Facilitator: Growth. Do you just leave it to the market which made such a fantastic success of things in the last few years, as we noticed especially in 2008? Do you just sit back and let things happen, do you allow growth to continue and the market will sort things out? We have two marvellous insights coming up for you. One of them, I carried this with me, Dick, my Aussie mate, would you be happy for the growth of this product to be unlimited? No, he said. We'll find out why. Dick Smith, come and join us, thank you very much.
Dick Smith: This is to show that underneath it all I am a capitalist and I'm pushing my products all the time. But it's interesting. 20 years ago I hardly ever thought about growth and by the way the title of this talk is 'The End of Growth'. It really should be, 'The end of growth as we know it today' because it is obviously obvious that we can keep increasing growth when it comes to quality of life in efficiencies and many things like that. Harder with quality of life because we are pretty good at the moment in a modern Western country like Australia. The growth that we need at the moment is perpetual growth in - the growth that our economic system requires at the moment, is perpetual growth in the use of resources and energy. Now anyone with common sense knows if I tried to sell the treasurer a perpetual motion machine he wouldn't buy it.
When economists talk about growth, they never put the adjective in front of it which they should do which is perpetual growth, which is what they mean. Perpetual growth, let's say we have three per cent growth per annum, which is the type of thing, that economic growth that economists say is healthy for a country. That means you're doubling about every 23 years in the usage of resources unless you get some efficiency gains. Population-wise our record population increase of a couple of years ago, 2.1 per cent per year means that we double our population every 30 years. That means by the end of this century we will have 100 million people in Australia and by the time of [modern] Australia, we will have a billion people.
Now not many people, even my greatest growth spruik business friends, think that a billion people is sensible for Australia. I'm different to many; I believe that Australia could probably cope with 100 million people.
You would have to desalinate every bit of water using every bit of uranium to generate nuclear power. You would have glasshouses everywhere with desalinated water growing food, but if you could do that why would you want to?
I'll tell you what, wealthy business people will have an advantage because there are more customers but most of the wealthy business people are damn wealthy now but for typical Australians, everyone would have a fifth as much. Five times the population, the resources of this country are from the agriculture and from our mineral resources, and they are basically finite. I'm told at the present time we use about one and a half times the world's resources every year.
So it is obvious that that is not sustainable. By the way, the most misused word in the English language is sustainable. It's put in front of everything. I love the one, sustainable population growth - of course there is no such thing.
Sustainable in my simple way means in a given period of time, I like to pick a year, you have no net reductions in the earth's resources. I think Bob Carr says sustainable is that what you are doing today doesn't prejudice future generations from having the same advantages and doing the same things. Of course we are not doing that at the moment; the reason we have such immense material wealth is because we are mining fossil fuels at the most incredible rates. Of course that is finite, some people say there is 50 years, 100 years, or 200 years. Maybe there is 500 years of coal but considering Aboriginal people lived in this country for 60,000 years, 500 years is not a very long time.
What I am disappointed about is I believe it is just common sense to say that perpetual growth and the use of resources and energy, which our economic system requires, otherwise we will have recession, is not sustainable. I am disappointed that the media hardly ever touches the issue.
If you can have a look under your seat, can you grab one of these magazines? It's underneath your seat. If you could go, if you don't mind, to page nine. It says, getting smarter not bigger. Just read - this is one of the rare occasions where a mainstream print journalist will write something. This is what it says. It's from Peter Austin of The Land Newspaper. I notice he is no longer with The Land; it was probably too much for them when he stated this. He says, the time has surely arrived when mankind must accept that perpetual growth as a model for the global future, is simply unsustainable. We must adopt a new creed if our descendents, 50 years hence, are to have a world fit to live in.
Now that is just common sense. You might say, why am I sitting here, businessman who's benefitted from growth more than most? I was born in Australia in the 1940s, world population less than 3 billion. We now have 7 billion. One of the reasons I am well off, I am wealthy, is because of the most immense growth we have. I'm not that stupid to realise that it's not sustainable. You can't go on doing this.
The other thing is, and Paul Ehrlich will be asking me about this a bit later, is, I think we can have a fantastic system, which doesn't rely on that type of growth. It is interesting, if we tried to stop the particular type of growth we have now without any proper planning, we will have major recession. My belief is up until the World War II, the incredible productivity gains of capitalism which are two or three per cent per year, were used to reduce working hours, otherwise you will end up with unemployment.
From World War II, when we bought in that measure of gross domestic product, the way we kept people employed was by making more stuff. So now if you walk into a typical shopping centre, about half the stuff there is actually not necessary. If we stop buying it there will be catastrophe. Without any doubt there would be huge recession. People would be out of work. There would be a complete economic collapse.
As I will tell you later, I believe there is a way around this because surely a system that requires enormous waste to work, which is our present system of capitalism, can work without that waste.
What I am disappointed about, that magazine you've got, three and a half million copies have gone out. I thought, well this is going to create a lot of controversy. Can you imagine, I put it in the Australian Financial Review? So imagine those bankers, all those economists, on their morning Dick Smith breakfast foods, would be splattering as they read this magazine. Doubting their religion. The religion of capitalism. Everlasting perpetual growth in the use of resources and energy. It was amazing. That magazine has gone out. Over three million copies. There has not been one article written in the mainstream media that examines any of the issues. Wouldn't you think there would be a great angle with a journalist? Dick Smith, what a hypocrite. Benefitted from growth and now he is doubting it.
Nothing was said at all, in fact the Murdoch press rejected the magazine you've got because they said, oh it criticises us. The poor Murdoch press, someone criticised them. In the end I produced a completely new magazine. First of all, when they rejected it I thought, that will be fantastic, I will get great publicity from the ABC, the Fairfax media, saying, what hypocrites the Murdoch media are in saying that freedom of the press is most important, we don't need more government interference with the media, but at the same time they are rejecting this simple magazine which is quite harmless of course.
