19 February 2012

11 January 2012

Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam recently warned of "Sub-par global growth for at least 2 years" (References: Reuters, Straits Times). I think he is being optimistic. The Singapore government is underestimating or ignorant of how peak oil and a planet with finite natural resources can and will limit our industrial production and severely disrupt our modern way of living. Unfortunately, discussions of the "Limits to Growth" notion has not made its way into Singapore politics and the local media. The warning from the Singapore government now is prepare for slow growth. I reckon that sometime between 2015-2020, they will lower their growth expectations and tell us that zero or negative economic growth will be the "new normal". The next question, what then? Are we prepared for a multi-decade long economic contraction?

New Scientist has published a very interesting article about the work of a group of scientists who in the 1970s attempted to model where unrestrained economic and population growth will lead us to and the conclusion was civilizational collapse.

Forty years ago, a highly controversial study warned that we had to curb growth or risk global meltdown. Was it right?
AT THE beginning of the 1970s, a group of young scientists set out to explore our future. Their findings shook a generation and may be even more relevant than ever today.
The question the group set out to answer was: what would happen if the world's population and industry continued to grow rapidly? Could growth continue indefinitely or would we start to hit limits at some point? In those days, few believed that there were any limits to growth - some economists still don't. Even those who accepted that on a finite planet there must be some limits usually assumed that growth would merely level off as we approached them.
These notions, however, were based on little more than speculation and ideology. The young scientists tried to take a more rigorous approach: using a computer model to explore possible futures. What was shocking was that their simulations, far from showing growth continuing forever, or even levelling out, suggested that it was most likely that boom would be followed by bust: a sharp decline in industrial output, food production and population. In other words, the collapse of global civilisation.
These explosive conclusions were published in 1972 in a slim paperback called The Limits to Growth. It became a bestseller - and provoked a furious backlash that has obscured what it actually said. For instance, it is widely believed that Limits predicted collapse by 2000, yet in fact it made no such claim. So what did it say? And 40 years on, how do its projections compare with reality so far?
Full Article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328462.100-boom-and-doom-revisiting-prophecies-of-collapse.html?full=true

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06 November 2011

ClubOrlov: Hubbert's Third Prophecy

1st Prophecy: US oil peak would be sometime between 1969 and 1971. It peaked in 1970.

2nd Prophecy: Hubbert predicted the world oil peak to happen about 1998. However he DID say that if OPEC were to restrict the supply, then the peak would be delayed by 10-15 years which would put it at 2008-2013

3rd Prophecy: A cultural crisis (Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street); we have evolved a culture so heavily dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that it is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth...

17 October 2011

The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) invested 11 billion Swiss Francs in UBS in Dec 2007 (LINK) and USD$6.88 billion in Citigroup in Jan 2008 (LINK). GIC plans to hold on to these banks for a long time or, in Tony Tan's words, "many years":

We look to continue to hold on to our stakes in UBS and Citigroup for many years to come. - Tony Tan, GIC's former executive director (Bloomberg)
But our investment thesis for Citi and UBS was based on our assessment of their long term business potential. - Ng Kok Song, GIC Chief Investment Officer (Reuters)

These two banks have weathered the crisis; the worst is behind them. Both banks have returned to profitability over the last two quarters. We're long term investors, so we're quite prepared to stay with them. - Ng Kok Song (The Business Times)
How long is "long term"? What is meant by "many years"? The GIC website offers an answer:
As a long-term investor, GIC’s performance should be measured over a suitably long time horizon...A 20-year period is appropriate as it spans several business cycles and hence encompasses a number of market peaks and troughs. Thus our investment horizon of 20 years is matched by the 20-year annualised real rate of return metric, which is the key focus for GIC. (Page 8 of GIC's 2010/11 Portfolio Report)
GIC invested those billions in 2007/08. If they hold on to these two banks for 20 years, what will be the returns in 2028? Most likely a significant negative return; in fact, I got a strong feeling they might loose all the billions that they have put into these two banks.

Why? Simply because Peak oil, which we are at now, means the end of future economic growth. Peak oil entails declining economic activity. Declining economic activity means businesses don't make more money, or instead they lose money. You don't expect the banks' shares to rise in this kind of situation. I believe global economic activity is going to contract permanently. The flat world is going to be smaller and rounder again. Energy is the master resource and oil is the most important energy source today in the industrial world. There are no viable energy substitutes for oil which can match its net energy returns, energy density and versatility.

The break-even oil price for Saudi Arabia is USD$83-$88 per barrel in 2011. Their break even oil price was USD$30 in 2003. So it has almost tripled in the last 8 years. Welcome to the age of expensive oil. If the world's economy does recover, high oil prices will be there to bring it down again. With the end of cheap oil now, it is expensive and hard to do business. Little wonder it was reported that GIC says the investment climate is challenging.
The Government of Singapore Investment Corp., the city’s sovereign wealth fund, said the investment environment remains “challenging” as inflation risks increase and the recovery of developed nations falter.
“The sustainable recovery of the developed economies remains uncertain, while the emerging economies face challenges in restraining inflationary pressure and currency appreciation,” Chief Investment Officer Ng Kok Song said in an e-mailed statement today that accompanied the report. “GIC will continue to respond nimbly to this challenging environment.”  (Bloomberg)
If you disagree that future oil supplies cannot match world demand, or if you think alternative energy sources can be easily ramped-up and substituted for oil, I strongly urge you to read A Guide for the Perplexed Energy Policymaker by Kurt Cobb.

So why did GIC invest in UBS and Citigroup? Fundamentally, I believe GIC has failed to anticipate or understand the paradigm shift in our economies as it relates to net energy returns (EROI), peak oil and the environment. It is no longer "business as usual" for the next 20 years. To quote scientist Chris Martenson, The Next 20 Years Are Going To Be Completely Unlike The Last 20 Years. Whatever dreams of the 5 Cs and secure savings for retirement that you had are going to be just that, dreams alone and not reality.

No amount of monetary stimulus, quantitative easing and interest rate tweaking by central bankers is going to promote real economic growth for any extended number of years because it is going to be kept in check by resource depletion and a finite environment. The "Limits to Growth" book as it was first written in the early 1970s by MIT scientists is going to gain credibility in future years.

I have no idea what the directors in GIC were thinking when they made the plunge into UBS and Citigroup, but one thing I can be sure of is that they were thinking mainly in monetary terms. What do I mean? If you look at GIC's Board of Directors, most if not all of them have (not surprisingly), a background in economics, business and finance. Duh, what did I expect?

