predicament was this terrible! What a pit we are in!” My rather gleeful response was due to the fact that I happen to be in the midst of researching and writing a book exploring the evident fact that resource depletion, debt overhang, and climate change have brought about the end of world economic growth (as currently defined). When I drilled into Fleeing Vesuvius, I encountered a rich vein of thought very much attuned with my own, one that includes stimulating ideas and examples that were new and helpful to me.
While other readers may come to this book with backgrounds different from mine, I think they will nevertheless find just as much stimulation and help as I did.
The authors have applied themselves to an analysis of the most important and fateful economic transition in human history. They are among the People who are Paying Attention (PPA)—an almost completely unorganized demographic consisting of individuals who have the privilege to devote a substantial amount of time to following world political, economic, and environmental news, but who are not blinded by any fixed religious or political ideology.
PPA probably number globally no more than a few million, and (if I may speak for them) have generally come to the conclusion that the world is facing a triple crisis:
The depletion of important resources including fossil fuels and minerals;
The proliferation of environmental impacts, principally climate change arising from both the extraction and use of resources (including the burning of fossil fuels)—leading to snowballing costs from both these impacts themselves and from efforts to avert them; and
Financial disruptions due to the inability of our existing monetary, banking, and investment systems to adjust to both resource scarcity and soaring environmental costs—and their inability (in the context of a shrinking economy) to service the enormous piles of government and private debt that have been generated over the past couple of decades.
While these three crises are converging on us, our leaders remain obsessed with one thing, and one thing only: the maintenance of economic expansion. For a variety of reasons, growth has become essential to the political well-being of modern societies.
Yet our fixation on economic growth prevents our addressing any of the three crises: Governments refuse to curtail greenhouse gas emissions (and thus fossil fuel consumption) because doing so would reduce growth. They refuse to reduce their vulnerability to oil supply shocks because that would require them to proactively rein in oil use, thus threatening growth. And they refuse to explore fundamental changes to financial and monetary systems that would make their economies less susceptible to bubbles and crashes because…well, you can finish the sentence.