and to produce all the needs that people have, we do not need to embark on continuing to deregulate, or globalize, economic activity. If we can get that message out, so that the call is from the occupy movement, the call is halt that deregulation. This is more strategic than focusing on finance reform or on personhood, because the action, where these companies have gained so much power, has been in these international trade agreements. That’s where they’ve been able to pressure governments to give them more power. They say: If you don’t give me lower labor prices, if you don’t give me lower regulations, I’ll go elsewhere. That mechanism has ended up ratcheting down everything we care about.

“That mechanism is how it is that governments are in debt to banks. And credit agencies are telling whole banks: Sorry, you can’t afford to look after your people, you must instead pay us a whole bunch of money. It’s a mad situation, and I really believe if we can understand the structural difference between globalizing and localizing, we will be creating an interlinked, global movement linking environmentalists with all those people concerned with unemployment and poverty, and then we’ll have a real powerful movement for change.”

I wish I could name for you the impressive list of people who spoke at The Economics of Happiness conference, that included for example Joanna Macey, Manish Jain, Carol Black, and so many others of equal caliber. In the cross disciplinary group were speakers on the subjects of: breaking down the old economy, from global to local, small scale to large scale, envisioning an economics of happiness, and local futures. And there were workshops around each subject. You know what I found the most exciting – nothing was finished and settled. There’s room for new ideas and new approaches to strengthen the mix, and I left just itching to tweak the educational ideas that were presented.

Mandana Shiva and Bill McKibben were present by video and one of those internet communication processes. The entertainment was – have you ever heard Scoop Lisker describe the evolution of life on earth? And a stunning final improvisational performance by Nina Wise. All in all, one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

Next week, I will bring you the keynote speaker, Richard Heinberg, from my other favorite web site, the Post-Carbon Institute, who gave an interview just for us.

That’s the end of the transcript. If any of you want a podcast of the complete interview without my commentary, I can make one for you.

Listening again to Helena Norberg-Hodge reminded me of the words of Arundhati Roy:
“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.”

And then there is my view that arises out of my professional understanding of how the ecosystem functions to stay alive. The corporate revolution will collapse ANYWAY, because the corposystem is trying to harvest more food energy from the earth than the earth has to give (this is not sustainable), and in the process is killing off millions of different species whose function in living is to maintain the health of the living ecosystem (thus reducing resilience of the system). So, the corposystem is killing itself.

Our job is to reduce the suffering this causes – and more importantly, our job is to remove the root cause of the suffering, which is growth beyond the capacity of the ecosystem to support One cause of growth is described by Helena Norberg-Hodge above. That is deregulation. (I call it decriminalizion of the corposystem crimes against the ecosystem). And to find a way to infuse our technologies with wisdom so we can do this with compassion. The other major growth problem is in our human populations (that is all of us, not only some other place). I strongly suggest that you watch the movie Mother the Film, that describes this difficult reality in a kind and compassionate context.

There is a time when all opinions cause pain, and that is the time to stop drawing our lines in the sand and get together to find a way to reduce the overall pain – individual suffering, populational suffering, and suffering of the living ecosystem. As HH The Dalai Lama said: “Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.”
(per Upaya newsletter)

Unnecessary suffering is foolish, and usually causes more harm than good.

Bare Bones Biology 105 – Economics of Happiness II
KEOS 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
An audio copy of the “transcript” portion of this
blog can be obtained at

Trackback and recommended references:

For the first part of Helena Norberg-Hodge’s interview see Bare Bones Biology 104:

Arundhati Roy. I strongly recommend her (March 22) interview on Democracy Now

Collapse by Jared Diamond
Or you can get Collapse as an audio book