Report Review: Prosperity without Growth

This is a guest post by Luís Queirós. Luís is a member of ASPO Portugal. Prior to his retirement, Luís led Marktest, a market and opinion research firm he created in 1980.

Two years ago, when I started visiting The Oil Drum, the main subject of posting and discussion was peak oil: why?, when?, how?. Now, peak oil seems to be in the past, and is less an object of discussion. Other factors are becoming more important, including "growth" and "sustainability". We take care to avoid the word "collapse".

The purpose of this post is to introduce a recently published report which is a notable contribution to the subject of growth and sustainability.

Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth. For the last five decades the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. If it continues to grow at the same rate the economy will be 80 times that size by the year 2100...

… In short, this report challenges the assumption of continued economic expansion in rich countries and asks: is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth?

"Prosperity without Growth: The transition to a sustainable economy" can be downloaded at this link (large pdf, 143 pages). The report was published by the Sustainable Development Commission, a British organization that is, according to their own words, “the Government’s independent watchdog on sustainable development”. The author is Professor Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner.

Summary: Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Higher incomes should mean better choices, richer lives, an improved quality of life for us all. That at least is the conventional wisdom. But things haven’t always turned out that way.

According to the report, the current economic system, based on continuous growth is unsustainable. This is because the planet has limits. Resources, including energy, are exhaustible and because of medium-term environmental imbalances caused by growth will make human life more difficult or even impossible.

Therefore, contrary to all that is being advocated in the present crisis, we must find an economic and social system that should is not based on growth. At this time, prosperity is based on “consumption”, and on “property”. But happiness is not necessarily linked to the possession of material goods. The concept of “prosperity” must be reconsidered.

Then the big question arises: Can we build a system that enables prosperity (happiness) of the human being without economic growth?

A simple sentence can almost summarize the thesis of this report: how can our civilization survive?

Apparently, we face an insoluble dilemma or “an impossibility theorem for a lasting prosperity”

Growth is unsustainable – at least in its current form.

De-growth is unstable – at least under present conditions. (rising unemployment, falling competitiveness and a spiral of recession.)

The failure to solve this dilemma is the single biggest threat to sustainability that we face.

According to the report, all the measures that are being taken since the emergence of the current crisis point the wrong direction. The main concerns are the employment and avoiding collapse of the institutions and the receipt is always the same: “kick start economic growth again”.

Returning the economy to a condition of continual consumption growth is the default assumption of Keynesianism.

The green new deal (Obama’s and EU´s policies), focused on the challenges of Climate Change and energy security is also discharged as a solution. For the author, the goal of creation and training of a “carbon army” of workers for a vast energy program is to restore economic growth "is a different kind of growth, but growth nonetheless.”

According to the report:

While modernizing production and redesigning goods and services have led to greater resource and energy efficiency in recent decades, the report finds that aspirations for 'decoupling' environmental impacts from economic growth are unrealistic. Even based on a moderate level of growth of 2% per year, meeting 2050 carbon reduction targets would mean achieving a carbon content of no more than 6g CO2 for each dollar spent - a staggering 130 times lower than the average carbon intensity today.

A new economy, a new man, a new moral

Our society of consumerism seems to have a reached critical point of non-return. We need an alternative system based in a new set of values. It is time to change the concept of prosperity.

A different way of ensuring stability and maintaining employment is essential.
A different kind of economic structure is needed for an ecologically-constrained world.

So what exactly constitutes productive economic activity in this economy? It isn’t immediately clear. Selling ‘energy services’, certainly, rather than energy supplies, selling mobility rather than cars, recycling, re-using, leasing, maybe. Yoga lessons, perhaps, hairdressing, and gardening: so long as these aren’t carried out using buildings, don’t involve the latest fashion and you don’t need a car to get to them. The humble broom would need to be preferred to the diabolical ‘leaf-blower’, for instance.

A shift towards alternative hedonism would lead to a more ecologically sustainable life that is also more satisfying and would leave us happier.

The author cites psychologist Tim Kasser to conclude that

materialistic values such as popularity, image and financial success are psychologically opposed to ‘intrinsic’ values like self-acceptance, affiliation, a sense of belonging in the community.

Happiness is Not Necessarily Richness (Click for larger image)

But this is not an easy way: the voluntary choice of a sustainable life style cannot be an individual one. Even strongly motivated, the individual will experience a great of difficulty trying to escape from the consumption web which is carved in modern society. It is difficult to escape the trap of the many advertising messages which, either expressly or subliminal form, promote goods and services and lead toward consumerism. These perverse stimuli need to be dismantled and for that purpose we need to create new structures.

