Limits to economic growth: A peer-reviewed paper by podcast guest Tom Murphy

August 6, 2022 by Joshua
in Blog

I’ve described Tom Murphy’s textbook, Energy and Human Ambitions on a Finite Planet, the science book of the decade. He just published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Physics, one of the most important parts: how basic physical constraints limit how much our economy can grow.

The paper is called Limits to economic growth. Quoting Tom’s blog post linking to the piece inline and in pdf, the

“real” article [is] in Nature Physics. Unfortunately, Nature Physics does not allow open access for Comments, but this Share link should allow you to read the content without a subscription. If the link does not work, here is a link to the PDF.

Here are my conversations with Tom on the podcast.

Look folks, I know reading graphs and equations isn’t natural for people without PhDs in physics, but the concept he’s conveying is among the most fundamental principles here. We can’t grow something with a physical component forever, especially not the population or GDP. Not “can’t” like “it’s hard,” “can’t” like “can’t.”

Going to Mars doesn’t make Earth more livable, it trashes it. Decoupling, green growth, recycling, carbon offsets, . . . everything short of stopping growth leads to collapse. Living sustainably is beyond possible, it’s enjoyable. We know it works because humans have lived sustainably for hundreds of thousands of years.

Everything you’ve read or heard that suggests we can keep growing, every belief like “a rising tide lifts all boats” or that we have to grow solar and wind before decreasing fossil fuels, the nuclear or fusion will solve our problem, when they still contribute to growth, yes, they sound tempting, and it feels good to resign and just do what everyone around us is doing, but it leads to collapse. Those beliefs are the problem. Our falling sperm counts, rising cancer and birth defects, plastic everywhere including our veins, inequality, and so on are the result of a system being pushed to grow beyond its limits.

We can change our beliefs. It’s nice to dream that flying to see distant loved ones or for work doesn’t harm people that much, but you’ll love life more in every way when you embrace that all life is connected in one system, we’re all connected, and taking everyone into account, living by the Golden Rule of Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You and of Stewardship’s Leave It Better Than You Found It is the best of being human.

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1 response to “Limits to economic growth: A peer-reviewed paper by podcast guest Tom Murphy

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Selected Readings: Apocalypse Never, Dare to Lead » Joshua Spodek

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