Well, here is an axiom for you which is not taught in mainstream economics: the human economy/market is a subset of the ecosystem. This is the foundation of Ecological and Biophysical Economics. Think about all the natural resources that Man extracts from the environment and transforms for his consumption and use. Think about all the energy that we consume that is central to all economic activity. Without energy, there is nothing. Without natural resources, there is nothing. And yet, there is no one on the GIC Board who is a natural scientist and probably not one who applies the natural sciences to economics to advise them on the limits of physical growth. We cannot separate economics and finance from the natural world!!! While the economists and bankers in the GIC Board think of their investments in dollars, scientists are trained to think about the energy inputs needed to make things work and their ecological impacts.

Many mainstream economists attribute the current financial crisis to the US housing bubble, excessive lending, high debt levels and a lack of government regulation as root causes. But ecological and biophysical economists (those who apply the natural sciences to economics) see things differently; they attribute it to the scarcity of natural resources and its inability to keep pace with financial assets and debt as the cause of our present troubles (see Herman Daly).

The environment, energy and economy are inextricably linked. A sustainable future requires not only green and efficient buildings, technologies and machines, but also an overhaul of the financial system and our perception of wealth, work and leisure.

But unfortunately, bankers, economists and financiers run (or should I say rule) the world through the current financial system of Fractional Reserve Banking through which money is created. Thus they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of perpetual economic expansion which is necessary to keep this money system afloat, in order that interest-bearing debts may be repaid. Greed and money are their gods. However, growth in the current monetary system and growth in the physical world are incompatible. The originator of the Peak Oil model, M. King Hubbert, had this to say:
For various reasons, it is impossible for the matter-energy system to sustain exponential growth for more than a few tens of doublings, and this phase is by now almost over. The monetary system has no such constraints, and, according to one of its most fundamental rules, it must continue to grow by compound interest. This disparity between a monetary system which continues to grow exponentially and a physical system which is unable to do so leads to an increase with time in the ratio of money to the output of the physical system. This manifests itself as price inflation. A monetary alternative corresponding to a zero physical growth rate would be a zero interest rate. The result in either case would be large-scale financial instability. (Source)
Thus I say, as a layperson, to GIC and also to Temasek Holdings and MAS, reexamine your beliefs in the free market and reconsider your basic assumptions about perpetual economic growth because there is going to be an upheaval in the current monetary system. Whatever hundreds of billions that we have in Singapore's reserves may very well end up as toilet paper because of ecological destruction and resource depletion. Real wealth is found in nature which provides all the goods (metals, energy, soil, air, water) and services (air/water purification, pollinators, recyclers, decomposers) that we need. Mankind is killing the golden goose because of greed. We should rely less on international trade and work towards self-sufficiency and the localization for our economy. There is no way the industrial world with its prodigious use of oil inputs is going to continue for long.

Further Reading: http://www.postcarbon.org/article/178709-the-end-of-growth

End of Growth Videos:

I leave you with this research nugget about peak oil and its impact on the economy by two scientists who conclude the following:
For the economy of the U.S. and any other growth-based economy, the prospects for future, oil-based economic growth are bleak. Taken together, it seems clear that the economic growth of the past 40 years will not continue for the next 40 years unless there is some remarkable change in how we manage our economy. (source: Google Docs)
Adjusting the Economy to the New Energy Realities of the Second Half of the Age of Oil

11 October 2011

With the recent flooding situation in Thailand (Link), the price of rice is going to increase. This is only the beginning of a multi-decade long increase in the price of food as climate change, peak oil and a growing population make it increasingly difficult to feed everyone satisfactorily (850 million people are chronically hungry according to FAO). Mr Lee KY thinks that it is no problem because we can pay for it if our economic growth is strong.

Lee Kuan Yew in TODAYONLINE:

Student: In the next 20 to 30 years time, what if global demand for food outstrips supply, then what will be of our food security plan?

Mr Lee: It doesn't matter whether you grow your own food or you buy your food. The question is the price. If there is a food shortage worldwide, the price of food, produce will go up. And the answer for a country like Singapore is to make sure that our incomes rise, our total GDP rises faster than the food prices.
It does not matter whether you grow your own food or you buy your food. The question is the price? Really, Mr. Lee? Let's go back a few years in history and consider the following news headlines from 2008:

Brazil May Curb Rice Exports to Boost Inventory

Vietnam to cut rice exports to curb inflation

Cambodia Halts Rice Exports to Curb Rising Domestic Prices

India introduces rice export ban

And also from 2011

Myanmar Puts Lid on Its Rice Exports

Egypt says rice export ban to Oct 2011

It is often said that money makes the world go round, but when times are desperate and push comes to shove, governments around the world are going to restrict their food exports to protect their domestic supplies and to calm any local food unrest. When that happens, it does not matter how rich you are because no country is going to sell any food to you. Your dollars and cents will just be worthless pieces of paper or electronic entries in a bank's vault or computer database.

It was fortunate that Thailand did not ban any rice exports in 2008:

Thailand will not ban rice exports (2008)

With the recent catastrophic floods in Thailand and Vietnam (AFP Link), there is a huge chance that their governments might just introduce curbs or restrictions on the amount of rice that they export.

Now consider this plausible scenario a few years from now: 1. Extreme weather patterns destroy the production of all the major rice exporting nations; 2. Oil production in the Middle East plummets due to Peak Oil and political unrest. Results? Food prices soar and every major food exporting nation bans food exports completely to protect their domestic markets. What becomes of Singapore's food supply? Are you going to chew your paper Singapore dollars? In light of this, is it not important to grow your own food, Mr Lee?

Also, some intelligent responses from a reader in that TODAYONLINE report:

When there is global food shortage, it is no longer a matter of price. We may not be able to get any food, or enough food, at any price.

Even if Singapore owns the farm overseas, the foreign government (where the farm is located) may not allow the farm produce to be exported. Even if the foreign government allows the farm produce to be sold to Singapore, the workers at the farms or trucking firms or dockyards may sieze the produce to feed their own families first. Do you think they care about Singapore's survival or the rule of law?

It may not be sexy or wonderful for our economic numbers to produce our own food, but it is time that Singapore placed more importance to food security.
What was wrong with Lee Kuan Yew's reasoning? His typical, mainstream economic way of counting everything in dollars and cents and his strong belief in the free market system. Some comments that I left on Gerald Giam's blog are worth repeating here:
The way I see it, the main problem is that mainstream economists have a wrong set of units for accounting. They reduce everything to dollars and cents which are nothing more than abstractions divorced from the material world. Oil prices hit a low in 1999 at $17/barrel but the price did not tell us what was left in the ground for us to extract. All it did was to create the temporary illusion that oil was plentiful, and that alternative sources of energy were therefore uneconomic and unnecessary – in dollar terms – according to the self-deluded economists.