… that provide the means for people to flourish, and particularly to participate fully in the life of society, in less materialistic ways. And the chances of extending this behavior across society are negligible without changes in the social structure.

In summary, we are faced with an unavoidable challenge. A limited form of flourishing through material success has kept our economies going for half a century or more. But it is completely unsustainable and is now undermining the conditions for a shared prosperity. This materialistic vision of prosperity has to be dismantled.

At the end there will be the rewards:

The rewards from these changes are likely to be significant. A less materialistic society will be a happier one. A more equal society will be a less anxious one. Greater attention to community and to participation in the life of society will reduce the loneliness and anomie that has undermined wellbeing in the modern economy. Enhanced investment in public goods will provide lasting returns to the nation’s prosperity.

How to govern the new economy?

Of course, such a vision requires a democratic mandate…Governance for prosperity must engage actively with citizens both in establishing the mandate and delivering the change.

In summary, it emerges that governments must now engage urgently in several interrelated tasks:

1) Develop and apply a robust macro-economics for sustainability

2) Redress the damaging and unsustainable social logic of consumerism

3) Establish and impose meaningful resource and environmental limits on economic activity.

The precise policy directions implied by these goals must ultimately be a matter for public discourse and it lies beyond the scope of this study to address them in detail. But in the final chapter, some potential policy directions are suggested under each of these themes.

At the end of the report, 12 steps towards a sustainable economy are presented:

Building a Sustainable Macro-Economy

1. Developing macro-economic capability
2. Investing in public assets and infrastructures
3. Increasing financial and fiscal prudence
4. Reforming macro-economic accounting

Protecting Capabilities for Flourishing

5. Sharing the available work and improving the work-life balance
6. Tackling systemic inequality
7. Measuring capabilities and flourishing
8. Strengthening human and social capital
9. Reversing the culture of consumerism

Respecting Ecological Limits

10. Imposing clearly defined resource/emissions caps
11. Implementing fiscal reform for sustainability
12. Promoting technology transfer and international ecosystem protection

A critical overview

This report gives a very comprehensive and objective analysis of the problems we face: it identifies the causes and concludes that continuing in search of growth is a path that can only lead to disaster.

Growth cannot continue but, at the same time, it must go on to maintain employment. This is the great dilemma. The option of investment in fighting against global warming and promoting alternative energy sources (“Green New Deal”) is praised but does not appear to be sustainable, because at the end of the day, it is also based on growth.

We need a new economy but first we need a new mindset. The society of consumption based on materialism needs to lead to another more altruistic society based on solidarity. The concepts of having and being (tenere and essere) must be questioned.

So it becomes obvious that this new approach requires new ethics. To be massive and successfully implemented, the new system would need to be almost a kind of new religion--a religion which we can imagine in the same role that Christianity had at the end of the Roman Empire: defending equality, brotherhood, the end of slavery and the end of exploitation of men by men.

The author says that democracy, as the prevalent political system, should be maintained in the new economy. But at the same time, he argues that the state must have a more intervening role. One could say that we must walk a narrow road, which is at the same time the path for hope.

The consequences of the end of consumerism age

Between the summer of 2007 and now, we have seen financial assets evaporate. Vanishing of financial market assets may also occur with the deepening of the crisis. This will have a big impact on many economic marketing related fields which currently employ a legion of workers such as:

1. The advertising industry, market research, publishing, creativity
2. Distribution, promotion, merchandising, fashion
3. The media

In developed economies the consumer is at the center of everything: the consumer is the “King” as marketers used to say. Big investments have been made to create brands and to establish their image. Brands are important assets of the manufactures: “a brand is worth more than a factory”.

But in reality brands are representations in the mind of the consumer. To achieve its objectives brands fight to gain space and to establish favorable links and associations in the minds of consumers. To this end brands compete with the religious, social and political representations. Myths, archetypes, symbols associated to the gods and heroes in the past are now being replaced by representations of brands. Young generations are more easily influenced by these changes.

This suggests the idea that one of the consequences of the end of the consumerism age will be the creation of a vacuum in the mind of consumers that will need to be completed. This may cause a tremendous psychological depression for some people.

