January 15, 2014 – BOOK REVIEW: Enough is Enough, by Rob Dietz & Dan O’Neill.
I won’t keep you in suspense: it’s a fascinating book. Dietz & O’Neill make the subject of a steady-state economy both terribly interesting and accessible. As it ought to be; there’s really nothing terribly complicated about it. Take, for instance, their definition of a steady-state economy, which begins “… a steady-state economy is an economy that aims to maintain a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population. It’s an economy in which material and energy use are kept within ecological limits, and in which the goal of increasing GDP is replaced by the goal of improving quality of life.”
Because the information contained in the book isn’t hard to understand does not mean that establishing a steady-state economy will be an easy thing to do. Oddly enough, climate change could be helpful in this regard. Maintaining a constant stock of built capital – roads, for example –is one facet of a steady-state economy. Our current winter weather has caused an enormous amount of road damage already. By maintaining what we have – not adding to the inventory – we move in the direction of creating a steady state. It’s unlikely we’ll have the money left for building new roads. It in fact remains to be seen if we have enough money to take care of what we’ve already built.
That is an open question because we haven’t even begun to see the worst of climate change. Taking care of buildings and roads will be a challenge we want to rise to, and we have certainly demonstrated, as a society, our willingness to go into debt in order to procure the things we believe we need. Whether or not all roads can be covered in asphalt or concrete, or whether gravel, or even mud, will have to suffice, only time will tell. The years ahead will help us to re-establish the difference between need and want. Having enough of anything may once again mean a sufficiency, more than which is unnecessary and even counter-productive.
As for maintaining a stable population, it has very recently been forecast that hundreds of millions of people will be impacted by the loss of coastline that sea level rise will cause. Add to this major factor the likelihood that people will live much more closely together, due to the loss of land. An increased mortality rate, the result of communicable disease and wars over the land that remains, could well bring an end to the increase in human population.
Dietz & O’Neill contend that improvements in quality of life, due to changes in our knowledge, technology, products, income distribution and social institutions, are the welcome aspects of a steady-state economy. It is entirely possible that a deeply divided world, areas of which endure the worst of climate change while other regions manage to enjoy quality of life improvements, could exist, at least for a while. There can be little doubt that, until the worsening of climate change subsides, humankind will be unable to reap the rewards that the millennia of improvements afforded us by civilization have taught us to expect.
A steady-state economy is worth striving for. Discovering whether we can attain its benefits while contending with a deranged environment could make for some interesting times ahead. Because human beings always need to be able to aspire to something better, find out how to do that by reading this book. It will tell you where your energies can make the greatest difference in improving our beloved world.