The main thing they didn't like is I pointed out in it that Rupert Murdoch is an American. I said, the Americans are very patriotic, if they have people there who have major influence on the media, they say, live here become a citizen, become part of our country, which I think is a good idea.
The amazing thing was that when I printed a completely new edition for the Murdoch press, it had to be renamed. It wasn't allowed to say forbidden ideas that you won't read about in the mainstream media. Oh no, that was criticising them. So I had to say, I think the new one says, Dick Smith magazine of Aussie grown foods and other interesting ideas. So one 1.4 million copies went out on the Murdoch media including The Brisbane Courier Mail and the Adelaide Advertiser which are sole Murdoch towns. Complete print media Murdoch towns. Could I get the ABC journalist or could I get journalists in the other media to mention that the people in these towns were reading a completely censored edition? No I couldn't.
I have thought about this. Why was such an important issue - and I think most people I talk to just say, Dick it's common sense, what you're saying, that perpetual growth and the uses of resources and energy is impossible in a finite world. Why can't we get any discussion on it? First of all, I thought oh it's a conspiracy because if you work for a company like Murdoch or Fairfax, you have to spruik growth. Then if you look at the ABC other than a few notable exceptions, especially ABC news and television. Watch Alan Kohler on the news on the ABC news. Now he spruiks growth all the time. There is no one who spruiks growth more than the mainstream ABC. I think it is something to do with the training of journalists. Maybe it is because they all go to University now and so they all have this group think, that growth is good and never doubt it.
So in closing, as a proud capitalist, I believe we can have a fantastic system of our free enterprise system. Some people believe we need to change to some new type of socialism. I think capitalism which of course is based on, dare I say it, greed self interest, and hopefully creaming off enough for the common good, I believe with a bit of adjustment can work really well. However I don't know if we are going to change until a catastrophe happens. Paul Gilding, in his book, said, we need a Hitler walking into Poland moment.
Do you remember just before World War II learned people were saying, if Hitler is not contained and kept to the treaties that there will be a catastrophe? The business community said a bit like climate change at the moment, how do we know? It mightn't happen. People can't be positive about this and business is good, sort of thing. That one error in World War II resulted in 60 million people losing their lives. I have a feeling if we can't get enough discussion about this and start planning for a more stable future, which I think could be very successful, we will have a catastrophe that is far worse than 60 million people dying. Thank you for listening to me.
Paul Ehrlich: I only bring one thing with me for this kind of talk. It's gin. Dick is way ahead of me on these things. I wish he would move to the United States although I must say I really am indebted to Rupert Murdoch because every time I come to Australia, there is an idiot article in the rag attacking me and I think it is nice for him to continue giving me that kind of PR. Of course everything Dick has said is absolutely correct.
Scientifically, there is, for example in the United States, well actually globally we are having a scientific debate right now. It's not whether or not climate change is real. It's what are the odds of civilisation collapsing? In fact I have an article in review now, in the proceedings of the Royal Society, actually pointing out that the estimate that I have that is Anne and I believe that there is about a 10 per cent chance of us not going down the drain. We think it is worth really fighting to make it an 11 per cent chance.
My distinguished colleague, the best biogeographer in the world, Jim Brown, disagrees strongly. He says there is only a one per cent chance of avoiding of the current businesses' usual trend. I had better set the bezel on my watch because I am supposed to limit myself to 35 minutes.
He says there is only a one per cent chance but he thinks it is well worth working very hard to get a one point one per cent chance.
Why do people think the odds are so dim? I could go over the entire list of environmental problems. I could talk about climate change, I could talk about loss of bio diversity. I could talk about degradation of the land, I could talk about the fact that there is no way in hell we can possibly feed nine and a half billion people in 2050 anything like a decent diet. I can talk about the chances of nuclear war. I could talk about population giving us increasing chances of a vast epidemic which as Josh Lederberg pointed out many years ago, could kill everybody. I'm not going to do that. I think that is probably you are all aware of that.
Let me just say a couple of things about climate change, which happens to be sort of at the top of the list now even though many colleges don't feel that is the worst problem we are facing. That is, many feel that toxification of the planet may be much more difficult to deal with but let's look at climate change which everybody is on it.
First of all, despite what happened in the East Coast of the United States, sea level rise is not in the minds of most people who look at this stuff closely, the most serious threat from climate change. The most serious threat from sea level rise could result in movements of, if you skip nuclear war, could result in real problems for hundreds of millions of people. No question about it. Everybody knows that. You look at what will happen when Bangladesh goes under water and so on. Much more serious though is the fact that we have now entrained at least a millennium and probably more than that of change in precipitation patterns.
It turns out that it is not correct, what most people think in the United States and Australia that their food comes from supermarkets. It comes from a very complex system that is utterly dependent on patterns of water availability. There is no, by the way some of you, Dick mentioned that there is a presidential election in the United States today, between a reasonably sensible person and a total moron.
Yet the discussion - there has been no discussion, at least when Anne and I left the States, maybe a little bit since Sandy, of any significant problem. In other words no significant problem has been mentioned in the presidential debates.
Debt is not a significant problem. Debt can be solved very simply. For every nickel of debt, there is a nickel of credit somewhere. All you have to do is to get together and you negotiate your way out of all the debt problems. It would mean a redistribution that might lead to some real problems but it is easily done and it can be done with pen and ink. You can't negotiate with nature. Yet there was no mention whatever of climate change.
Now the agricultural system alone, which is feeding us, generates somewhere in the order of 35 per cent of the greenhouse gases. The agricultural system is utterly threatened by climate change. It is so dependent on where the water is and what the temperature is and whether the crops can grow with that temperature, and whether the crops are going to be in the right places for that temperature.