In his vision of the future by 2034, Alan S. Drake's words seem to be, in these turbulent times, a prophecy even more accurate:

Much has been lost in the last quarter century, but few regret the loss of every greater extremes of consumer excess. The use of the word “consumer” is now considered a pejorative and an insult to one’s values. “Citizen” is a title of pride again, with an implied understanding of duties and obligations that go with that title.

Great article!

We can support a more sustainable economy not based on the damaging 'growth' model.
The organizations CASSE and the UK-based, peak-oil-oriented Transition Towns Initiatives, which now has a US arm, are activists on this issue.

FYI At 945am eastern time there will be a live broadcast of a transitions film to address peak oil and climate change being shown at a Transition Network Conference in London.
I will be watching it at this morning. If you are interested in grass roots local solutions to our global economic problems and have the time you might want to to view it too.

Update: It seems the audio portion of the livestream was not successful. The film will be posted for viewing soon at

Hurrah for Transistion - it has helped me find kindred spirits in Boulder (you would think it is not hard to find environmentalists in this town, but actually, it is overrun by technocrats and as others have said - it is very hard for someone to understand something if their livelihood depends on not understanding it).

Also check out the networking site in your state (example

Thanks, Luis, for bringing a very interesting report to our attention!

One thing that stood out to me was the statement

For the author, the goal of creation and training of a “carbon army” of workers for a vast energy program is to restore economic growth "is a different kind of growth, but growth nonetheless.”

There is widespread belief that we can build a new, very expensive industry, just at the time a drop in oil production and the associated drop in credit through the financial system is constricting growth of all kinds. The idea of shifting from "oil" to "renewable electricity" is somehow seen as good and very possible.

There is a double problem--adding the renewable electricity, and adding electric cars and other vehicles. I hadn't thought about the shift in terms of growth, but it is would certainly be growth in one part of the economy.

In order to address sustainability, we need to address renewable. I know that right now renewable is being sold as a way forward to replace FFs. How much of that is possible to remain to be seen but to do nothing would be disastrous. To say

For the author, the goal of creation and training of a “carbon army” of workers for a vast energy program is to restore economic growth "is a different kind of growth, but growth nonetheless.”

is just not quite truthful. It's as if lumping all "new" energy programs, whether it's carbon-capturing or wind-energy or solar energy into on big brush of "carbon army".
If permaculture is to take off, would we consider that growth and growth nevertheless and therefore bad? There is a growth that leads to consumerism and a "temporary, short-term" growth that leads to sustainability -- i think we need to separate them and work on the latter. Right now, consumerism is still a huge part of our world; we might be working on renewable to satisfy part of this "consumerism" but reality will be what it will be in the near future.

I don't know what the answers are for what we really need in the future. I have my doubts that we can solve enough problems for 7 billion human beings but whatever possible solutions we are trying now (renewable energy, permaculture, etc...), it will be useful to some that will survive all this mess.

Has anyone heard of The Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus project?
There is a rapidly growing awareness among the younger generation that this rigged monetary/growth game is over and they know that they aren't going to get their shot at the "dream".
It is very much aligned with the themes that this site advocates. It is a little bit sci-fi but some of the ideas such as the wide use of hydroponic agriculture are very real but as yet unknown to many.
Anyhow look into it and i would like to see others opinions.

There is a different dynamic that is taking place with boomers. The thought process is that they spent their lives within the system. For them, it is largely too late to start over from scratch - they have had the carrot of retirement dangled in front of their noses for 30 odd years, and the last thing they want is for someone to snatch it away from them now.

This isn't to say that it is impossible for people to change their minds - it is just that they have much more of a vested interest in making sure that the status quo continues at least a bit longer - at least as long as they are still alive.

I just skimmed the home page at, and it sounded reasonable until I got to this part:

For example, many people are worried about population growth on the planet, while very spooky comments by despotic figures like Henry Kissinger claim that some kind of "reduction" is needed. This is, of course, very scary. However, the real question remains: Is population growth really that bad? The answer is that from a scientific perspective the earth can handle many, many times more people if need be, once high technology is harnessed. 70% of our planet is water and cities in the sea (one of many projects by Jacque Fresco) are the next step. In turn, education about life operations will inform people as to the ramifications of their reproductive interests and population growth will naturally slow as people begin to realize how they are related to the planet and its carrying capacity.

