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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 6 September 2012
Heinberg is good company as he describes the coming Armageddon; the financial collapse is not an aberration to be fixed but the end of civilization, as we know it. He expertly details the three reasons why: resources are running out; environmental impacts are approaching tipping points and debt-based economics fail under the inevitable strain of sagging confidence.

Given the perennial problem of increasing population growth compounded by increasing consumption I don't need to be convinced, I wanted to more rapidly get into exploring the post-growth world.

Heinberg has to be thorough because he remains a marginalized voice drowned out against the braying of politicians and media who perennially obsess over increasing growth even as the impossibility is writ large in the world around us.

Heinberg laments that governments want to return us to "a life of carefree motoring through anonymous suburbs" even whilst every day that passes and every gallon of fuel burnt is wasted if it is not preparing us for Peak Everything; the steady decline in supply of the nutrients of the conventional economy.

From now on, to maintain and improve our quality of life, we need to be able to take care of ourselves and our loved ones without depending on mega-corps shifting the fundamentals of life (energy, food, water) around in the giant mechanical web of fossil burning machines which has, for this brief moment in history, become ubiquitous.

Heinberg demonstrates that investing now in renewable energy, low carbon food production, and local resilience could avoid catastrophe but acknowledges that governments and business, trapped in short-term planning cycles, may drive `business-as-usual' over the precipice of collapse. This is why he wrote the book "to prepare individuals and communities for what is coming".

The job of the informed minority is to have the tools, knowledge and seed ready to enable survival once our centralized, fossil fuel infrastructure splutters to a halt, and yet grass-roots, pre-emptive action should surely spread.

"The end of economic growth does not necessarily mean we've reached the end of qualitative improvements in human life." Indeed, according to Heinberg the single most important thing any of us can do to prepare is to go and meet our neighbors "the people you may need to depend on". This is also one of the easiest and most successful actions we can take to improve our well being. The number of neighbours we know is closely correlated to our happiness levels.

Heinberg cautions early on that his message may be bleak and yet I relished the realism and found hope in the later sections. At a time of ubiquitous debt, surging unemployment, slashed social welfare, and when nature's agonies are muffled only by dismal and desperate, endless and empty calls for more; problems whose solutions require restraint, community building and a recalibration of quantity over quality my turn out not to be problems at all. Our planet is beautiful but limited couldn't our economy be the same?
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on 14 July 2012
This is a very economically authoritative book which convincingly argues a profound environmentalist, paradigm changing point. The author is a key member of the 'Post Carbon Institute' and in this book he explains why the fundamental economic truth of our time is that we are travelling beyond the period where cheap carbon based fossil fuels can foster perpetual economic growth. The arguments in this book could also be perceived as opening up a third side in the government debt verses austerity debate. Keynesian economists, such as Paul Krugman, may have to recognise that they now have to engage on two fronts, with the unlikely pairing of right wing conservatives, and now these green type groups, both pitted against them. Although in agreement with many of the anti free markets views of Krugman and others regarding the causes of the recession, Heinberg characterises government stimulus as "The Bridge to Nowhere", in that energy and non renewable resource scarcity will prevent a return to long term economic growth.

"The Keynesians still see the world through the lens of the Great Depression. During the 1930s, industrialised countries were in the early stages of their shift from an agrarian, coal-based, rural economy to an electrified, oil-based, urban economy--a shift that required enormous infrastructure investments (in new highways, airports, dams, and power lines) that would ultimately pay off handsomely for a nation on the verge of realising a consumer utopia. All that was needed to initiate the building of that infrastructure was credit--grease for the wheels of commerce. Government got those wheels rolling by taking on debt, with private companies increasingly taking the lead after World War II. The expansion that occurred from the 1950s through 2000, as that infrastructure was built and put to use, easily justified the government pump-priming that initiated the process. Future payments of interest on the government debt could be ensured through growth of the tax base. Now its different. . . . both the U.S. and the world has a whole have passed a fundamental crossroads characterised by increasing scarcity of energy and minerals. Because of this, strategies of growth that worked reliably in the mid-to-late 20th century-via various forms of business and technological development-have reached a point of diminishing returns. Thus the Keynesian spending bridge today leads nowhere. . . . the Keynesian remedy does not cure the ailment but merely extends the suffering (while increasing government debt to truly toxic levels) . . . There is no "silver bullet," no magic solution that will turn back the clock to an era of abundant resources and easy growth. For now, all that governments can do is buy time through further deficit spending- ideally, using that time to build infrastructure that will continue to function in the coming era of reduced flows of energy and resources." p100-102

The early parts of the book present a background critique of how mainstream economics has omitted to value natures finite capital and non renewable resources. Then Heinberg is obliged to detail the well documented flaws and extravagances which led up to the credit crunch / recession. He seems to recognise that many of these ideas, though essential to his narrative, are already familiar to us, and therefore trots through them nimbly, while of course placing extra emphasis on energy and resource issues. One quality of this book, which adds to its already authoritative feel, is that many good data sources and graphs of the sub-prime crisis / debt / government stimulus are provided.