Not discussed at all. Nobody seems to understand that for instance that the agricultural system is heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels but fossil fuels of course, are what is killing us. The consensus among the climate scientists that I know and I know most of them and are contact with most of them is there is not a prayer in hell of stopping our increase in temperature to two degrees Celsius which was considered to be the safe limit.
Many now think we are going to go to six degrees at least or more. To give you a little idea of what that means. The difference between the time when there was a mile of ice over New York City and today was five degrees Celsius. That is what a change of five degrees Celsius will entrain. Some sort of change, obviously we are going hotter not colder but the chances of agriculture surviving in any form of five degree Celsius in anything like today's level. Five degrees Celsius change essentially zero. Yet none of this is being discussed in the US and as Dick says, all the politicians, including Obama, feel it necessary to say, well we've got to get back to growing at two or three percent per year. Dick pointed out what that means in terms of what will happen over the next few decades, although I don't think we have a next few decades to deal with it.
We are facing the most serious crisis in the history of the world and people like Murdoch are trying to keep it going. In other words do not ever miss the point that people like Rupert Murdoch are basically planning the murder of your grandchildren. It's that simple. I think Dick is exactly right on that.
Hundreds of millions of people can die from sea level rise. Billions of people can die from what will happen if the food system collapses and I haven't gone through many of the other things that are involved in the food system that could lead to its collapse. When I'm discussing this sort of thing I always need a little gin. That's why. Vegemite won't do it for you, Dick, let me tell you.
Camus said, fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer of light in this darkness.
Now, what are we going to do about this? As you can see from the numbers that I just gave you, I don't think we are going to do much. I think there is a lot that we could do. I think there's a lot that could be done in Australia and the United States, if we decided to try and lead the way, which we haven't.
One of the things that we could do is start making the Universities a factor in actually changing the world and going in the right direction. By the way, I am proud to say that UTS is starting to move in the directions of sustainability. One of the brilliant things they have done, I am much honoured, has been to appoint me an Adjunct Professor here, so you are going to see more of me, I'm afraid.
Stanford University is another of the leading universities of the world. It actually does more in environmental science than virtually any other university in the United States, maybe in the world. Not a bit of it is because of the structure of the university or what happens to the university as a whole. It is all done by individuals because the structure of the university was put together by an old friend of mine that some of you may have met – I think you're all mostly too young. Guy's name was Aristotle.
He developed the disciplines that the Royal Society solidified back around 1690. We have a 1690 structure at Stanford University. For example, we have a department of psychology, economics, political science, sociology, anthropology - all the things that one would think of as human behavioural sciences in separate departments. Try and imagine any important human problem that could be solved by a standard university department today and yet university faculties are so staid. If you think the church is conservative, go to a university sometime and see how incredibly conservative a faculty is, and how they allow the world to go down the drain around them.
All of my colleagues, for instance, know that we are going down the drain. Every ecologist knows we are going down the drain but I've only a very small fraction of them are willing to do anything about it. Same thing in climate science. Jim Hansen, actually went out and he is a leading US government climate scientist, got himself arrested trying to close down a coal plant. So a few people are willing to get out there, most people are going to let the world go down the drain and say, bye bye.
They just can't bring themselves to realise that the things that you see in the malls and the cars all over the place. For instance, one of my favourite points is everybody says, the US is doing great, and are making our cars more efficient. Let me tell you, making cars more efficient is not going to come close to solving the problem, particularly if you are always going to have more cars. You are going to pave over more of the world perpetually.
We need to start redesigning our countries, Australia are a brilliant example, the US another brilliant example, around people, not around automobiles. It took about 100 years to covert the United States from a country for people to a country for automobiles and we should have started long ago going in the other direction. There is no way you can really make even a significant attack on the problems we are facing if you are going to a) continue to grow and b) continue to give everybody an automobile.
If any of you have been to China recently, you know what is going on. You can be an hour and a half easily going a ten minute drive, surrounded by luxury automobiles in eight lane freeways in China where there are about 200 million people who are really rich. Maybe another 200 million that are like Mexico and 900 million really living terrible lives and desperate to change and get the kind of things like Lexus' and so on that the rest of the people have.
So perpetual growth is impossible, we are coming to the end of growth whether we like it or not. We are either going to change our ways or nature is going to change them for us. There is no other choice.
The idea that presidential candidates can still run around and talk about getting back to the good old growth standards tells you that we basically have a dysfunctional society. In the US we have a dysfunctional government as I've said to a number of people here, I wish we would switch to a parliamentary system.
The idea that you can have a system of governance in which the leader has diametrically opposed views from the legislator is absolutely insane. I mean, as I often said, often, that, often said, often, well I'm, but gin does that to me.
Ronald Reagan, the worst president the United States ever had, would have been a wonderful King. He stood up straight, he wasn't all that bright, he mumbled a lot, but he would make a great King. The Prime Minister ought to be somebody who could actually do something and that is what we need to do. So while you are talking about certain changes between the United States and Oz, I think one of the things we could do would be to adopt your system of government but not take Abbott, would that work?
Audience: We don't want him either.
Paul Ehrlich: Anyway, maybe Bangladesh will take him. Anyway, you've been very patient and now Dick and I are supposed to have an argument although the only thing we usually argue about is who's going to fly the airplane and he always wins.
Dick Smith: Are we going to be standing or sitting down?
Facilitator: Thank you Paul.
Dick Smith: If we move these over the other side - can we move them over a bit to there?
Paul Ehrlich: I'm not going to walk off the edge.
Dick Smith: Did the camera arrive? No camera, so we're okay.
Paul Ehrlich: I wanted to ask you a question, Dick.
Dick Smith: Yeah.
Paul Ehrlich: We are both capitalists, at least neither of us is a full left communist, you know the basic idea of communism is not that bad, it just won't work.