I don't agree with all of their understanding either but the Resourced Based Economic approach is, in my opinion, the only way that we have a chance.
The point is that a significant number of younger people know that the current arrangements are no longer viable and they are putting their heads together to come up with alternatives.
I think that the earths human population needs to come down but maybe through increased awareness it can be achieved through reduced birth rates and natural attrition.
This topic broaches deeply into ethics and any other method to reduce populations is either unthinkably repugnant (genocide) or against many cultural belief systems.
I think with more research the true carrying capacity, with all available technology factored in, will be arrived at and it will be less than the current 6.8 billion.
The first thing that needs to happen is that humans develop a different way of looking at the world and see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem and not the Classical Greek version of the primacy of man. I think that this could be accomplished through the education system but no one wants to change.
All the "successful" Americans I know want their kids to be Bosses and have the kids of their employees work for their kids.
Caste system anyone?
Kind of a disjointed mini-rant...........I need some more coffee.

I think we all agree that we will end up with a stable-state, no growth society at some point whether we like it or not. And, there are hundreds of fictional works depicting such societies as well as a few, small actual societies today.

However, I simply don't see it happening until: 1) population growth is dealt with and 2)society collapses so that people are forced to accept a new paradigm.


I am afraid that the population problem is going to be solved by Mother Nature.
I completely agree with you that people will not stop doing the things that have "proven" to work for them until not only do they not work anymore but actually cause them personal harm and that will be the collapse.
Complete and utter disillusionment is the only way that most people will change.

Todd my friend,
Of all the things I have learned reading this website (and researching related issues) over past 5 years the most profound is that facts just don't matter as much as I believed. Facts about resource depletion are like shooting a BB gun at an elephant. We won't get really resourceful until the elephant has charged through us and moved on. Then maybe we will remember the facts. (and hopefully the real facts, not the political ones).

A lot of despair starting to accumulate here.............maybe that is an early sign that the worm is turning as relates to mass awareness?
Always darkest before the dawn No?
The next demand spike for energy will send prices up again and that will get a lot of peoples attention.
I really want to thank all the contributors to this and other like sites for making information available that otherwise would not be.
You have opened my eyes and i , in turn, am doing what I can to wake others up to this monumental period in human history. Hopefully it will gain traction and spread geometrically....hopefully.

A lot of despair starting to accumulate here.............maybe that is an early sign that the worm is turning as relates to mass awareness?

1)My comment shouldn't have been read as despairing. I am many years past despair and am more hopeful/resolved than ever for long term. Short-intermediate term will be some pain. Kind of like waiting for surgery...

2)I have reached point where I don't believe mass awareness would be a good thing. But it's just a belief...;-)

I guess my thoughts here are that most people are going to remain ignorant until far too late. The perception will be that "things just aren't working" any more, but for the vast masses they won't really understand why. We saw some of this last year when gas prices spiked. All kinds of people were blaming OPEC, speculators, or greedy oil companies. You try and explain it to them, and they blow you off and repeat the previous assertions. I suspect that to an extent people are really looking for simple explanations, especially ones where there might be a relatively simple fix of some sort.

In the future I expect this pattern to be repeated. There will be some shortage of some sort - prices will spike, and the general public will be looking for more scapegoats. While they may never really grasp the underlying reality, the higher prices will ultimately force them to use less of whatever is in short supply, but there will still be a yearning to go back to what they had before.

That's a catch 22.
Nothing is going to change until a very significant percentage of the population recognizes just how dire the situation really is.
I agree with you though it will be more like a panic than a light bulb moment.


You are too optimistic - and if you weren't posting on TOD, I'd say you don't get it. Not a damn thing is going to change until everyone gets it. "They" are only going to get it when society collapses and people are dying left and right and services have died too. And, even then, there will be a few holdouts who refuse to change paradigms.

There will be no "light bulb moment" before it is too late to transition to anything that is stable-state. The result will be chaos.


I also think that it will be a panic.
I think you may have misinterpreted my post.
I see what you see out here in suburbia.
Complete denial or if I want to sound more formal "cognitive dissonance".

A lot of despair starting to accumulate here.............maybe that is an early sign that the worm is turning as relates to mass awareness?

This is a self selecting group - people who think "the topics here are downers" and don't want to be 'down' leave.

The people who are "ok" with "down" stick around and comment. Sometimes the comments are light and flippant, other times have yet another interesting fact to help others weave their own narrative taperstry in their lives.

