Below is the transcript for my interview with Ryan Dyment, Executive Director of the Institute for a Resource Based Economy and . This interview was conducted as part of my research for a blog series for Alternatives Journal, the first of these articles can be found here.
1) Do you believe that in our world (i.e. not just theoretically) that economic growth inherently requires increased consumption/GHG’s ect?
Economic growth is almost purely reliant on the extraction, distribution and consumption of the Earth’s resources. While growth can occur without any impact at all (I can stand in the street telling jokes and people can pay to listen), this kind of growth represents a small proportion of overall growth. Growth is also very dependent on energy and the vast majority of our energy comes from non-renewable resources such as oil and coal, both of which contribute to GHG’s. That being said, it is possible to develop a renewable energy infrastructure and produce goods that are designed to be biodegradable or recycled back into production. In this scenario GHG’s can be reduced to a safe level however there will still be limits to growth as we align our consumption to the natural replenishment rate of the Earth’s resources (steady-state economy or SSE).
2) How do you see the Sharing economy/Resource Based economy’s role in building towards a steady state economy?
The Sharing Economy is necessary step as we transition towards an SSE. We simply don’t have the resources to have everyone own their own car, their own tools and their own private islands. People are accustomed to sharing roads, movie theatres and restaurants so moving towards sharing more products is a natural transition as awareness of resource scarcities grows. The majority of the Earth’s population now live in cities and this results in smaller living spaces where ownership becomes a burden as one needs to store and secure all their stuff. Sharing therefore makes sense logistically, economically (it’s cheaper to share than own) and environmentally. In my vision of a sustainable world, resource centres will replace traditional stores and business models reliant on ever-growing consumption.
3) What is your position on de-coupling (the move to remove economic growth/economic drivers from resource consumption/GHG emissions)?
Economic measurements have always been separated from the ecological realities that exist on our planet. Mathematics as a basis for measurement is an abstraction from reality and externalities can never be fully incorporated into formulas that we use to make decisions due to the immense complexity that exists in reality. In terms of de-coupling economic growth from environmental consequences, this makes no sense in the long-run and this is clearly evident as economic growth continues to result in more and more environmental problems around the world. A de-coupling may appear evident if measured on a local scale and environmental costs are externalized however if one looks at the planet as one single organism, the problems with consuming indefinitely will always have an impact.
4) If you had to choose one metric to understand quality of life in a country, which would would you choose? (and why isn’t it GDP?)
I used to live in Zurich, Switzerland which is consistently ranked amongst the highest quality of life of any city in the world. It was clear early on why this was so. The environment was extremely clean (you could drink water from Lake Zurich and not get sick), a healthy diet and exercise was part of the culture (there were almost no fast food restaurants), and public transportation was accessible and widespread. The government also had wonderful programs for those who were unemployed and there were referendums on a wide range of subjects. While the society was far from perfect, accessibility to the joys of the world and the time to enjoy contributed a much more relaxed and fulfilling lifestyle. Weekend work was not encouraged and salaries were significantly higher than the costs of living so employed people had a healthy disposable income to enjoy. Measuring these benefits in terms of statistics provides some value in this context so instead of GDP I would look at rates of income equality, literacy rates (including scientific literacy) and average hours of work to determine quality of life.
5) What is the biggest thing you have learned while starting the Tool Library that you would pass on to others interested in starting similar ventures?
Risks are necessary if you want to pursue your passions. Sometimes we get lost in finding a career that is financially secure at the cost of doing something that truly inspires us. With the Tool Library I have tried to find a method of merging my passions with the economic realities that everyone faces and while this is a challenge, it is not impossible. I have been surprised and uplifted with the many supporters who have helped the Tool Libraries in Toronto get off the ground and have heard countless stories of others who find support in unexpected places when they choose to pursue their passions. Money is important but ultimately our lives are richer with the relationships we build and living on less has not been a sacrifice in my view. The people I have met through the Tool Libraries have turned into great friends that will last for the rest of my life and I’m meeting new and interesting people all the time. In the end, life is too short to waste it supporting a corrupt and unsustainable economic system so building the society that will replace it is fun, rewarding and worth every moment.