Dick Smith: Are we going to sit down or just stand up?
Paul Ehrlich: We are going to sit down, what the hell. I would like to hear more about how we can have a capitalist system in a more or less steady, state as far as material throughput goes.
Dick Smith: Look, it's interesting. A lot of people have said that if you want to move from growth, from the growth economy, we have now one where you have to have this perpetual growth that we'll have to have a new economic system. As a proud capitalist, it obviously works very well, especially for people like me and it has done the Western world quite well materially anyway. It has raised standards of living tremendously around the world. My belief is that just as we have regulations now in relation to environment, for capitalism, that many capitalists would have said 50 years ago, well capitalism will close down if you bring in such strong regulations in relation to pollution and those type of things.
Once the regulations came in, as long as it is a level playing field, capitalism just works around it. The waste that is in the present system is so colossal that you can remove some of that waste in the case of say the chemical companies that were polluting, to bring in strong environmental always costs them money. Presumably they remove waste from somewhere else because these chemical companies are making record profits. It didn't affect them. So my belief is that all we have to do is bring in what I call sustainability laws. They wouldn't want to come in too quickly; you would have to do this over a number of decades. For example, let's say you said, nothing can be marketed or manufactured unless it is marketed and it is an item that is produced sustainably. In other words, the goods you have used will be replaced in that year.
Now as long as that was an even playing field, someone like Nokia, instead of throwing the old phone into the garbage tip, and then digging up more copper and silver and all the rest of it and using it to keep people employed. What they would do is they would take back the old phone. It would somehow be recycled because of our ingenious operation as human beings, with the capitalistic system we seem to be able to improve efficiencies by two or three per cent per year. That would be the loss you would get from doing the transposing the phone back into something that could be used again. So it would put the cost up. It would put the cost up of course right across the board. Every company would have the same cost.
It wouldn't be [liked] because with this perpetual growth, it is an easy way of making money. If you are a capitalist and you've got population growth, god, I mean someone dumb like me, a car radio installer can make a bloody fortune.
Facilitator: May I ask you?
Dick Smith: Yeah.
Facilitator: Natural Capitalism is a book that was published at least 10 years ago, Amory Lovins and others have written about this. Why hasn't it happened?
Dick Smith: It's not going to happen because it is so easy to make money with growth and so you just do it the easiest way possible. What it requires is leadership and I am absolutely astonished. You are right when it comes to the presidential election, no real discussion of the climate change. It is exactly the same here, really. It's gone off the boil.
My magazine doesn't mention climate change even though I am a believer that we are most likely affecting climate. The growth issue makes everything worse anyway and more people will agree with. We are not going to change until there is a Hitler walking into Poland moment, until there is some type of catastrophe.
Paul Ehrlich: There is another thing we are not going to change. We are not going to change until we take the power away from the fossil fuel industry. They have funded a campaign of disinformation that is absolutely incredible.
Facilitator: How are you going to take the power away from the fossil fuel industry?
Paul Ehrlich: That is, well, one of the things of course is to try and get money out of politics. By the way I should say that the right-wingers are always quoting Adam Smith. The trouble is, they only know three lines from The Wealth of Nations. They don't know the book he wrote before that, called, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he pointed out that you can have a capitalist system but it has to operate in a society that is equitable. He didn't talk about the environmental things, but what he would say today is the things that Dick is saying. You don't destroy the environment in the process of having this competitive system. So you are really the Adam Smith of this century.
Facilitator: There is one mystery, Paul and Dick, that I find really difficult and that is, this encouragement of inefficiency, buildings like this, buildings all over the world, are four times less efficient than they need. You could actually save 75 per cent of the energy using today's technology. The food that people eat in Australia…
Dick Smith: At the moment if we did that, we would have recession. You have to have - what a ridiculous system. The most unbelievable waste! You have to design buildings that are efficient. You have to design a phone that only lasts two years, because if it lasted longer there would be economic recession. That is how ridiculous the system is.
Facilitator: So how do you change that? In your opening talk you said, a different kind of growth? What different kind of technology?
Dick Smith: What you would do is you would bring in legislation that says, you cannot produce something like this unless it is done sustainably so the growth will be trying to make it more efficient. You will have to have very marked reduced working hours. I mentioned until World War II, the way we kept people working as we got productivity going through capitalism, up until World War II was to reduce working hours. Otherwise you will end up with unemployment. We need to do that again. If you weren't making all of this rubbish that we need to make, the working week would probably be 30 hours for the same amount of money. That is going to require - it is going to be very difficult to change to that because, let me give you an example of something that is very important.
I meet some of the top business people. Everyone objects to Coles and Woolworths having 80 per cent of the market. I meet some of these top executives and they say, Dick, off the record I agree with everything you are saying. The pressure that is on me now - I call it extreme capitalism - I have to get, because you, the public shareholders, want ever increasing returns on their shares, I have to get ever increasing profits; and now we are on the limits of growth with Woolworths owing more poker machines than anyone, more service stations than anyone, how do we get growth? I have to beat the supplier down, which means the farmers losing their jobs, going to China and that. It is all caused by us.
Facilitator: Yes but ask Paul…
Paul Ehrlich: I hate to say that we are going to have to have more government. It turns out the bigger the mess you have, the more government you need. We can do it. How do we know we can do it? I'll skip what we need to do on the population side because we should have started long ago, but the answer there is very, very simple. That is really empower women and the population will largely solve itself, hopefully ladies.
We also know you can change the entire consumption picture and do it fast. That is the great advantage of the consumption side. You can do it damn near instantaneously. You mentioned Hitler. You know, 7 December 1941, the US had produced almost 4 million passenger cars. Over the next four years, they didn't produce any at all. They rationed gasoline, we rationed copper, we rationed rubber, we rationed oil, we rationed certain kinds of food, meat for example, was rationed. Totally changed consumption patterns, produced hundreds of thousands of howitzers, hundreds of thousands of military aircraft, thousands of military ships, developed nuclear weapons, deployed nuclear weapons, used nuclear weapons and lost hundreds of thousands of people…
Facilitator: yes but Paul…
Paul Ehrlich: Wait a minute…
Facilitator: That's a war footing.