The mid part presents the data and discusses the trends regarding the core issues of finite cheap energy and non-renewable resources. Then the various contemporary arguments which down play these constraining factors are dealt with. Some frightening statistics regarding China's growing energy and resource consumption are presented, which although not proving that net world economic growth is ending, do illustrate that economic growth for the rest of us will probably get harder.

One small gripe I have is that in a section titled "Currency Wars", Heinberg includes a citation which points out: " It's inconsistent for the Americans to accuse the Chinese of manipulating exchange rates and then to artificially depress the dollar exchange rate by printing money" p207. But surely it is a question of degree? The final conclusion as to who is the biggest offender must hinge on whose currency is actually the most under-valued, and China still easily comes top on this measure.

The latter part of the book is more recognisably a 'green' read. There is a comprehensive list of stances and suggestions which include many that most would regard as sensible, and a few that some would regard as perhaps idealistic or ineffectual.

Although Heinberg arguably could be over egging the present effects of energy and resource shortages, the questions of environmental depletion and non-renewable resources in the long term easily trump all other considerations, especially in view of developing countries like China being able to consume more and more due to their manufacturing and exporting prowess. Therefore it is hard not to strongly agree with the central thesis of this book.

But if elites in the West are going to abort a Keynesian style return to consumer led growth as the author seems to wish, and instead settle for an austere non-growth economy, I believe they have to offer the low income working population / unemployed more than a chance to grow their own food, join co-ops, and do odd jobs in return for local currency as a consolation prize! This is an incomplete caricature of the suggestions Heinberg puts forward, but it does illustrate a point. As we are now all too aware, austerity does not fall evenly upon the population, and a weakness of this green approach to the future is that in their ideas there is some, but not enough, consolation for the less skilled working person, who is and will bear the brunt of austerity.

This is why I believe a certain kind of protectionism will inevitably make its way into rich country politics in the near future, to square this circle and tighten lower end labour markets within non-growing rich countries. (Although to be fair Heinberg does mention tariffs in a limited context "The adoption of a system of tariffs that would allow countries that implement sustainable policies to remain competitive in the global market place with countries that don't" p252). It should not be technologically ambitious protectionism which provokes resentment from other countries, and it should consider carefully questions of maintaining industry competition in relation to factors of scale and scope.
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on 22 July 2011
I sent off for an advance copy of End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economics Reality a few weeks ago. Having heard Richard Heinberg give a talk a while back, and receiving his regular Museletters, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. The man has an incredible gift for making complexity appear simple, and for delivering unpalatable facts with gentle irony. The historical development of the modern economy is laid bare, our current predicament is there for all to see, and the only rational solution is given a thorough airing. Buy it for your friends, buy it for business people large and small. It is an essential primer for building the future.
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on 15 February 2012
The End of Growth brings together the crises of Peak Oil, the climate and the financial crash to give a view of a world that cannot go on living beyond its limits. It should be required reading for every politician who talks about a return to 'steady growth'. The good news is that there are lots of things we can do to prepare for a radically different future. Start by reading this excellent book!
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on 28 November 2011
Richard Heinberg is one of the most clued in thinkers around. The lack of any questioning of infinite growth on a finite planet was starting to bug me big time. The book covers all the major structural impediments that are causing the end of growth. The first section about the financial problems is thorough but doesn't add anything new if you follow the financial problems and causes already. Very good overview/crash course if you don't.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 November 2013
This book is a real eye-opener and shows that the common assumption that we can continue to grow the economy at 2% to 3% per year is invalid.

In fact it is complete nonsense.

We live on a planet of limited reserves and even worse, they are being consumed fast. Not only can we not grow, we are reaching the point where contraction will be forced upon us because we'll have run out of essential commodities or they will become so expensive to mine, we can't afford them.

To be honest, in some ways, the message of the book is too overwhelming as it ties together so many different strands of our everyday lives and shows that even if we dodge one bullet, there are a succession of others waiting to get us.

Because of this, you might find it helpful to read Life After Growth: How the global economy really works - and why 200 years of growth are over first. This does a great job of explaining that we live in two different economies that should run parallel to each other - a money economy and an energy economy. Unfortunately they are diverging fast and that means a sharp shock downwards in prosperity.