Nate good buddy,

As aside along your lines...years ago when I decided that the corporate trip was a load crap and my wife and I had decided to move to the boondocks, I told my fellow "executives" what we were doing. Without exception that all said how much they wished they could do the same thing and then launched into a bazillion rationales as to why they couldn't do it. They all knew they'd eventually be screwed but couldn't let go of the power and status.

Part of this was, no doubt, that they didn't have confidence in their abilities "in the real world". Another part had to be because they couldn't envision themselves/families living "differently".

FWIW, my first job after being a chemical plant manager was as the custodian at the elementary school. I loved it! One of my favorite things to do was correct errors that the teachers made when they wrote stuff on their blackboards. I was finally told to stop since it made the teachers look bad.

Yea, facts don't matter.


Some thoughts and ramblings: My intuition tells me that it goes well beyond a lack of confidence in one's abilities in the real world, or the inability to imagine an alternative lifestyle which holds people back. Perhaps the problem is more existential in nature. You hinted at power and status and those I think are the most important factors. We have bought into consumerism/materialism so completely that our lives are devoid of meaning when not pursuing its ideals. Ultimately, despite the rationalizing, most people will not transition simply because they don't REALLY believe an alternative life without all the gizmos, power, status seeking would be all that satisfying because what they ascribe importance and meaning to now is no longer prominent in the alternative view. Replacing the previous world view/metanarrative by something as coherent, and dare I say hegemonic, as to provide meaning/purpose, a sense of self and place, comfort and reassurance is difficult indeed as it requires a complete change in values and beliefs. And I think it's safe to say that most if not all of us here on TOD went through a gradual and possibly painful, depressing and disillusioning process. Our egos are our worst enemies I guess..."The only reason I feel secure, is that I am validated by my peers".

We should be patient with our peers and try to more effectively communicate our message, our values whatever they may be, and provide a tangible and attractive alternative. We have a 'gospel' to spread (yes, I happen to think PO is good news! ;) ), people to engage and lots of work to do! And though we will certainly not save the world, we can still be/make a difference for our families, friends, coworkers, and communities. There's no sense in overwhelming people to despair or being self-righteous and self-congratulatory.

I agree with your stream of consciousness.
This incredibly complex hyper-specialized society/economy that is the current arrangement is very, very fragile and the complete result of a concentrated, cheap and artificial energy source.
Humans in industrialized societies have become so divorced from their true relationship to the environment and so narrow in their skills that the transition to a more natural and sustainable existence will be very disruptive. Ironically the societies that have benefited the least form the oil age will end up suffering the least in the years ahead. I guess there is such a thing as Karma after all.
People will begin to transition when their current situation is more trouble to them than it is worth.
Also once they see that they are not the only ones that can't "keep up appearances" it won't seem such an ego hit.........after all the only thing that makes people feel superior is being Relatively better off than the Jones'.

Bang on. It's all about keeping up with appearances for now. How vain we are indeed. It's never about being wealthy, or handsome per se--for what pride could one have out of being wealthy or handsome if everyone was equally well endowed? No, we gain our pleasure and self-importance from being comparatively better off, or better looking than the next guy (or gal)! Time and time again I catch myself thinking that way, especially when on the prowl for some female company ;) always sizing up...what an ego gratifying experience it is to have the hottest girl in town. I sure expend a lot of time and energy/money on such endeavors!

I'm not sure whether or not societies that have the least benefited from oil will really be better off than others. For many of them I guess, their BAU is subsistence and a precarious existence. But even were we to go through severe disruptions, our descent, however abrupt, especially I think in my part of the world (Quebec), will not be as severe, and I seriously doubt our existence will resemble that of countries that developed largely without oil. For sure, transition will be very uneven region to region, and country to country.

Most of the posters on TOD are from the US and EU I presume, but the situation in my part of Canada is very different, and I doubt the doomer scenarios will apply. Perhaps our biggest issue during transition will be dealing with throngs of American refugees!? I'd like to know more about regional PO issues, especially in dealing with Quebec (there's precious little on TOD:Canada...anyone out there?). Despite our many problems, we have massive amounts of fresh water (3% of the world's reserves for 8 million people) and plenty of rain, very healthy and productive arable land, our cities aren't too big and fairly compact, all of them are surrounded by plenty of farmland nearby, and though we are energy hogs 97-8% of our electricity is hydro so some small incentives like a price hike or other controls would make us self-sufficient. Also, the St-Lawrence seaway/corridor will remain a significant economic asset, whose importance to transportation in increasingly regionalized markets will surely grow. We also have plenty other raw materials and resources and I see some sort of new industry flourishing here in a peak oil world. When it comes to Quebec, I'm a cornucopian. If I was a native of NYC, or SoCal or Arizona, I wouldn't be so hopeful.