Paul Ehrlich: That is the point. We have got to go on a war footing. We have got to understand the threat is even bigger, as Dick pointed out, much bigger than World War II was.
Facilitator: It is being ignored today in America, on Election Day; how do you get the population convinced that the serious questions need to be addressed?
Paul Ehrlich: You come to UTS and talk with Dick Smith.
Dick Smith: You need a Hitler walking into Poland moment, unfortunately. Let me just read this to you about climate change which I thought was spot on. The evidence suggests that humanity is locked into a course that it has limited capacity or appetite to alter. Modern economies are built on fossil fuel growth. Changing this model material and quickly has proved to be untenable in the absence of a disaster. Business as usual, emissions growth is the consequence this may well produce a catastrophe that we will be powerless to redress. That was from two learned scientists in the UK. I believe they are absolutely right. Human beings came from the plains of Africa, we are told, we responded to instant threats, not to long term threats. That is the problem.
Facilitator: Okay, well let's go to the audience and ask for 10 minutes' worth of questions on the problem of how to save the world. The first one is over here.
Paul Ehrlich: It's worth 10 minutes, what the hell.
Audience Member: Unfortunately, as I have aged, I have realised that we need sticks as well as carrots. Our big problem seems to be even in Australia, to get political parties working together to agree on an approach that improves our situation, everybody is spoiling when somebody suggests something. How are we even going to - we are going to need worldwide to address this problem. If we can't even do it in Australia, what are our chances?
Paul Ehrlich: My answer is 10 per cent. What we are working to do, a better question that I can answer is what are you trying to do personally? We are working very hard, Anne and I, with a whole bunch of colleagues, to do the following things.
First of all, to bring the social sciences and the humanities in the Universities into the battle to save the planet. For instance, somebody could say what could an artist do? Well, we changed our entire view of the environment with one picture taken from outer space, first picture of earth.
When Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States, during the Civil War he met Harriet Beecher Stowe; she was the woman who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. He said to her, so you are the little lady that started this big war. In other words, we need to recruit much more of the academic community into the battle and we need to then work with them to push on the streets in occupied type movements and eventually in our digital day with hopefully a government.
If the pressure doesn't come from below, you can't sit around imaging that some politician is going to wake up and lead you. It's crazy. We have proven it is not going to happen so we got to get the thread, Dick will arrange that.
Dick Smith: Just quickly, I just wanted to mention that economists have predicted a steady state economy. [Maynard Keynes] in the 20th - both foresaw saw a time would come when endless growth would no longer be either necessary or prudent.
Mill talked of an economy eventually moving to a stationery state of capital and wealth and Keynes likewise expected a moment to come when we would prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes. In both cases they acknowledged that this would only happen once a certain standard of universal health and welfare was achieved. This could be said to have been achieved in parts of the Western world.
By the way, that quote comes from this incredible book which is written by a genius. Do you know who wrote it? His Royal Highness the Prince Charles. It is the most incredible book I have ever read. It was published last year. Most people would not know it existed and the few British journalists who reviewed it, basically rubbished it. It is the most thinking book you could ever see from a world leader. Absolutely fantastic.
Facilitator: He is in the country. Yes, question over there.
Dick Smith: It's called, by the way, HRH Prince of Wales, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World. I've ordered 500 copies which I am going to distribute to schools and to libraries. What I am fascinated with, and this is important, that journalists in this country are not covering these issues. What is the reason? Maybe someone has got an answer on that.
Audience Member: Professor, I first saw you on Monday Conference, so that is going back a few years. The main thing, I think, is to, where people hear of interest, today. There are a lot of people just got their heads stuck in The Telegraph or whatever it is and that is all they know of the world, or they listen to Alan Jones. I think this book here has been very interesting to me, The Merchants of Doubt, telling that they have been at it since 1953 to dissuade people from believing what the scientists were telling them. So I just recommend it to anybody.
Paul Ehrlich: Merchants of Doubt - yeah, that's it, the owe me a [unclear]. It's a wonderful book and there is another book out actually by one of my colleagues at Stanford which you don't want to read because it will sicken you, called, The Golden Holocaust. It's about how the cigarette industry killed 100 million people in the last century knowing exactly what they were doing and trying to do more of it. It is the same folks, right, lineal descendants, who are now trying to fool you about climate change.
By the way if you are interested in getting involved, go to mahb.stanford.edu. MAHB, it's the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. If you are university people or just interested in doing something about the world, we are trying to organise but it is an uphill battle. Also read Naomi's book. It is wonderful.
Dick Smith: Very quickly, that book is an example of about over 30 books that I have managed to read. What I can't believe, if you have got all these learned people, talking about the catastrophe which is going to come but no coverage in the normal media. You might say in the United States election, the politicians aren't covering it. Of course they're not, it is too difficult. Why aren't the so-called intelligent journalists? We have been let down by journalists in this country. Other than present company.
Audience Member: Just one other thing, sorry, on that…
Audience Member: I don’t think the media is going to make a change?
Facilitator: You don’t have a mike, you can't be heard yet. Just one question here.
Audience Member: Thanks. I think obviously what is required and you said it well, Dick, is leadership. All that I have heard today in terms of leadership is a grand dictator or a Hitler walking into Poland. My question is, do you really think that is going to happen? In the absence of that happening, where is the leadership going to come from?
