Arguments In Favour of Benefits With No Cost Is Childish

I sometimes read George Monbiot because most of what he talks about are things I don’t easily agree with. It helps me to be more aware and sometimes change my own ideas, or at least moderate them. It also helps me to find reasons I desagree. Reasons are good discipline.

Aside from that he is a competent writer and that is always pleasant.

An article about growth.

Or better the impossibility of it. The Impossibility of Growth.

The analogy in the beginning is nonsense. He claims that if each Egyptian had a cubic meter of possession in 3030 BC, by 30 BC with growth at 4.5% the goods he possessed would occupy. 2.5 billion billion solar systems. While arithmetically possible I suppose, it is nonethe less nonsense. It does show however the power of continuous compound growth over long periods.

The reasons its nonsense

  1. No Egyptian lives 3000 years. No civilization even.
  2. Growth does not imply that everything produced will last forever. Things wear out, become obsolete, are lost, or destroyed. Given a lifetime as a reasonable timeline, growth tends to occur for a while, followed by replacemetn, downsizing and eventually extinction. How many of you have more than tiny memorabelia of your great grandparents? if anything.
  3. Much of growth is replacement, so no real increasse in space needed. Possibly replacement with smaller and better goods.
  4. Some growth is not tangible. How much do all IBM patents weigh? How much space do they consume?
  5. Some growth which seems necessary today will be less necessary in the future.


Certainly we can agree that destroying the environment for convenience or money so wrongheaded. Arguments that it is wrong should always be accompanied by reasons. Loss is not necessarily a reason. What is the problem with losing something. If not understood or because it looks pretty or because there are no others like it are often front and center, but do they matter? I personally think they do, but not at any cost.

Seeing benefits withouyt cost is not helpful.

Everything has two sides at least

Writers like George Monbiot are caring and smart but they lack the other side of the argument or the training to analyze it. Single factors make no compelling argument to anyone who has experience in the real world. For every benefit there is a cost. The opposite, for every cost there is a benefit, is not true. So we must weight both.

Often for every cost incurred, there is a negative benefit. People govern their behavious based on incentives and disincentives. To many disincentives and people move away or start trying to work the system to their favour.

Many fraudulent arguments rely the examination of benenfits alone. Here are the benefits, how can you argue? Or sometimes, here are the costs, how can we afford it? Neither is a valid tool for a decision.

Solutions rely on considering both. I might like a private jet, but the cost is beyonf my means. There are similar limits in society as a whole. Cliamte change arguments are very weak on the economic side. A 10% reduction in GDP by 2100 is not even a thing. No one would spend money today to avoid that. Its net present value is negligible. Less than three cents per dollar gained using 4.5% discount rate, and the cost to get it is enormous and uncertain to work.

Making choices

One of the easy things to observe is there are available choices. Like lets test it small before we build big. Like lets scale up rather than try to impose a final solution on day one. Like let’s minimize the impact of whatever is happening. These approaches keep resources available to deal with sysmptoms as they areise and provide the money for better solutions in future.

Most arguments of the must do something kind assume nothing will be different in the future.That’s never true. People are very good at solving slow evolving problems. People who ring the alarm early help to make the action apply sooner and an evolved solution follows.

The people who solve the problem are never the people who noticed it.

The best approach for people who are one sided.

Keep up the noise, but while you have the right of free speech, you do not have the right to be taken seriously forever. Do not rely on old conditions when circumstances have clearly changed. Technolgy is changing how energy is used and produced. Maybe just let the system approach play out.

Do not rely solely on cost to deny action. Spending is often necessary to get a good result. No spending is likely as bad as too much.

Examine the writer approach and see if that demands event-like solutions. Those seldom work. Systemic change does. Events are one and done. Systems evolve and the solution they produce will be unlike anything the original proponents offered. Thomas Edison never imagined LED lightbulbs. We cannot imagine what will be available 100 years from now either. But we can grow into them.

Trust progress

Growth is a catchall for progress but it is really not representative. Much progress uses fewer not more resources. Have you looked at old pictures of  computers. My laptop is many orders of magnitude smaller, more capable, and cheaper than what existed 60 years ago.

Never assume the context of the problem will remain as it is today and the methods of dealing with it will be unchanged. Better a cheaper solution a little later.

When reading writers like George Monbiot, and you should, it is never enough to say, “He’s wrong.” You must discuss reasons. That gives you insight into the problem. Disimissal of the opinion adds nothing to your ability to solve problems.

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