Had they learned to calculate the economic inputs/outputs of a nation in terms of energetic units (Watts, BTUs, etc.), biocapacity and ecological footprint, they would have realized that our entire growth-centric-consumerist economic paradigm is one giant energy sink and resource blackhole that is squandering away at unsustainable rates the earth’s natural capital and natural resources that have taken eons to form.

23 April 2011

But on the supply side, it is not all pessimistic news. There is hope for new sources of supply. Time and again experts have warned that oil and gas deposits will soon be depleted and they calculate the year beyond which mankind will be out of oil and gas. But such talk of peak oil has been proven wrong many times in the past. And they may yet proved mistaken again because each time you think you have run out, oil companies have consistently discovered not just new reserves but also developed new ways of extracting reserves that previously could not be taped. Drilling in deeper waters, innovations like drilling tight shale rock formations to get that unconventional gas, better management techniques on oil fields so that you get out not just one-third of the oil which is there but even two-thirds of the oil which is there, which can make a tremendous difference. And in any case, whatever the prospects with oil and gas, as far as coal is concerned the supplies are sufficient to last mankind for centuries. Speech LINK
I was very surprised to read those comments by PM Lee concerning Peak Oil. It is not about running out of oil. Even geologists and peak oilers admit that there will still be oil left in the ground centuries from now, but it's just going to be prohibitively expensive to extract. Heck, astronomers have found more hydrocarbon liquids on the planet Saturn's moon Titan than all the known oil and gas reserves on Earth. Gee, we just need to construct a pipeline 1.2 billion km in length - problem solved. Hello PM Lee? It's all about CHEAP and AFFORDABLE oil which is the lifeblood of the economy. Do you think businesses and individuals can survive if they have to pay more for energy every subsequent year?

In years to come, those dubious statements of his will make him look ignorant and silly. There are enough evidence and historical records on the internet and major oil publications to show that some of the former major oil producing nations like the USA, Mexico, UK and Norway have peaked out and started falling precipitously in terms of oil production. There have not been any major oil discoveries in those places and neither is there any proven technology that could halt, offset or reverse their oil production downtrend. It is an established fact that these four countries are currently producing much less oil than before. When the rest of the world such as the Middle East and Russia peak for geological or political reasons and begin their slide in oil production, we can kiss our economic growth models and current standards of living goodbye

See http://mazamascience.com/OilExport/ to view each country/region's oil statistics.

I don't know why PM Lee made those statements. The 2010 Singapore Economic Strategies Committee had earlier identified peak oil as a challenge (see LINK), but PM Lee now says Peak Oil has been proven wrong? It's puzzling and alarming. The OilDrum website listed several possible reasons as to why governments would deny or be silent on peak oil:

1. They don't "get it".
2. Overly commited to neoclassical economics or "grow forever" economic models
3. Cognitive Biases
4. Misled by EIA and IEA
5. Blame on media (Not a word about peak oil in The Straits Times)
6. They can't talk openly about it
7. They want to avoid talking about it
8. They are doing something but don't want to alarm the public

Source: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6100

I believe it's all of the above in Singapore's case.

22 April 2010

In a 2006 speech, Senior Minister of State for Trade & Industry, S.Iswaran, readily accepted the EIA's projections that oil will not peak before 2030.

The EIA estimates that oil production will not peak before 2030. World reserves-to-production ratio for natural gas is 67 years, and 180 years for coal. Rising energy prices will also spur more oil and gas exploration and increasingly render unconventional oil, such as tar sands, economically viable. In essence, actual physical reserves of fossil fuels do not appear to be the limiting factor in meeting increasing energy demand in the next few decades. Speech Link
Even as late as Nov 2007, MTI's Energy Report debunked the notion of an early peak oil date:
For oil and gas, proven reserves are estimated to be sufficient for only around 40 and 63 years of 2006 levels of consumption respectively. Nevertheless, oil and gas production is not expected to peak within the next two to three decades. With more exploration and improvements in extraction technologies, substantial new reserves will be added. Since 1980, globally proven oil reserves have expanded by 81 per cent, while proven gas reserves have more than doubled (p.13)
Fast forward to today, it appears that S.Iswaran and the Singapore government have acknowledged that peak oil might have arrived much sooner than expected as evident in the 2010 Economic Strategies Committee's report on "Ensuring Energy Resilience and Sustainable Growth":
There is a growing thirst for energy – driven primarily by Asia’s urbanisation and economic development – and the cost of energy production is rising as traditional sources of energy are depleted and the world turns to unconventional fuels that are more difficult to extract. (p.84) Report Link.
The report does not mention the term "Peak Oil", almost as if it were taboo, but it conveys essentially the same message with the words "traditional sources of energy are depleted and the world turns to unconventional fuels that are more difficult to extract." How euphemistic, isn't it?

Unfortunately, whatever measures that we take now to mitigate the effects of peak oil will probably be too little, too late (See the 2005 Hirsch Report which calls for a mitigation program 20 years before the peak). There will be painful social, cultural, economic and political readjustments in a post-peak world.

The Singapore government's continued insistence on senseless economic and population growth only reinforces my pessimism about our future survival in a world that is deep into overshoot, and my pessimism will only increase unless they begin to see the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental conservation and the need to abandon the fraudulent GDP as a measure of human progress, welfare and happiness.

Years from now, Singaporeans will quote a Cree proverb to educate their children and grandchildren on the folly of relentless economic growth at the expense of true environmental sustainability.

Only after the last tree has been cut down,

Only after the last river has been poisoned,

Only after the last fish has been caught,

Only then you will find out that money cannot be eaten.

-Cree Indian Proverb
Related Links:

Singapore Government's (MINDEF) Policies To Tackle Peak Oil
Peak Oil for Policymakers

21 April 2010

A great read from Guardian.co.uk:

Last March, Tim Jackson put forward the idea of prosperity without growth in a report published by the United Kingdom's Sustainable Development Commission and followed up with a book of the same name released last November. The book is a best seller (ranked 1,729 on Amazon) and in it he argues convincingly that we can still prosper without adhering to the encoded mantra of expansion and growth that permeates modern market economies.