Paul Ehrlich: Well you know we had a little test in the US. I wasn't there at the time. I have been in Oz for a couple of weeks. Mayor Bloomberg stepped up immediately and said, okay, we really have to pay attention to climate change. So he can see that a beginning catastrophe. It's really a catastrophe by any standards, but tiny compared to what we are facing, did generate some political action. So far how far it will carry I think we will have to watch really closely and work really hard to generate.
A moron wrote an article in The Australian the other day saying that it was ridiculous to account for that in any way being connected to climate change, which simply shows he doesn't understand how one connects things to other things. In order words you can't prove that it was caused by climate change any more than you can prove that any single home run Barry Bonds hit was caused by steroids. Now we have climate on steroids.
Dick Smith: We can do it without a Hitler walking into Poland moment, by empowering people. It is interesting. When I published that magazine, whereas not one journalist wrote one article about it in any mainstream media, saying it was right, it was wrong, not a comment. Thousands of letters came in from typical Australians saying Dick this needs to be said. So many business people said to me, oh, Dick, what you are saying is just common sense. We all know that. So don't think this is something that people disagree with. Perpetual growth in a finite world is impossible. So we have got to talk about it.
Audience Member: I'm Donnie Maclurcan from the Post Growth Institute. Dick, I'm glad that you mentioned self-interest because you can have an economics of self-interest outside of a capitalistic framework that is not communist. Take the reputation economy in the open source movement, for example, or the drivers of collaborative consumption. The drivers of not for profit enterprise. Aren't their futures are merging beyond the provision of private profits?
Dick Smith: Here's the problem. To change to a completely new economic system may be possible but that is going to be hard. All I am saying is we can use the present economic system and we can change.
As Paul mentioned in his quote about Rupert Murdoch, it is our grandchildren are going to be affected. It is not going to affect us. The only reason I am motivated is believe it or not, my ego says to me even though I will be dead, I don't want my grandchild, Charlie Brown, to say in 60 years time, my grandfather, Dick Smith, was supposed to be a person of influence and he did nothing and we are now in this catastrophe. Why did he do nothing? That could be said about all of our grandchildren to all of us.
Audience Member: Dick, this is something I have been engaged in for the last 40 years. The question is that there is the group - I just looked at how many people are here - the majority of people here are probably already engaged in this process. I am engaged in it on a day-to-day basis. I think the government is already there, just the government doesn't know about it.
Facilitator: Shall we take that as a comment or…
Dick Smith: One of the problems I see is preaching to the converted. When Graham invited me here, I said, well, hold on, is it going to be preaching to the converted? We want to be talking to the business community. I had spoken to the Property Council meetings and people like that. They all come up to me later and say, as I said before, Dick that's just common sense. The growth has got to stop.
Luckily as Rupert Murdoch wrote me a letter, he said, Dick, 100 million is probably too many for Australia but there is still a lot of growth left. What he means is, and what most capitalists mean is, while I am alive, while I am making more money, we will have the growth; to hell with future generations, it is obvious they will have to change to a new system.
I think we should be planning it now. We can do that in a democracy by everyone coming on side. Politicians rarely lead, they always follow, we've got to get enough people thinking about the issue.
Facilitator: Question here.
Audience Member: It's not a question. It's a statement. We should all have focus on if we want the change, we should each of us become the change.
Paul Ehrlich: Thank you for that. How many people here have more than two children? Be the big, the big move Anne and I made was to just have one.
Facilitator: Away you go.
Audience Member: No one…
Paul Ehrlich: You want to ask me a question or do you want to brag you have seven children?
Dick Smith: There was a lady on TV last night who had 12 children. Did you see her? 12 kids.
Paul Ehrlich: She never had a chance to get dressed in 15 years.
Audience: Professor Paul Ehrlich. I read your book was it 30 years ago, or even longer; I have been a biologist from way back. My father was a philosopher and he has taught me to ask questions. Now I see the sacred cow that is in America, and some of it is here and no one is talking about it.
In Jared Diamond's book, Collapse, he says that society may need to change some long held values to survive obviously in that context. Do you think that the Roman Catholic Church has an unethical attitude towards women which has an impact on the population explosion?
Paul Ehrlich: I would say the church, the hierarchy has much worse than an unethical, extremely destructive - many, many women die every year because those sexually disoriented old men fight to make abortion illegal and of course that kills many women. It is disgusting.
On the other hand, Catholics don't perform any different from non-Catholics. There is a mob of nuns in the United States out there trying to fight the Bishops who - the Bishops are the ones who encourage molestation of children and so on, so the church is not a single element. Most Catholics do exactly what post non-Catholics do. So the problem is with the hierarchy. The politicians are scared witless of that hierarchy for reasons that puzzle me completely.
Facilitator: Question over here.
Dick Smith: Can I mention that Prince Charles in this book covers population. This is what he says by the way, he says, I am afraid the very big cause of high birth rates remains cultural and this of course raises some difficult moral questions.
It is interesting you think it's not cultural it is religion but in fact it isn't because Italy which is the home of the Roman Catholic church has a reducing birth rate. Obviously they are either not doing it or they are not taking notice of the church. Whereas the Philippines has an unbelievably rising birth rate. They will never be able to feed - there is a catastrophe coming because the culture is to believe in the Roman Catholic teachings and not use contraception and that is the type of problem you get because of a culture.
I just think it is incredible that the next King of England is game enough to discuss these issues that most people won't. Of course it he gets no coverage from the media on it, it is a waste of time writing the book in the first place.
Paul Ehrlich: The Cardinal, by the way, in the Philippines is called, Sin, if I recall correctly.
Dick Smith: He can't still be alive.
Paul Ehrlich: Away you go.
Audience Member: Hi. I would like to ask a question that picks up on some of the points that you made earlier about leadership. I think a gentleman down the front made reference to the idea that if we rely on individuals or leaders to get us out of this mess that we are in, then we won't get anywhere.