I agree with No 1 100%. Overpopulation will be dealt with by we the people or Mother Nature will do it for us. I personally don't think there are any politicians anywhere left in the world that are capable of dealing with the need for sudden and large population reductions, so I am expecting that Mother nature will do the job - And that won't be very nice to see happen.
Governments today will feed the farmers to Mother Nature to save the Bankers and corporate CEO's and then they will start looking at each other and wondering who is going to feed them all.

Jon,would you care to elaborate a bit about the govts feeding the farmers to the bankers?

Governments still believe they can save the day, don't they? (Maybe they can?)

Jason Bradford suggested I might forward to TOD editors (I did) the response I received from a Minister's (Aus) office a few weeks ago on this subject. Here's the second paragraph...

"It is true that growth in Australia and globally is generally exponential. Resources are therefore being consumed at a faster rate each year, particularly due to the dramatic increase in growth in China. However, it is not true to say that growth cannot be sustainable. Through technological advances and innovation, we can develop new methods and ways of doing things which can allow us to continue to have growth in the long term, but in a sustainable manner". (The two-page letter goes on to outline proposals and initiatives).

In other emails, government admits they're well aware of TOD, Al Bartlett, Chris Martenson, Peter Schiff and the like.

So what's there to do? We're in good hands, right?

Regards, Matt B

I would be interested in those proposals and initiates for sustainable growth. Does it include recycling of resources, increases in energy efficiency, replacing FF with renewable energy ?

I guess it comes down to what rate of exponent growth, could be 0.1% per year or 4% per year.

The rest of the letter (minus names)...

"In order to support science, research and innovation, the Australian Government is funding research and development at universities and Government research institutions. For example, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is working to develop technologies and behaviours that address sustainability issues into the future in many areas, including energy production, materials, transport, agriculture and land management.

The Government is also focused on promoting innovation amongst businesses in Australia who are working to develop and commercialise new ideas. Many of these innovations are aimed at allowing Australia to continue to grow in a sustainable manner. Last year Minister (name withheld) commissioned a review of Australia’s national innovation system looking at how the Government can better target Australia’s innovation capabilities and examining what principles and actions might better position Australia to unlock its full innovative potential. The Government will be providing a full response to the Review of the National Innovation System as part of the budget process.

In addition, the Government has in place a number of initiatives to assist companies to develop and commercialise innovative ideas. For example, through the R&D Tax Concession, the Government provides a tax concession for businesses undertaking research and development. Another innovation initiative is the Climate Ready program, which provides grants to businesses to support research and development, proof-of-concept and early-stage commercialization activities to develop solutions to climate change challenges.

The Re-tooling for Climate Change program will help small and medium sized Australian manufacturers reduce their environmental footprint, through projects that improve the energy and/or water efficiency of their production processes. The Green Building Fund aims to reduce the impact of Australia’s built environment on green house gas emissions, by reducing the energy consumed in the operation of existing commercial office buildings. In addition, the Enterprise Connect network provides comprehensive support to Australian small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s), to help them become more innovative, efficient and competitive.

Through research funding and innovation initiatives such as these, the Government is supporting the research and development activities of research institutions and companies throughout Australia who are working on solutions to ensure that Australia and the world can continue to experience growth in a sustainable manner.

For example, CSIRO and a number of Australian companies are developing strains of algae which can produce oil which could power Australia’s transport fleet in the future when conventional oil supplies are in decline. The University of New South Wales, CSIRO and the Australian National University, as well as a number of innovative Australian businesses, are developing world leading solar power technologies, which can replace fossil fuel usage for electricity generation. CSIRO is also developing an intelligent building management system for commercial buildings which operates, controls and monitors energy consumption and implements energy management programs and water saving devices on hydraulic fittings and fixtures. CSIRO estimate that the system can reduce a buildings energy use by around 30 per cent.

Research is also being undertaken in a number of other areas, which will help address the problem of maintaining sustainable growth, such as waste, food production, urban design, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, water management and biodiversity conservation. Through innovation and technological advancement, long-term growth can continue, in a sustainable manner

Thank you again for taking the time to write to the Government on this issue.

Yours sincerely"...

