Who Killed Economic Growth? A Postcarbon Institute Video on the Global Ponzi Scheme

Hint: It had nothing to do with the debt, a frame which Obama has foolishly bought into and reinforced.

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Below are old comments from the earlier Facebook commenting system:

  • agres (signed in using Yahoo)

Debt, per se, is not the problem. The Bronze Age Greeks had a sustainable economy that used no fossil fuel, and they financed the Trojan War with – debt.

However, oil was the downfall of that civilization. Olive oil became so valuable that 200 years after Homer, the Greeks started planting olive trees instead of fruit trees on their steep hillsides. The olives did not hold the soil as well as the fruit trees had held the soil and the resulting soil erosion destroyed their agricultural base and ultimately their civilization.

The problem is one of properly recognizing appropriate long term environmental costs for actions that have large near-term utility (value). This was true for the Greeks planting olives on steep hill sides, and is true for the burning of fossil fuels. Resource extraction is not debt, because debt is a 2…See More

4 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 2:19pm

mtmariner101 (signed in using Yahoo)

It sounds like all we have to do is stop using fossil fuels and we will all enjoy a happy future. Somehow by decoupling our economy from filthy fossil fuel we will suddenly have enough water and land to grow all the food necessary to support the 9 billion people who will inhabit our planet in a few decades. But the limits to growth are much larger than the obvious limits to cheap fossil fuels and no credible model exists to show how we can extend a good standard of living to the burgeoning populations of developing nations like India if India does not have a growing economy.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 2:11pm

  • stevegeneral999 (signed in using Yahoo)

And no credible model exists to show how capitalism can sustain such a standard of living for millenia

1 · Like · Reply · August 3 at 9:28pm

Anthony Silvestri · Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Quite likely we can’t sustain the lives of 9 billion humans on a finite world. Unless we all want to live like the average African (with the average African’s eco-footprint), which is an option, I suppose.

1 · Like · Reply · August 4 at 8:46am

Eban Goodstein · University of Michigan

Two problems with the video. First, if the premise is that we have run out of cheap fossil fuel, that unfortunately ain’t so: lots of dirty coal. As China shows, the era of rapid growth based on cheap fossil fuels continues. Second, current US debt is a function of tax cuts for the wealthy and wars fought on credit cards. No question that we could afford, as a nation to pay this down.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 10:17am

Peter S. Mizla · Top Commenter · Vernon, Connecticut

Do you think we can sustain economic growth on fossil fuels infinitely?
Do not see a paradox of economic growth based on the continued use of cheap fossil fuels and eventually A shattered climate?

That crossroads is near or here.

Like · Reply · August 3 at 10:44am

Daron Williams · Lewes, East Sussex

The Post Carbon Institute actually has shown some decent research that coal is no where near as plentiful as we think. As coal fields are re-examined the total reserves tend to be slashed.

The book “Black Out” talks about essentially a peak in coal by around 2040 at the latest. Even in China coal production is showing signs of peaking, they are being forced to focus more and more on imports and are trying to slow their own coal production in order to ensure that they have it in the future.

So long story made short: we don’t have hundreds of years of coal left.

Like · Reply · August 3 at 11:03am

George Ennis · Top Commenter · University of Toronto


The issue in terms of measuring the price of carbon is that from an economic and financial perspective our current financial measures for accounting for all costs is not able to properly capture certain externalities such as their impact on human health, climate change, local environments etc. China for example is running into clear limits in being able to grow because of the externalities that coal burning plants impose on environments and its people.

So, yes I would agree with you that the nominal cost of coal is cheap. However , if through a properly calibrated carbon tax that captured all externalities we would find it prohibitively expensive I would argue.

2 · Like · Reply · August 3 at 11:59am

Rob Honeycutt · Top Commenter

I have some real problems with this video. Not with the premise that there are limits to growth, there clearly are, but this video paints a very thin portrait of the issue. I’m not quite ready to dismiss “economists” for the opinion of a journalist.
Big question for me when I watch the video: What happens when we have developed new clean forms of energy? The limits to FF’s are not a function of their availability, the limits are due to the environmental damage they cause and the costs related to that damage. But if we manage to create clean energy how does that affect the economic equation the author is trying to make? He doesn’t address that.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 2:30pm

  • stevegeneral999 (signed in using Yahoo)

Basic principle of ANY system…. remove the most restrictive limiting factor, and the next most limiting factor suddenly becomes real real obvious.

Like · Reply · August 3 at 3:13pm

Rob Honeycutt · Top Commenter

I fully realize that, but there is no indicator of where that limit lies with regards to new clean energy sources. The problem I have with the message of this video is that it seems to only be saying, “Yup, the jig is up. Economic growth is impossible from here out.” And, I get the sense that conclusion is being made, not on hard research, but on that’s just the message they want to deliver.
I mean, come on, is that the message we send to the majority of the people of the world who live in emerging economies? “Sorry, but we already used up all the world’s energy. You have to remain living like you always have.” …It’s rather absurd.

Like · Reply · August 3 at 3:23pm

Daniel Lerch · Portland, Oregon

[I work for Post Carbon, which produced the video.] Keep in mind that there’s only so much you can say in a 5-minute promo video. All the background and analysis is in the book: “The End of Growth,” free excerpts posted at .