With that in mind, the question I would like to ask you is about our decision-making systems. I would like to get your opinions on issues around direct democratic systems, that is, where we all get to vote on issues, rather than giving the power to make decisions about issues over to somebody else like a politician which is the current system of representational democracy that we have in Australia.
So to frame the question differently, do you think that systems like the decision-making systems that they have in Switzerland could work out here in Australia or in the United States? Bearing in mind that there are some states in the US that have direct democratic procedures but they don't always work.
Paul Ehrlich: Direct democracy is a really tough thing unless you have a very well educated population. Unhappily neither US nor Australia has one. We don't have well educated politicians either. So we do need a change in the governance system.
Dick Smith: Can I comment on that because it also affects the question of the person who was up the back talking about a new system to replace capitalism?
My attitude is that making changes like that are incredibly difficult. All I am saying is our present system, with a bit of adjustment like some sustainability laws, I believe over time can work very well in a sustainable way. By the way you can still have growth, quality of life, efficiencies, removing waste. Growth in those things. Still be potential to have a growth in profits because by saving waste all this ridiculous packaging, transporting stuff half way round the world. That would be the way they will get their profits in future. Just not making more stuff and digging it out of the ground.
Facilitator: Question over here.
Audience Member: Professor, during your talk you mentioned removing money from politics. Could you talk about that a little more please?
Paul Ehrlich: The United States Supreme Court has announced that corporations for example are human beings. They are people just like you and I even though they can't have empathy. For instance if they made that ruling about when they destroy a large area; for instance when they have a oil well that blows up because of their incompetence, they are not thrown in jail, so I don't understand how they are individuals. Money is what controls political decisions in the United States today. You have to be filthy rich to run and you have to raise I think there was a record this time, how many trillion dollars…
Dick Smith: A billion dollars each party.
Paul Ehrlich: A billion dollars each party. We should have a rule that simply says if you put money into an election and you are a private person or a businessperson, you are thrown in jail. It should all be financed by the government purely.
Dick Smith: I agree with that. It would cost $5 a head. We spend on election funding in this country, federal election funding, about $100 million a year, 22 million Australians; about $5 a head. We should ban all political donations. I agree with Kelvin Thomson, the Labor backbencher…
…and $5 a head that is how we should be funding it. Definitely.
Facilitator: Gregg Borschmann over there please.
Audience Member: Dick I will have fess up and come out here. I am a member of the Fifth Estate. I am a colleague of Robin's. I work for Radio National Breakfast. I am the Environment Editor there.
I feel I must stand up for my profession and my colleagues because it is far too simple to shoot the messenger. We can't blame Malcolm Fraser, much as we might have liked to at the time. We can't blame Ronald Reagan much as we might have liked to at the time.
Every day we have the option of what we consume. The Daily Telegraph, Alan Jones. My sense is that the information is out there, that people are aware of the parameters of the problem, and that we are dealing with a much deeper issue here.
We are dealing with the human condition and our proclivity for denial and that gets us into the realm of the social sciences. We are not talking economics. We are not talking politics. We are talking about something far more fundamental pervasive and difficult to stare down. So I would like a reflection from both yourself and Paul, on that core problem.
Dick Smith: First of all I am not shooting the messenger because there isn't a messenger. This is the problem. The messenger isn't there. Now it is different, I must admit, with ABC Radio, especially where you can do talk back. I've had some really good coverage. What I find extraordinary if you look at ABC Television and current affairs, Mark O'Connor who wrote a book on population in Australia devoted a full chapter five years ago to the ABC; how pro growth it was. I just find it is amazing how we are definitely let down by the journalists in this country, of not communicating what 80 per cent of people are thinking. So that is my problem. The messenger is not doing its job.
Paul Ehrlich: There is still, are some superb journalists out there who are trying very hard. I like to tell the story of the [K-Flow]. The concentrated animal feeding operation, where you put a million hogs in a room this size and outside you have a five-acre lake of hog faeces. Occasionally it breaks through the dam and floods down the river and it generates a diatom that actually causes neural damage in human beings. So if you are standing in a bridge over this flood of hog faeces, your mind can be - that is called in science now, the fox noose effect.
In other words, it's not just journalists out there working trying to tell the truth. We have a huge machine in the United States, in The Wall Street Journal editorial pages, in the Fox News and so on that is designed to fool you and tell you nonsense and continually do it. So if that is journalism then boy, journalism is in deep, deep trouble. That's Rupert Murdoch's outfit by the way,
Dick Smith: Here's what I don't understand about what you're saying is Rupert Murdoch and his workers have to do that because they have to have ever increasing profits. The board in New York says, send us more money Australia, send us more money England.
The ABC is quite different. It doesn't have that situation. Without any doubt news and current affairs doesn't cover this. If you watch the news at night on the ABC, Alan Kohler, admittedly works for Murdoch now, he spruiks growth the whole time. Naturally people think growth is good, growth is necessary, when it is bad and it is not possible to go on forever.
Paul Ehrlich: It is the disease not the cure.
Dick Smith: It is a disease, yes.
Audience Member: Hello, my name is Tony Kearney and I'm the author of a book called Who Owns The Future. What I want to ask you both about is a couple of things, which is to quote Leonard Cohen, they sentenced me to 20 years of boredom for trying to change the system from within.
My question is, what kind of meaningful change can we really make by a reaction to a system that is wrong as opposed to the discovery of a system that works because we already have a system that works which is nature.
My fear for the future is for the children because if we educate them about a system that is wrong and the reaction to a system that is wrong, we miss the point of one our greatest scientists which was Einstein who said, you can't change the problem with the level of the mindset that created it. It is the mindset that we need to change. If we start educating our children about the fact of doom and gloom and reaction to that, then we miss the wonder of nature and the systems that we have inherited from nature that work.
I work a lot with children in schools and I think it is the education not the system that needs change because the lessons are there from nature.