More recently, in January 2010, Andrew Simms and Victoria Johnson at the new economics foundation (nef) published a more emphatic message in their report entitled Growth isn't possible. They argue that we should abandon the notion of growth altogether. The premise is that we need a new economic model "that allows the human population as a whole to thrive without having to rely on ultimately impossible endless increases in consumption".

In influential forums — like the G8 or G20, for instance — while it is acceptable and even desirable to use the word 'sustainability' in communiqués, it is most certainly taboo to equate 'no economic growth' to a social good. However, such heresy nonetheless finds traction (if only in book sales), even when our world is suffering from the ills of economic recession.

When addressing our environmental ills, the closest we ever seem to get is 'decoupling'. This idea has been around for decades and essentially suggests that we can break the links between economic growth and nasty side effects like pollution (e.g., carbon dioxide). Decoupling is done by producing things more efficiently — using less (and preferably renewable) energy, or using technology to capture the pollution. However, Jackson says that this relative decoupling is only possible to a certain level. He believes absolute decoupling is a myth — simply the acceptable face of sustainability that leaves our complex social and economic systems unchanged.

Stuff, stuff, and more stuff
Generally, we humans don't really like complexity or understanding how things work too much. For many of us, it is a bit of a shock to be confronted by some of the realities. You can find a good illustration of this in The Story of Stuff, which does a nice (albeit heavily politicised) job of illustrating the linkages within the modern economy: from where we get our resources, to their production, consumption and disposal.

You either love or truly hate this story. Some of the more inquisitive may want to look more deeply into "stuff", but I suspect many will convulsively reject it as heresy. After all, growth is good and without wealth there is no progress and what you don't know, doesn't hurt you.

At the same time, there are several important and accepted norms that dictate how the economy works and the role that consumption plays. For example, companies' first obligations are to shareholders, governments plan their spending based on the assumption of growth, and investors expect interest on their monies lent. Our role as consumers is to fuel that growth (preferably borrowing money in the process).

It is therefore entirely understandable that governments, businesses and consumers have little choice but to be obedient followers of the Growth God: otherwise uncertainty would prevail, revenues would fall and social stability would be threatened.

At a personal level, all this talk of growth focuses on the consumer cycle. Most of us like new things and the feeling of satisfaction (sometimes fleeting) that these things provide. And a large part of our modern society is optimized to meet these consumption habits with ever more innovative products delivered with ever increasing efficiency, even to the point of not having to leave the comfort of your home.

Ironically, it is this increasing efficiency — coupled with advancing technology and connected trade systems — that often breaks the link between the consumer and the consequences of their manufactured goods and results in social vulnerability when growth slows. Individually, we are often unwittingly runners on this treadmill.

Fortunately, it is the buzz of this consumer exercise that helps us deal with the stress it creates. Governments are hopelessly addicted and try frantically to get us back on the treadmill like the overbearing trainer whose job is on the line if you don't perform. Far from this latest financial and economic crisis being a time of reflection, the main priority is to get growing again.

Yet, as American author Edward Abbey once wrote, "growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell". Reforming an economic system that mandates growth on a finite planet requires drastic changes in how we do business. Therefore, in order to avoid the pain of environmental chemotherapy, many are developing alternative therapies.

Better, not bigger
The notion that our progress (and happiness) equates to our consumption became very strongly embedded in economic policy not least because we can measure consumption, and although we know it's imperfect at some level, it works. There is however, a whole array of proposals aimed at redressing this.

For example, the Redefining Progress approach is based on broadening our conception of affluence beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the Genuine Progress Indicator. The 'capability approach', articulated by India's Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen and others, has provided the basis for the Human Development Index and mainstream acceptance of wider measures of welfare.

Some are advocating economic changes that address the key problems affecting the world's resources and climate systems. Jackson, believes, as many have long warned, that we must recognise that exponential growth interacts with resources so that we may begin to adjust our economic activity in the face of scarcity and constraint. (This notion seems to be experiencing a revival, see our recent Survivalism back in vogue).

"Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings — within the ecological limits of a finite planet," states Jackson in the report. "The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times."

So, beyond concepts of green growth or sustainable growth there is also that of 'no growth'. The latter is distinguished by the fact that it does not equate 'development' with economic expansion. The so-called steady state economy would look very different than our current system. We may share jobs, which would mean less income but, if we must still believe that time is money, increasing our time capital would afford us the luxury of doing the things that money can't, or would no longer be needed to, buy.

The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy has summarised a number of policies from leading thinkers in this area.

Changing attitudes
How does such a thing happen? Will everyone come on board? The reality is that changing any system is always hard because we are not rewarded for doing things differently or because we receive perverse incentives not to change (i.e., fossil fuels still heavily subsidized).

Some of the ideas laid out in the above-mentioned publications may initially sound awfully undesirable. But are they really? Or is it just because they don't fit with how we currently define prosperity?

"As long as you are using that word 'consumer', you will be degrading the quality of the public discussion as we go into the very difficult future that we face." — James Howard Kunstler

The tricky part is getting individuals to think about changing. The provocative author and new urbanist James Howard Kunstler puts it simply: people need to stop thinking of themselves as consumers. He argues that consumers do not have obligations, responsibilities or duties to their fellow human beings.

"As long as you are using that word 'consumer', you will be degrading the quality of the public discussion as we go into the very difficult future that we face."

So while today we cannot deny that we are part of a mass consumer culture, it is a culture that to which we should begin waving goodbye. Perhaps luckily, mass consumerism is still a relatively new phenomenon; it is essentially a leftover of post-war excess productive capacity allied to ingenious marketing that plays a crucial role in stimulating various desires and dissatisfactions and keeps the consumer ball rolling. The culture-jamming magazine Adbusters considers advertising to be akin to intellectual pollution and aims to reform current perceptions of advertising in modern society, often using subversive counter advertisements.

Maybe what we really need is more space and time to reflect on these issues. Interestingly, Clay Shirky coined the term cognitive surplus to describe the little free time that our structured working lives allow. He explains how this time is currently filled largely by watching television (and shopping). Some of his figures are astounding: 200 billion hours of TV are watched in the US each year and 100 million hours/weekend are spent just watching adverts.

This vast cognigitve surplus could be better employed, he argues, by using our time creatively rather than consumptively. The creative awakening enabled by the internet is transforming some of us from consumers to producers and sharers of music, video, knowledge and so on.

It is early days, and we still don't fully comprehend the way the internet is altering our social and economic norms and it will certainly be employed on both sides of the consumption debate.

