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Degrowth - Voices from 1st North American Conference

Today, more cars are sold in China than in the United States. Chinese companies, many state-owned, are traveling the world to buy up oil to power them. We are already going to extremes to keep our own fossil economies going - blowing the tops of mountains for coal, the horrible tar sands, and now super deep ocean drilling, like BP's Gulf of Mexico blow-out.

Ours is a fossil economy. Every day, humans burn up fuels made from 5 million years worth of solar power, stored by ancient plants. We are burning it all, at a rapid rate, loading up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

In fact, all our resources, from metals to rainforests, are being used up, turned into waste, at an incredible rate. Developed economies continue neo-colonialism, as multi-national corporations, larger than countries, drag out "unobtainium" even from war-torn, collapsed countries like Sudan and the Congo.

Meanwhile, thanks to the glory of television and advertising, far from developed countries all humans struggle to join in the final party. If everyone consumed even as much as Europeans, much less North Americans, it would take three to eight planet Earth's to do it. Billions want more, and WE still want more. A collision of unimaginable proportions is coming.

Pretty well everyone senses a collapse is inevitable, as natural reality, and the laws of physics, interrupt our endless expansion of population and consumption. The only question is: will we drain Earth until it dies, or will we at least try to plan something else?

There is an alternative. It is called "Degrowth". A planned and willing movement to end the mad economic system of endless growth, based on endless consumption and pollution. An admission that really, to survive, humanity needs to shrink out demands upon the planet. To plan out a smaller economy, and lower personal ecological footprints.

It is time.

This is Radio Ecoshock. If you go over our past programs, you'll find dozens that lead to degrowth. Like Cecile Andrews on the "Simplicity Movement". Like everything we've ever done on climate change. I suspect most Ecoshock listeners, when they investigate degrowth, will feel like they are coming home. Finally, a name for what we know.

On April 30th, 2010 I attended and recorded one evening from a three day conference on Degrowth. It was historic, the first such gathering in North America.

http://www.de-growth.com/vancouver/

European intellectuals and activists have been leading the development of Degrowth. They have a long history and much wider recognition. The first International De-growth Conference was held in Paris in April of 2008. There was another, the 2nd Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, held in Barcelona, Spain in March 2010. Each was remarkable for the wide range of academics, and even government officials who attended. The need to limit greed, and find alternatives to endless growth, is better known in Europe.

But a shrinking economy, even though that is obviously in the cards, is still shocking in the heartlands of buy-more, the United States and Canada. So it was a welcome beginning to find 300 people gathering in Vancouver, Canada, for the first Degrowth meet-up on this continent.

In this program, you will hear just a few samples from many presentations there, and nothing from the lively discussion circles hashing out the new vision, and new rules of living on a limited planet.

I'll start with a brief introduction by conference host and author Rex Weyler, a founder of Greenpeace, a member of the Vancouver Peak Oil Executive, and now the Degrowth movement. We'll also get a short impression of the Barcelona Conference, from Tom Walker.

Then it's time for heavy lifting. The ugly reality of our near total dependence on fossil fuels that are running out. Even without the tragedy of climate change, Peak Oil expert Dave Hughes should frighten us all into low-energy life with sustainable power. Dave is a member of ASPO Canada, a geoscientist who spent 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager.

Dave Hughes has many times given what is now known across North America as "the talk". As he makes numerous presentations, with his graphs and helpful facts, Dave is kind of an energy Al Gore, don't you think?

From many speakers at the Degrowth Conference, I've also chosen Jack Alpert from the Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory. He'll tell us how many humans could live sustainably on Earth with modern lifestyles. Wait till you hear that number.

One of the principal organizers was Conrad Schmidt, head of the Work Less Party. And job sharing is one of the tools available to keep people working, as we share sustainable life. Here is a short clip from York University Professor and no-growth advocate Peter Victor, as he suggest how to maintain employment in a time of economic contraction. You can also find that clip of Professor Peter Victor on You tube.

We only have time for one more speech from Vancouver's No Growth Conference. Remember, the idea is that we are headed for a collapse, due to over-use of the planet's resources, plus a sudden demand for equality of life from billions more people in the world. Should we wait for war and famine, or can we still plan not just to limit our consumption, but to reduce it drastically. Collapse or degrowth seem to be the only options left.

Let's say we want to keep high-tech solutions like hospitals, and reasonable use of rapid transportation, like high-speed trains. And we want everyone on the planet to have enough to eat, without using up the soil, or poisoning the planet with pollution. How many humans can planet Earth really support in this way, for thousands of generations?

Jack Alpert has figured that out. The reality is shocking.

That short talk barely touches the depth of Jack Alpert's experience and thinking about humanity. For example, he's developed a theory that explains our inability to deal with long-term problems like limited energy or climate change. He calls it time blindness. Jack has agreed to do a future interview with Radio Ecoshock, but in the meantime you can watch a full-length video at the web site skil.org.

We hardly covered the many presentations and discussions from the three day conference in Vancouver, at the end of April 2010. You can find a couple more speeches on the "Economic Crisis" page in our audio-on-demand menu, at ecoshock.org.

Conference organizers are also offering a DVD of the entire proceedings, with screening rights. Use the DVD for your own discussion group or Degrowth Conference! Find details at http://www.de-growth.com.

For a quick introduction to this movement, and it's intellectual roots look up degrowth, all one word, at Wikipedia.

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. I invite you to cruise our archive of past programs, at ecoshock.org, for a lot more ideas about simple living, real sustainable energy tech, and ways to live in a just and lasting world.

Editorial Notes: From the website: Recording from the 1st North American Degrowth Conference, April 29th to May 1st in Vancouver, Canada. Listen/download the one hour Radio Ecoshock program with Rex Weyler, Dave Hughes and Jack Alpert here: http://www.ecoshock.net/eshock10/ES_100514_Show_LoFi.mp3 More recordings at http://www.ecoshock.org/DNeconomy.html - including former Shell International VP Anita Burke, and architect Rick Balfour.

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