My second question for you is, do you think we can change the system from within because it is like if you say we declare war on poverty. Why declare war on poverty? What did poverty ever do to deserve having war declared on it?
My second question is, it's very short, which is a philosophical question, which is why does the future matter?
Paul Ehrlich: I can give you a very quick answer. We do need to change the educational system and one of the terrible things is the separation of children from nature. So they don't ever get - for instance instead of starting out with See Spot Run, you start out with See the Plant Grow in the Sun. So that they are continually taught about this earth thing.
The sad thing is I think Dick and I disagree on this. I don't think there is a chance in hell of waiting until people get to the next 35 years before we start getting things to change. We've got to find some way to change the system from within or without like right now.
Again, which you saw on the Eastern United States that sort of stuff is going to become increasingly common. It's going to affect all of us. Some of us will be able to protect ourselves or fortunately die, before it all happens. We are talking about changes that need to be made right now.
Dick Smith: I believe when it comes to future generations I agree with Groucho Marx who said this is the opinion of most people, what do I care about future generations, what have they ever done for me? I will tell you what; I am interested in this because I care about my grandchildren. It is going to affect I think it was mentioned, our children, but it is going to affect our children and grandchildren. That is what will motivate us. When you look at your grandchild who is going to live until the end of this century and you think, wow what we are doing now could be destroying the planet.
Let me tell you, I always thought when I worked at Dick Smith Electronics, that the tax I paid would pay for my pension. It was only of recent times that I learnt that in fact it's a ponzi scheme; that we actually don't pay enough super and enough tax while we are working. We need more people to come in, more immigrants to pay tax. Now ponzi schemes are illegal. It was Paul Keating that said we have to go to 15 per cent superannuation. Then John Howard abolished it because he looked at people vote him on the four-year term not on the longer term. So we need leadership that says we are concerned about our children and grandchildren. We will have to sacrifice a bit now. I believe there is potential to do it but we need good leadership.
Facilitator: Thank you. Right.
An astonishing morning where we suddenly realised we have got to keep the monarchy as we have had for so long and the Republic is off the cards.
Dick Smith: I am sending out a press release. I am inviting Prince Charles to stay in Australia, stand for politics and give us some leadership.
Facilitator: We will send Kevin Rudd over to the United States.
Paul Ehrlich: Send him to the US he can do both countries.
Facilitator: Excellent. We have heard about the journalists, and of course the journalists as you realise, are being sacked all over the place. We have lost hundreds of them in the last few months. The PR people's employment is going up like that. There are now far more PR people than journalists in this country and in the United States, you have seen the result.
Also we have looked at the possibility of a real catastrophe. The thing is how many catastrophes do you need? It is quite amazing. However today turns out in the election in the United States, maybe we will find out that people are genuinely concerned by the evidence that science has put in front of them that the kinds of things that we have enjoyed for so much of our time maybe need to be changed.
Although I must say you are handling these implements you've got these devices - I don't have a mobile phone, I don't have a car, I don't have a camera. When - I refuse to use a computer for about 10 years, people really questioned my manhood.
When you actually do without these things and you tell people you haven't bought clothes in 10 years, they think you are a freak rather than embodying the future.
So as you are quite right to say, a different mind change is probably overdue.
Thank you for coming and thanks to these two amazing guys.
7 November 2012
Dick Smith and Professor Paul Ehrlich discuss - The end of growth?
In order to survive, our economic system demands continued growth in the use of natural resources and energy. Economic growth is built largely on the use of cheap fossil fuels, accelerating our demand for food, water and other life-sustaining requirements, however endless growth may not be compatible with a finite world.
Growth is increasingly confronting environmental constraints and many signs show that our planet is struggling to provide all the resources that our lives depend on – food, clean water, breathable air, decomposition of waste, disease prevention, and so on. Our climate is disrupted and human activity is the likely cause.
As the global economy stumbles, energy prices rapidly rise and public and private debt has reached unprecedented levels. A hundred year trend in falling commodity prices appears at an end and political systems in many countries are faltering and unable to cope with such rapid change. These issues are complex and interrelated, revealing a global system far more fragile than we imagined.
Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith together with Professor Paul Ehrlich (opens an external site), an American environmental scientist will initiate a thought provoking conversation, discussing these important fundamental issues, impacting our lives and the physical environment we live in. Both professionals support their views with the best available evidence.
About the speakers
Mr Dick Smith is an entrepreneur, businessman, publisher, aviator, and political activist and more recently population advocate, questions global population, overpopulation, and alternatives to an economic growth-based economy. He produced and appeared in the feature length documentary, Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle broadcast by ABC, questioning the desirability of Australia’s rapid population growth. He recently published a book, Dick Smith’s Population Crisis, where he expresses his concerns regarding growth in human population size and our economics system based on growth. He has offered a $1 million prize (the Wilberforce Award), to anyone who can demonstrate leadership in communicating alternatives to the current growth-based economics system. He has received many awards including Australian of the Year and Officer of the Order of Australia.
Professor Paul Ehrlich is a prominent, award winning ecologist, entomologist, biologist, educator, author, fighter against scientific racism and pioneer in exploring the horrendous environmental impacts of nuclear war. Professor Ehrlich’s passion is to investigate how the living world works and develop a globally integrated view of what is required to maintain a suitable environment for future generations. His research has brought him every accolade the scientific community can award. He became well known after the publication of his controversial book The Population Bomb. He is widely published arguing that population growth, overconsumption, the use of faulty technologies and our socio-political-economic arrangements threaten the fabric of nature, and thus the environmental security of future generations.
UTS Science in Focus is a free public lecture series showcasing the latest research from prominent UTS scientists and researchers.
Professor Paul Ehrlich presents an interconnected array of problems that is moving a global civilisation toward collapse. How might Australia help?