But, if we can change the way we use media, then why not also the way we consume material things?

I notice that the Singapore media has been awfully silent on these important reports. The silence is deafening. Why? It makes me wonder if there is a goverment directive to keep this news away from the public - don't rock the boat; don't alarm the public. Or are the media just plain ignorant?

I shall be grateful if anyone can point me to a recent link where the Singapore media reported on these issues.

Oil reserves 'exaggerated by one third'

Oil crunch 'just five years away'

US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015
Branson warns that oil crunch is coming within five years
Energy minister will hold summit to calm rising fears over peak oil
Society ignores the oil crunch at its peril
Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower

Washington considers a decline of world oil production as of 2011

Oil crunch by 2012, say military experts

Are policymakers, economists and peak oilists starting to speak the same language?

19 January 2010

MM Lee Kuan Yew first mentioned the phrase "Golden Period"of economic growth in 2007, but he qualified that with this sentence:

If there are no wars or oil crises, this golden period can stretch out over many years. Speech LINK
Well, MM Lee was right about the oil crises part. The "Golden Period" of economic growth that he foresaw was derailed in the 2008 oil shock when prices hit $147/barrel. Today, we have Dr. Tony Tan, executive director of Singapore's GIC, speaking of a "Golden Age" again for Asian economies.
But my belief is that the next decade could be a "Golden Age" for Asia. (See p. A18 of The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2009, or GIC Link).
Unfortunately, Dr. Tony Tan is going to be proven very wrong in his prognosis. I have no doubt in my mind that another oil shock is under way as our economies recover and oil companies struggle to maintain oil flows from mature, depleted fields. Nature's geology is not on our side. Peak oil will prove to be the undoing of the current economic paradigm and globalization.

Related Link: Singapore Needs to Wake Up to the End of Economic Growth

Watch this captivating video where Jeff Rubin gives a talk about oil and the global economy.
We don't have 15 years to wait for the development of alternative technologies. The solution right now is not to figure out how to turn cow dung into rocket fuel. The solution right now is on the demand side because we don't have the luxury of time for supply-change innovation, and the single most important way that we can make that adjustment on the demand side is to go from a global economy to a local economy because a global economy is an extraordinarily energy intensive - and in particular, oil intensive way of doing business. (Youtube: 19min 20 sec)
Full Speech

04 November 2009

Joseph Tainter is an anthropologist and author of the seminal book, The Collapse of Complex Societies. (BitTorrent)


Joseph Tainter: Diminishing returns to complexity are probably inevitable, but collapse doesn’t necessarily follow. Collapses are actually not that common. There are several ways to cope with diminishing returns to complexity. One is to find energy subsidies to pay for the process. That is what we have done with fossil fuels. And it is a big part of why a future crisis in fossil fuels is the most important thing we should be worrying about.

The critical point is when we reach peak oil. This is the point where 50% of recoverable reserves have been extracted. At this point, production might be kept level for a few years with heroic efforts, but soon production will start to decline. And every year after that there will be less oil available than the year before. One of the challenges with peak oil is that you know you’ve passed it only in hindsight. So there is naturally controversy about how close it is. Some analysts think we have passed it already, but the effect is masked by the economic downturn. How badly peak oil affects us depends on how quickly we bring alternative energy production systems into place. If we delay too long, the party will be over. This is a real danger. Developing new energy sources is the most important thing we can do.

...Technological-innovation-as-savior is part of our cosmology. It is a fundamental part of our beliefs, so frequently we don’t think about it rationally. Relying on technological innovation to find some solution is what I call a faith-based approach to the future. There are two things about technological innovation that concern me. The first is that, like other endeavors, research grows complex and costly and can reach diminishing returns. This is covered in the Collapse book so I won’t elaborate here. The second problem is what is known as the Jevons Paradox. William Stanley Jevons, a 19th century British economist, pointed out that in the long run technological innovations aimed as at using less of a resource actually lead to even more of the resource being used. His example was coal, but the principle applies across the board. As technological innovation leads to economy in using a resource, people respond to the lower cost by using even more. I conclude from this that technological innovations can offer only short-term advantages. They quickly become outdated, then the next round of innovations may be harder to achieve.

...I am less optimistic now that I once was. Certainly we need new energy sources or the future will be very unpleasant. But new energy creates its own problems, which in time we will have to address. We can foresee this with nuclear energy and its waste. Even so-called "green" energy sources will be environmentally damaging. All of our adaptations are short term. They solve immediate problems but set the stage for future problems. Eric Sevareid once said "The chief source of problems is solutions." He was right, but that does not mean that we forego solutions. I like to use an athletic metaphor to think about sustainability. It is possible to lose—to become unsustainable and collapse. But the converse does not hold. There is no point at which we have "won"—become sustainable forever. Success consists of staying in the game.

25 October 2009

Government leaders and economists don't like to question our economic growth paradigm. It upsets the status quo and nobody likes that. Could you imagine the board of directors and CEOs of Singapore's most established companies (SIA, NOL, PSA, etc.) telling their employees and shareholders that their days of growth and profit are unsustainable? That they have reached "peak profits"? And that in 10-20 years they may have to fold up or downsize tremendously because of peak oil? Naturally, I don't expect them to be messengers of gloom and doom if they ever do come to the realization of our growth limits. They'd be putting their illustrious careers on the line. They are, after all, business entities and it's hard for businesses to maintain their cash flows and sell their products and services if they are always truthful. There shall, however, be a day of reckoning.

Our social institutions assume that economic growth and prosperity are guaranteed and inevitable as we work hard to improve our education system and increase our work productivity and efficiency. This growth is supposedly a good thing.

But now, the belief that continuous growth is always beneficial is being seriously challenged not just by ecologists and environmentalists, but even by Singapore's community of bloggers and alternative media (see TOC, Temasek Review, Sgpolitics, Diary of SG Mind, Gerald Giam). They do not write from an ecological or energy perspective, but they call attention to the growing income disparity, the excessive prices of HDB flats, surging costs of living, and the increasingly competitive and stressful lifestyles that Singaporeans have to face in spite of our high GDP and developed nation status. What are the root causes of these complaints? Mostly they point to energy issues and the environment.

Why are HDB flats so expensive? Because there are not enough of them. We could build more flats, but is there enough land? (Not to mention the shortage of construction materials and the negative effects of high oil prices on the construction industry.) Or conversely, it is because there are too many of us. So what's an acceptable population level? That's where the ecological concept of carrying capacity comes in. To answer that question, let's just say that our carrying capacity would be substantially smaller without ready access to fossil fuels, whose availability would be severely curtailed in our lifetime.