Rob, you mentioned the availability of fossil fuels and also the idea of a ‘clean energy economy.’ We’re not optimistic on either front, and you can read about some of the research underlying our views here:

– David Hughes (geoscientist formerly with Natural Resources Canada), “Hydrocarbons in North America”
…See More

Like · Reply · August 5 at 6:41pm

stevegeneral999 (signed in using Yahoo)

Growth addiction is a secondary issue.

The primary issue is our addiction to private ownership of goods and capital, because in a capitalist economy inflation is inescapable, and inflation erodes wealth. That leaves two choices under capitalism: watch a dollar’s practical buying power evaporate, or grow the economy enough to offset inflationary losses.

I thought the video was awesome, but most commentary of this sort, including my own, speaks of limits to growth but stops short of the REAL issue. Joe McCarthy lives on after all.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 1:06pm

Chad Brick · Broadview Heights, Ohio

In order to maintain 3% economic growth until the end of the century, the economy would have to grow approximately 14-fold. There is no way that this is physically possible. And before you squeal about efficiency and improved technology, I would point out that these are responsible for only about a fifth of economic growth. The other 80% has been simply more people moving more stuff faster. The latter neither can nor will continue. We had best be prepared for an indefinite period of slow and ever slowing growth.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 9:55am

Wesley Rolley · Top Commenter · Northwestern University

Even a 2% growth rate would require a 6 x economic growth. Not likely in this physical universe. And 2% growth is considered bad news. We need a new economics based on ecology rather than mathematical extrapolation of past so-called progress. Then, we need a new politics based making what we can do meet the needs of the people. Not likely in the current political universe.

1 · Like · Reply · August 3 at 11:33am

Rob Honeycutt · Top Commenter

Are you talking global economic growth?

Like · Reply · August 3 at 3:25pm

David Stern · Professor at Australian National University

I think that there are limits to growth but this video does link growth and debt in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. You have to borrow from someone who is currently saving.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 8:10am

Lauren Samples Bartholomew · University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)

Are trillions in Treasury bill debt of the US government, like the last $900 B quantitative easing which ended in June, real savings or is it a “debt” against future growth rather than past savings?

Like · Reply · August 3 at 9:49am

Peter S. Mizla · Top Commenter · Vernon, Connecticut

Does that growth come from fossil fuels?

Like · Reply · August 3 at 10:45am

Todd Tanner · Works at Freelance writer

David – If you want to understand debt in a way that actually makes sense, watch these two very short videos.

Like · Reply · August 3 at 11:12am

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Gauss Rescigno · FileMaker Certified Developer at Beezwax Datatools, Inc.

Great video on the world’s economic and energy predicament.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 4 at 7:28am

Michael Tobis · Research Scientist Associate at University of Texas Institute for Geophysics

Excellent video! Thanks Joe, and thanks to the producers.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 10:37am

Tod Brilliant · Works at Writer/Photographer

Thanks, Michael. It’s hard to put nuances into a video like this (see discussion above – many great points)… keep in mind it’s a teaser, of sorts, for the newly published book, “The End of Growth” that really dives into details.

1 · Like · Reply · August 3 at 1:08pm

Lauren Samples Bartholomew · University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)

Cute video – but then again, I’m a believer.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 9:45am

Tim Riley · Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

This view of the future is starting to make more and more sense…

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 14 at 8:46am

me (signed in using Yahoo)

(Susan Anderson)
This video is spot on. Thanks to Tanner and Honeycutt for the lively exchange on credibility, which is very helpful.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in my head, this has put the nail in the coffin of my pleasure in paradox, six impossible things before breakfast, and the like. Sadly, we “must not mention” that we have to cut back our expansionist/consumption model, but we “must” cut back to survive. We must put our heads firmly in the sand in order to persuade people to pay attention.

I don’t think. Sadly, earth has bigger bludgeons, and is going to use them!

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 5 at 11:10am

Joan Savage · Top Commenter · SUNY-ESF

At least one deep root of the push for economic growth is fear of famine, fear older than Pharaoh’s warehouses full of grain. Hoarding, either direct-need goods or trade goods, has a dark underpinning of insecurity as well as a topping of conveniences and comforts. Those who can be secure and contented, trusting that the environment provides enough for us, cradle to grave, have a more limited, and less neurotic, need to stockpile. A lot of the developed world has no clue how to find contentment and security like a Bushman in the Kalahari, and our infrastructure is a terrible impediment to going in that direction.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 4 at 11:23am

Timothy Hughbanks · Top Commenter · Professor at Texas A&M University

Even if we could make renewable energy cheap and abundant enough to supplant fossil fuels with continued innovation in (primarily) solar energy in the long run, there are lots of other limits to growth. We’re depleting the the oceans, soils, and very biological web of life on which we depend. Energy looks like the most pressing choke point to growth now, but I think these other limits are actually more rigid and unavoidable.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 6:39pm

me (signed in using Yahoo)

thanks for video. can you recommend any books that explore the topic in more debt?

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 3:42pm

  • danallen1968 (signed in using Yahoo)

Heinberg’s ‘The End of Growth’ & ‘Blackout’ & ‘The Party’s Over’
Martenson’s ‘The Crash Course’
Meadow’s ‘Limits to Growth’ & the 30-year update — ~5 new artcles per day on a range of subjects centered on limits to growth & what to do about it

Like · Reply · August 3 at 6:24pm

me (signed in using Yahoo)

meant depth* on last comment. still hazy from the deficit craze.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 3:43pm

Sonni Will · Top Commenter


Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 3 at 6:15pm

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