McKibben’s Deep Economy Paints Path out of Overshoot

07/01/2010 12:28 AM

In Deep Economy, renowned environmental journalist and climate activist Bill McKibben has done more than simply write a catchy page-turner; he has created a blueprint for bringing humanity out of overshoot.  McKibben weaves evidence of our ecological crisis (including Footprint data) with explorations of the history and psychology of our growth-based economy and “hyper-individualist” culture. Clearly but gently, he shows how global economic expansion has become our culture’s mantra, yet is simply not an option if humans are to survive this era of global overshoot.

Deep Economy stands out from other often alienating eco-manifestos because McKibben writes of our unsustainable norms with unrivaled compassion, appealing to all sides of the political spectrum with his particular brand of earnest and pragmatic hopefulness. He covers the doom and gloom facts and the myth that money can buy happiness in just one chapter, spending most of his easy, fast-paced book highlighting stories of re-localization and economies that bring prosperity and happiness rather than efficient maximization of profit. At the heart of McKibben’s message is a call for innovation— for a new economic paradigm based in our own backyards, gauging our success with a measuring stick far more useful than the GDP.

McKibben paints a localized picture, where individuals harness their potential for the growth and progress of their own community with localized food, energy, even entertainment. It’s a picture filled with inspiring anecdotes of budding projects, communities, countries and economies that are working toward a one planet future.

“We in the rich countries no longer inhabit a planet where straight-ahead Newtonian economics, useful as it has been, can help us,” McKibben writes. “We need an Einstein economics, a more complicated and relativistic science that asks deeper questions.”

Indeed, most of McKibben’s refreshing book explores these very questions, and highlights through true stories from Vermont to Cuba how the GDP and our neoclassical economics simply do not work in a resource-constrained world – we need different measures and different strategies to cultivate the wealth of communities and the health of our psyches and our planet.


The bottom line is too many people on the planet. We need to reduce the global population, which means fewer children. The way to acheive that through economic means, is to tax parents for their children. The China model (1 kid per family) has worked so well, that it was unfortunately abandoned again by the Chinese (let’s gloss over the gender bias issue, serious as it is). In the US, population growth is a NIMBY issue. But let us be clear: although global overshoot is around 20-25%, the US overshoot is more like 500%. Hence, the US could sustain only about 60 million people, not 300M. With a strict 1 kid per family policy, the US population would get into balance within 2-3 generations, i.e. around 50-75 years.

So let us be economical about children, and recognize them as the source of all ecological problems. The economic solution is taxing their parents.

To put it into other words, recycling, hybrid car, solar power, all nice, but not addressing the ultimate cause. If you really want to be an environmentalist, don’t have kids.

Childfree from California

Bill McKibben is a GIFT to our species—-with the tight message at the right time!

Bill McKibben is truly wonderful. He confronts the converging catastrophes head on and then provides rational, reasonable solutions. He makes me want to get up in the morning and fight for a better world.

Getting the economic puzzle right is the making thing, and it seems fairly clear that Bill doesn’t. 

For centuries people have mistakenly thought the problem was “maximizing profit”.  That is definitely incorrect.  It takes careful study and explanation, but the actual problem is “multiplying profit”.  That’s the exponential pump process that does the real disasters we are seeing.  It�s not the market decisions to choose products delivered with less effort.  Correcting it is quite feasible, much more feasible than continuing it, because continuing it is indeed infeasible in terms of the multiplying impacts that result.  I’d be glad to help anyone understand why stabilization would actually be the only true solution, with loads of hidden benefits.

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