Why is the cost of living rising? Why are my utility bills going up? Why are my grocery bills higher each following month? Because each of these is determined to a large extent by the price of oil. So why then is oil going up? Primarily because of peak oil - depletion of mature, giant oil fields; past peak discoveries, and declining net energy returns. We are clearly bumping up against physical limits here.

What if we are wrong about growth? What if there really are limits to growth? Is there a government blueprint for managing the economy without growth? Is there a Plan B? Judging from the Singapore government's press releases and publications, I see no hint of any such awareness or understanding and that frightens me. Without a plan to manage prolonged descent or contraction, the fashion in which we transition to a post-peak oil world could be very chaotic and brutal.

A group of academics gathered last week in New York (see report below) for a Biophysical Economics conference to discuss the view that net energy will be the limiting factor to economic growth. I hope in my wildest dreams that the Singapore government and its band of cornucopian economists - most notably SM Goh Chok Tong (MAS Chairman) and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (both mainstream-trained economists) - heed the warnings of these scientists. By disregarding the role of the natural sciences in their discipline, economists have built their edifice on shaky foundation, and the tragedy of it all is that they drag the world along with them when their tower of false knowledge crumples under the weight of biophysical reality.

We ignore ecology and the laws of thermodynamics at our own peril.

Related Post: Singapore Needs to Wake Up to the End of Economic Growth

See Also:
Temporary Recession or the End of Growth

Brother, Can You Spare Me A Planet?

The New York Times
October 23, 2009

The financial crisis and subsequent global recession have led to much soul-searching among economists, the vast majority of whom never saw it coming. But were their assumptions and models wrong only because of minor errors or because today's dominant economic thinking violates the laws of physics?

A small but growing group of academics believe the latter is true, and they are out to prove it. These thinkers say that the neoclassical mantra of constant economic growth is ignoring the world's diminishing supply of energy at humanity's peril, failing to take account of the principle of net energy return on investment. They hope that a set of theories they call "biophysical economics" will improve upon neoclassical theory, or even replace it altogether.

But even this nascent field finds itself divided, as evidenced by the vigorous and candid back-and-forth debate last week over where to go next. One camp says its models prove the world is headed toward a dramatic economic collapse as energy scarcity takes hold, while another camp believes there is still time to turn the ship around. Still, all biophysical economists see only very bleak prospects for the future of modern civilization, putting a whole new spin on the phrase "the dismal science."

Last week, about 50 scholars in economics, ecology, engineering and other fields met at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry for their second annual conference on biophysical economics. The new field shares features with ecological economics, a much more established discipline with conferences boasting hundreds of attendees, but the relatively smaller number of practitioners of biophysical economics believe theirs is a much more fundamental and truer form of economic reasoning.

"Real economics is the study of how people transform nature to meet their needs," said Charles Hall, professor of systems ecology at SUNY-ESF and organizer of both gatherings in Syracuse. "Neoclassical economics is inconsistent with the laws of thermodynamics."

Like Hall, many biophysical economic thinkers are trained in ecology and evolutionary biology, fields that do well at breaking down the natural world into a few fundamental laws and rules, just like physicists do. Though not all proponents of the new energy-centric academic study have been formally trained in economics, scholars coming in from other fields, especially ecology, say their skills allow them to see the global economy in a way that mainstream economists ignore.

Central to their argument is an understanding that the survival of all living creatures is limited by the concept of energy return on investment (EROI): that any living thing or living societies can survive only so long as they are capable of getting more net energy from any activity than they expend during the performance of that activity.

For instance, if a squirrel burns energy eating nuts, those nuts had better give the squirrel more energy back then it expended, or the squirrel will inevitably die. It is a rule that lies at the core of studying animal and plant behavior, and human society should be looked at no differently, as even technologically complex societies are still governed by EROI.

"The basic issue is very fundamental: Why should economics be a social science, because it's about stuff?" Hall said.

'Peak oil' embraced

The modern biophysical economics movement may be relatively young, but the ideas at its roots are not.

In 1926, Frederick Soddy, a chemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize just a few weeks before, published "Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt," one of the first books to argue that energy should lie at the heart of economics and not supply-demand curves.

Soddy also criticized traditional monetary policy theories for seemingly ignoring the fact that "real wealth" is derived from using energy to transform physical objects, and that these physical objects are inescapably subject to the laws of entropy, or inevitable decline and disintegration.

The sharpest difference between biophysical economics and the more widely held "Chicago School" approach is that biophysical economists readily accept the peak oil hypothesis: that society is fast approaching the point where global oil production will peak and then steadily decline.

The United States is held as the prime example. Though the United States is still the world's third-largest producer of oil, its oil production stopped growing more than a decade ago and has flatlined or steadily fallen ever since. Other once-robust oil-producing countries have experienced similar production curves.

But the more important indicator, biophysical economists say, is the fact that the U.S. oil industry's energy return on investment has been steadily sliding since the beginning of the century.

Through analyzing historical production data, experts say the petroleum sector's EROI in this country was about 100-to-1 in 1930, meaning one had to burn approximately 1 barrel of oil's worth of energy to get 100 barrels out of the ground. By the 1990s, it is thought, that number slid to less than 36-to-1, and further down to 19-to-1 by 2006.

"If you go from using a 20-to-1 energy return fuel down to a 3-to-1 fuel, economic collapse is guaranteed," as nothing is left for other economic activity, said Nate Hagens, editor of the popular peak oil blog "The Oil Drum."

"The main problem with neoclassical economics is that it treats energy as the same as any other commodity input into the production function," Hagens said. "They parse it into dollar terms and treat it the same as they would mittens or earmuffs or eggs ... but without energy, you can't have any of that other stuff."

Nor is conservation or energy efficiency the answer. In his presentation, Henshaw noted that the International Energy Agency's own data show that energy use is doubling every 37 years or so, while energy productivity takes about 56 years to double.

In fact, the small world of biophysical economists seems to agree that energy and resource conservation is pointless in the economic system as it is now construed, contrary to what one might expect. Such efforts are noteworthy as it buys the world a bit more time, but the destination is inevitably the same -- a gallon of gasoline not burned by an American will be burned by someone else anyway.

Other peaks?

