2015 - A year of transformation

The beginning of the end for endless growth

In a new book called The Great Transition (2014) Mauro Bonaiuti tackles several themes of interest to those who study the interplay of resource depletion, pollution, and economic growth. Among others the effects of overpopulation, decline in EROEI, environmental degradation and more. The book also contains a discussion on how society could organize itself in a post-growth world.

As the global economy is once again on the verge of collapse, some see room for positive changes. While global crises are accelerating - climate change, energy instability, biodiversity loss and economic instability - a number of interconnected systemic revolutions are converging in a way that could facilitate positive transformation of the global economy according to Bonaiuti. From a economy that maximizes material consumption for the few, to a economy that caters for the needs and well being of all. 

Bonaiuti argues that our current economic crisis is a symptom of a transition phase of civilization. Advanced capitalist societies have entered a phase of declining returns since the period after the Second World War. There has been a fluctuating but consistent long decline in GDP growth rate. Declining returns are to Bonaiuti a consequence of the interaction between limits of biophysical nature (peak resources, global warming etc.) and the increasing complexity of social structures (bureaucratisation, education and social security etc.). 

As a result civilization is undergoing a huge phase shift as the current form of predatory capitalism crumbles beneath the weight of its own mounting unsustainability (debt burden). But this crisis also opens up for new opportunities and a range of scenarios for new forms of society. There is thus space for a great transition towards new institutional forms that could include greater democratic self-government of communities and their territories. And we can see how people are asking for this in Europe. 

However, this process is also very disruptive. We cannot know how things will turn out and that is scary when we face major change. Some will strive to “return to the old society” as we see in nationalist tendencies in Europe, while others will want to “break free” from global capitalism and return to self-governance as we see in Spain and Scottland. Others will try to keep the old system intact for as long as possible. All we know is that when the framework changes, complexity science teaches us, that there will be other forms of economic and social organization more suited to the new situation. Crisis may enhance cooperation among decentralized, smaller scale economic organisation and offer greater chances of success as conditions change.

If Bonauiti is correct, then even as conventional economic tools turns out to be increasingly ineffective, we could expect to see more signs of a changing framework and with it the emergence of potential new forms of economic and social organization that function better than the old industrial paradigm. However, this is not to say it will be easy or that there won’t be winners and losers. It is the most adaptive to change that will win in the end, or so evolution teaches us.

Welcome to 2015, a year of transformation.

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