My only criticism of these books are that they are big on problems, short on answers. To be fair, we must all understand the problem before we will accept the political and economic consequences of the viable solutions.

It's easy to ignore the messages of these books because we don't want the outcomes to be true.

I don't want it to be cold and wet tomorrow but I'll go out prepared with a thick coat and an umbrella just in case.

Anything positive and helpful we do in advance of being forced to react to the crises will help.

Read this book. It's time to be very worried about the future.

About my book reviews - I aim to be a tough reviewer because the main cost of a book is not the money to buy it but the time needed to read it and absorb the key messages. 5 stars means that I think that overall it has some vital messages in it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 August 2016
This is the kind of economics book that more people should know about and read. Firstly because the topic and secondly it offers a message of hope. The book is a well written, scholarly and comprehensive examination of the nature, limits and implications of growth. It is clear as the author states, that the continued growth in production and consumption of goods and services must have a limit. What to done though? The idea of ‘peak oil’ here is important. But too is the idea of over farming, fishing, waste disposal and the increased cost and risk attached to the extraction of increasingly rare and inaccessible minerals. So growth in GDP terms must reach a peak at some time, soon.

There are a few of the ideas that is worth highlighting that form the core of the book:

• GDP: as a measure is outmoded, does not take fully account of externalities or the way in which goods, services and incomes are distributed. Are there clear links between happiness / well- being and GDP- the link, especially above a given level, is tenuous.
• It is pointless to think that the world can rebound from recessions in the way witnessed in the 1940’s- 1980’s. Monetary and fiscal policies as demonstrated by the Japanese experience are increasingly ineffective. Even if output and consumption does increase, there is no guarantee that employment will follow.
• That debt- public and private has reached such levels it would be impossible even for advanced industrial nations to reduce personal or government deficits.
• That market based solutions or indeed government use of subsidy/ tax incentives to produce alternative power sources are costly and counter-productive.
So what has to be done?
• That the use of resources has to be much more carefully managed. Where possible, recycling, ability to repair or reuse outputs should be carried out.
• Debt forgiveness or some form of recalibrating debt that allows developing nations to freer to reducing the strain of debt repayments and look at improving the welfare of their citizens.
• All of us have to get used to living in a ‘smaller world’, where we have less choice, higher prices and live and act more ‘locally’. Production has to be more local and less specialised, although trade is still be possible.
• Examine ways to roll back the deprecations of man’s exploiting of the environment.
• The focus has to be on community action and localised democratic decision making. The idea of growth in terms of ever increasing production and consumption is no longer sustainable. A more appropriate measure should be human happiness.

A book about the end of the mass production / consumption era might sound like an essay on gloom and doom. Really it is not. I prefer to think that the author is alerting us to a significant issue – which happens to be as much of an opportunity as it is a problem. To consider options is in advance gives room for developing the sort of the world we want to live in and our children to live in. If I had a criticism, I would say that the author is a little too pessimistic about market innovation. Alternative sources of power can be developed and refined. Waste can be produced and public expenditures and regulation can be align growth with environmental benefits. What is important though I think is the political will has to exist. Governments in the developed world especially should look to help their neighbours in the developing world to adopt common policies and technologies to prepare for a growth constricted world. As important, citizens should look to become more informed and active in eco- politics so as to sway governments to adjust their behaviours to looking at global and long term environmental/ sustainability issues and not just short –term national concerns.
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on 19 January 2013
The insanity and immorality of the contemporary economic system, at least since Reagan/Thatcher if not long before, felt like The Emperor's New Clothes to me before i read this book. It seemed that despite most folk I discussed it with could also see little sense it, there was much shoulder-shrugging and hand-washing and a belief that it was all too complicated for ordinary people. In the nineties idealism capitulated to the 'spin' politics of so-called neo-liberalism, and whilst we decry the oppression of dictatorial regimes, we don't notice that we are similarly powerless to control our leaders and their ultra-rich sponsors. This book describes in plain English, without sensationalism or scare-tactics, the truth of the world's situation - and very realistic options for surviving any of the possible futures. Sometimes it's hard to cling to faith in the 'groundswell of public opinion', but it did bring down the Berlin Wall, so who knows? I like to think that, as described, the only hope for the future of our planet is, effectively, the kind of anarchism that serious thinkers described long ago. Far from the only book on the subject, as Richard Heinberg himself often reminds us, I would describe it as essential.
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on 23 May 2014
Economics is not my strong point but Richard Heinberg has helped me make considerable progress in understanding how screwed up our economic system is and some of the things we can do to change it or how we will need to adapt in order to survive it.
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on 4 March 2016
Essential reading for anyone left in the anglo saxon world who thinks we might be on the wrong path or that there may be something else to life other than making money and consuming stuff.
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