Though not as closely studied, biophysical economists theorize that the peak oil phenomenon holds true for all non-renewable resources, especially energy commodities. Proponents of the field say they are moving closer to understanding "peak gas" and "peak coal." Consumption of many of the world's most valuable minerals could likewise see those resources nearing exhaustion, as well, they say.

And no amount of technology can fix the problem. Hagens points out that oil extraction has evolved by leaps and bounds since the early 1900s, and yet companies must expend much more energy to get less and less oil than they did back then.

"It isn't that there's no technology," Hall said. "The question is, technology is in a race with depletion, and that's a whole different concept. And we think that we can show empirically that depletion is winning, because the energy return on investment keeps dropping for gas and oil."

The most pessimistic of the biophysical economics camp sees the oil-fueled world economy grinding to a halt soon, possibly within 10 years. They are all working to get the message out, but not all of them believe their peers in other professions will listen.

"Of course I'm trying to send a message," said Joseph Tainter, chairman of Utah State University's Department of Environment and Society. "I just don't expect there's anyone out there to receive it."

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/10/23/23greenwire-new-school-of-thought-brings-energy-to-the-dis-63367.html

23 September 2009

"Pernicious" - a very appropriate description of present-day economists.

“Economists live completely within a false world,” he says. “If I had one wave of a wand – and I could make one decision for the government to implement – I would press for the compulsory re-education of economists. I’d force them to learn about the law of thermodynamics, to understand how the natural world works, and then let them back out into the world, because their role at the moment is pernicious – there’s no doubt about that.”

See also:

Mah Bow Tan vs. Laws of Science

Singapore's Former Chief Statistician (Dr. Paul Cheung) Clueless About Carrying Capacity

02 September 2009

PM Lee Hsien Loong said:
Our basic attitude has been that environmental sustainability is not incompatible with economic development. We have systematically and resolutely tackled used water and other issues faced by cities all over the world.

Speech Link
May I ask the Prime Minister: How would you consider this externality? Positive or negative for the environment?
Vietnam’s prime minister has asked relevant ministries to inspect Mekong Delta sand exports after a local newspaper said exports to Singapore were booming, altering the area’s water flow and causing environmental damage.

Full Report
Is this Peak Sand for Singapore? Now that Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam have banned sand exports, perhaps we could source for sand from further locations like Africa or South America to fuel the construction sector of our economy in order to sustain our misguided quest for continuous economic growth, which has been mistakenly viewed as desirable and beneficial, but which in reality has turned UNeconomic.

This ban on sand exports would probably lead to higher construction costs which will be passed down to the buyers. Perhaps this could be reason for another property "boom"? Rejoice! Because it adds to economic growth (GDP)!

It's only sand this time. What happens if Thailand and Vietnam ban the export of rice because of a poor harvest? I don't think many of us would enjoy going on a calorie-restricted diet. Don't bother to turn to Malaysia and Indonesia for help because they are rice importers themselves with a total fertility rate around twice that of Singapore's. If they can't feed themselves, you can forget about them lending us a hand.

Does anyone still think we need 6.5 million of us to maintain the Singapore government's nonsensical notion of a sustainable growth economy?
Hanoi - Surging international demand for sand is leading to excessive dredging in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, damaging the terrain and the environment, officials said Monday.

The jump in sand excavation is fueled by demand from Singapore's construction industry, which is searching for new sources after Indonesia and Cambodia banned exports.

Full Report

01 September 2009

10 August 2009

Economic growth is all about production and consumption. Economists and politicians love a growing population of consumers because it adds to economic growth. A greying population would slow our growth and so the current 4.6 million on this island is not enough, we need 6.5 million in the coming decades. Now this cycle of growth is vicious and self-perpetuating. In 2030, the government will say 6.5 million of us is not enough, we need 9 million on this island to keep the economy growing. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Spend, spend, spend. Consume, consume, consume. Grow, grow, grow. I remember reading in ChannelNewsAsia last year where SM Goh Chok Tong was encouraging Singaporeans to spend to starve off a recession:

"If all of us go into a power save mode, then the economy will really go into a recession! This is what economists called the Paradox of Thrift. If you have sufficient savings and can afford to spend, you should continue to spend on life's little pleasures.

"Take your family to the movies, shop, dine out at restaurants and hawker centres, go for your regular foot massage, indulge yourself at a spa, take a taxi, donate to charity and so on."
Here's the twist: what are the limits, if any, as to how much we can spend and grow before we turn into an incurable cancerous tumour on this planet? The New Scientist article below addresses this question and our leaders and policymakers would do well to pay attention to this for a truly sustainable Singapore - not the pseudo-sustainable-growth-economy that Mah Bow Tan keeps talking about.

New Scientist
07 August 2009

...According to leading ecologists...few of us realise that the main cause of the current environmental crisis is human nature.

...All we're doing is what all other creatures have ever done to survive, expanding into whatever territory is available and using up whatever resources are available, just like a bacterial culture growing in a Petri dish till all the nutrients are used up. What happens then, of course, is that the bugs then die in a sea of their own waste.

...Epidemiologist Warren Hern of the University of Colorado at Boulder, even likened the expansion of human cities to the growth and spread of cancer, predicting "death" of the Earth in about 2025. He points out that like the accelerated growth of a cancer, the human population has quadrupled in the past 100 years, and at this rate will reach a size in 2025 that leads to global collapse and catastrophe...

...The problem..is that it fails to recognise that the physical resources to fuel this growth are finite. "We're still driven by growing and expanding, so we will use up all the oil, we will use up all the coal, and we will keep going till we fill the Petri dish and pollute ourselves out of existence,"

Full Article: Consumerism is 'eating the future'

08 August 2009

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) published in Nov 2007 (p.13):

For oil and gas, proven reserves are estimated to be sufficient for only around 40 and 63 years of 2006 levels of consumption respectively. Nevertheless, oil and gas production is not expected to peak within the next two to three decades. With more exploration and improvements in extraction technologies, substantial new reserves will be added. Since 1980, globally proven oil reserves have expanded by 81 per cent, while proven gas reserves have more than doubled.
I had previously criticized this report for being too optimistic in its oil projections and economic growth outlook because they had taken as face value data published from British Petroleum (BP ) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In recent months, the IEA has changed its tune and its chief economist, Dr Fatih Birol, now believes that global peak oil production is likely in the next 10 years. See:

The Independent: Warning: Oil Supplies Are Running Out Fast

TimesOnline: World needs four new Saudi Arabias, warns IEA

The "early peakers" (ASPO and TheOilDrum.com) estimate peak oil to occur between 2005 and 2012. Whichever the date, it's probably too late to make a smooth transition to a post-peak oil world. Alternative energy did not save us during the runup of oil prices from $20/barrel in 1999 to $147 in 2008, and neither will it at $200 or $300 per barrel because the economy would have cratered at those levels hampering the development of these energy projects. Kurt Cobb has a wonderful explanation here: Receding Horizons for Alternative Energy Supplies

It'll be interesting to see what MTI has to say in their next energy report in view of the recent IEA changes. Any attempts to sidestep this issue as the IMCSD did in the Sustainable Development Blueprint and further promote unsustainable growth will only spell disaster in the long term.

