Advances in Ecological Economics series
Chapter 1: Introduction: envisioning a successful steady-state economy
How do you envision a successful economy without continuous growth? It helps to consider a prior question: how do you envision a successful Planet Earth without continuous growth? That is easy to envision because it exists! The Earth as a whole does not grow in physical dimensions. Yet it changes qualitatively, it evolves and develops. Total matter on Earth cycles, but does not grow. Energy from the sun flows through the earth coming in as low-entropy radiant energy, and exiting as high-entropy heat. But the solar flow is not growing. Nearly all life is powered by this entropic throughput of solar energy. There is birth and death, production and depreciation. New things evolve; old things go extinct. There is continual change. But the Earth is not growing. The economy is a subsystem of the Earth. Imagine that the economy grows to encompass the entire earth. Then the economy would have to conform to the behavior mode of the Earth. Namely, it could no longer grow, and would have to live on a constant solar flow, approximating a steady state – an exceedingly large steady state to be sure, well beyond optimal scale. The economy would have taken over the management of the entire ecosystem – every amoeba, every molecule, and every photon would be allocated according to human purposes and priced accordingly. All ‘externalities’ would be internalized, and nothing could any longer be external to the all-encompassing economy.