07 June 2009

Relocalization, not globalization, is the way forward for Singapore and the rest of the world. However, I doubt that relocalization efforts will take place until we enter the collapse phase of panarchy theory (see article below), but then it might be too late to prevent a societal breakdown. The 2008 oil crisis and financial panic ought to have awaken us to the fragility of a globalized world. Instead we are calling for greater economic integration and free trade - talk about insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We are sacrificing long term ecological sustainability and balance for short term paper profits. Monetary abstractions will be of little use after we extract and exhaust all the minerals and resources from the earth in this lifetime. This will not end well.


As valuable as Dr. Buzz Holling's notion of panarchy theory is in helping us understand the cyclical changes in forests -- the way they move through continuous phases of regeneration, growth, increasing connectivity, and then rigidity, crisis, collapse and regeneration again -- his thinking is much more valuable in helping us identify and correct the same trends occurring in our modern civilization. It, too, is a natural system that has been moving through a growth phase for the last several centuries and is now becoming increasingly interconnected and rigid, conditions that are prelude to a crisis.

Indeed, the course of our globalized world has been following all the adaptive characteristics of Holling's notion of panarchy theory. If he is correct, we are approaching the end of a growth phase, a time when the rising "dependence" within the system, together with increasing specialization and efficiency, create a fatal loss of resilience. As we continue to exploit every possible resource and niche on the planet, our entire socio-economic system loses its adaptive options as it becomes more dependent on the smooth functioning of a rising proportion of its interlinked components. This "peaking", Holling contends, usually leads to a collapse.

As a measure of our vulnerability, simply choose a few examples of the cumulative effects that can be caused by any single disruption:

- Just one crash on a freeway stops traffic, creates huge jams and leaves thousands of commuters and transporters delayed for hours.

- Contamination at just one processing plant taints food supplies across a continent.

- A malfunction at one nuclear power plant almost eliminates the supply of critically important medical isotopes.

- One terrorist attack inflicts huge amounts of fear and a country spends billions of dollars on measures to prevent the repeat of such an event.

- Just the hint of a pandemic raises global panic, devastates tourist industries and slows international travel for months.

- A policy of unregulated mortgages in the US triggers a subprime crisis that spreads throughout the international financial system, undermining confidence in money markets and sending the global economy into a tailspin.

- Our nearly total dependence on a supply of cheap oil for transportation, innumerable consumer products and nearly half our food production transforms any hint of a shortage into convulsions of worry and nightmares of consequence.

- The excessive emission of a single gas, carbon dioxide, threatens to alter the planet's climate, displace hundreds of millions of people, induce droughts and restructure global economies.

Indeed, the very efficiency of our global economic system, an attribute we herald as a virtue, is victimizing the planet's ecology. Maximizing performance and productivity drives the continual expansion of the world's economy. "Based on current trends," writes Thomas Homer-Dixon, "global output of goods and services will quadruple from US $60 to $240 trillion (in 2005 dollars) by 2050" (WorldWatch, March/April, 2009).

Panarchy theory argues that this kind of growth eventually self destructs. A civilization, like an athlete trying to run ever faster, needs progressively more energy to maintain itself. The system collapses when the energy return falls below the energy invested. The Roman Empire failed, Homer-Dixon suggests, because it became too complex to be supported by its food-based energy system. How, then, are we to reconcile rising growth with falling energy supplies?

Panarchy theory -- and even common sense -- dictates that the growth phase of any adaptive cycle cannot continue indefinitely. Continuous growth may seem possible when we are wholly emersed in the euphoria of it. This is why the insightful perspective of such people as Buzz Holling are so important -- and so disturbing.

In Holling's assessment of our history, "This is a moment of great volatility and instability in the world system. We need urgently to do what we can to avoid deep collapse. We also need to figure out how to exploit the opportunity provided by crisis and collapse when they occur, because some kind of systemic breakdown is now almost certain" (Ibid).

Holling makes two crucially important points here. The first purpose of panarchy theory is to identify the behaviour that is leading to collapse and, therefore, to use the forewarning to avoid the unwelcome outcome that it predicts. The second is to prepare for the collapse by minimizing the impact.

Some people have already started to prepare for this eventuality, as if a subliminal consciousness were already sensing an impending danger.

Globalization is losing its allure. Countries are moving toward greater self-sufficiency. Agricultural land is being protected, resources considered and ecologies preserved. Food security is prompting local buying and home gardens -- community gardens are appearing in many urban and rural neighbourhoods. Young people are returning to old farms to restore the fields with vegetable crops. Organics are on the rise.

Cycling is popular and is being encouraged for commuting in most cities.

Cars are getting smaller and more efficient. The indications of awareness are everywhere.

These steps, of course, are just the beginning of the beginning. But the signs are evident. The marvel that many people hold for our modern civilization now comes coupled with a pervasive apprehension. Perhaps panarchy theory offers some clarifying insights about what is amiss and what we might do.


03 June 2009

To sustain growth and vitality in our economy, we need a growing population in Singapore with talents in every field. -- PM Lee Hsien Loong in the 2006 National Day Rally
Contrast the above statement with an interesting speech given by former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Dr. Ow Chin Hock, in 1978 at the opening of the Family Planning Association.
At the national level, a large population not only means greater demand for jobs and for social infrastructure such as education, housing, medical and health services. It also means that the material gains accruing from economic development have to be shared by a larger number of people, resulting in lower living standards for everyone. Thus, Two Is Enough is not a mere slogan. ‘It is the responsibility of every parent and citizen to ' put it into practice. -- Dr. Ow Chin Hock
I fully agree with Dr. Ow here. He makes alot more sense than our present Singapore leaders who worship at the altar of unlimited growth, which will soon be kept in check by a finite resource base.

Growth Does Not Equal Prosperity!

Speech by Dr. Ow Chin Hock on Family Planning (1978) Speech by Dr. Ow Chin Hock on Family Planning (1978)