Matt,reading that politico speak reminds me of the reply I got to a letter I sent last year to Senator Evans,Minister for Immigration.I was strongly,but politely,critical of the government's insane immigration policy amd also the welfare for breeders program.

The people who write these letters at taxpayer expense are qualified bamboozelers and that is what they are employed for.They have the facts at their disposal but they have salary induced myopia.
Their private opinions may be different but it doesn't really matter,does it.

From top to bottom of the oligarchy the harlots are running the country.

I personally don't think there are any politicians anywhere left in the world that are capable of dealing with the need for sudden and large population reductions...


At one time, fifty years ago or so, Mao Zedong practically ordered the Chinese people to multiply, which they did, then about 25 years ago, new leaders ordered the people to stop multiplying (and backed that up with a one-child policy for city people; it was two or three for country folk), and have prevented at least 400 million people from being added to China's already large 1.3+ billion population. So, there ARE politicians who are dealing with large reductions.

Maybe you meant politicians in the west. That would certainly be the case, particularly where the Catholic church is a power to be reckoned with--see, for example, the Philippines, where the population is growing dramatically, but where the Catholic church is against birth control and family planning; the government there knows Catholicism is a major hindrance to population reduction, but don't know what to do about it. Same applies to Latin America.

So, it's not the politicians who are at fault, it is the religion of the country or region they're in. A more secular and non-religious America, coupled with a sense of collective responsibility (as in China) and the population could be reduced substantially. But so long as we have this silly mass movement called democracy and an anti-humanistic religion, we can't do anything about it.

Todd has it right, it's about population growth. We need tax incentives to encourage no-kid and one-kid families, because only with fewer people can a shrinking economy comfortably fit.

yeah "unsustainable" means this damaging system is no longer able to continue, no matter what the corporations and politicians try to do to revive it. but they'll be the last to accept the futility of those efforts.

so we are now watching them keep two westbound trains apart on the tracks. the accelerating oil price train WILL crash into the back of the slowing finance train. no track action after that.

Looking at figure 6, one priority should be trying to nail down why the people in the former Soviet Union are so unhappy whereas those in China, the Philippines, Latin America, Nigeria (!), etc. are much more happy. Maybe it's something as simple as more capsicums (chile peppers) in the diet.

And then, for everyone else to realize that it takes more and more consumption to make us just a little more happy.


Maybe there's a correlation with distance from the Equator? But then, how do you explain Iceland?

But then, how do you explain Iceland?

That SWB study was done in late 1990s well before the credit crisis. You can explain (at least some) of northern europe countries by the amount of debt/capita. Iceland will end up being both lucky and happy - they failed when it was unacceptable to fail, and were bailed out (like Bear Stearns).

Regarding the chart in this post, it represents the Inglehart curve, which I wrote about in this post. Also at that time I showed the primary energy use (BP) vs subject well being 'very happy'. US has same amount 'very happy' as Phillipines but uses 38 times the energy.

Click to Enlarge

Above certain basic needs, the answers lie in relative not absolute, perceived and not actual.

Nate, I believe your middle arrow points to Ireland. Iceland is just above US.

Russians are actually reasonably happy when you get to know them. However, the expression of happiness in public is not generally done or expected. Some cultures require an outward display of happiness, even when the person is not feeling happy at all. This may partially explain the difference in the survey.

I suspect the graph/survey in fig.6 is almost completely meaningless. I cannot believe that 95% of any population (eg Iceland. Netherlands) is happy and satisfied. Nor that 90% of the USA is content. Nor that the very poor Moldovians are miserable while the equally poor Ghanaians are so happy. I suspect the rich folk feel they have to say they are happy because it would be inappropriate/ungrateful to admit to being miserable when they're so much 'better off' than most. The former eastern block probably feel hard done by, comparing themselves to their wealthier Western European neighbours. The key to it is the people who say they are happy while poor. Are they being honest? Let's hope so!

Agreed. Self-reports on happiness are to be ignored entirely, as pointed out, in some cultures (e.g. US) saying one is unhappy is socially demeaning and an admission of failure, in others it is mandatory to bitch and complain, saying one is happy means one is dull, deluded, stupid.

Having met Russians, and Canadians, and Americans, and Greeks (much poorer, complain a lot - well off people in Athens probably complain more than old fashioned villagers with outstanding hospitality ethic), I would agree with the above comments.

However, I would point out that there are also studies of "happiness levels" WITHIN the US, that show a similar relationship with affluence, as well as relationships over time (even though I suppose the "culture" changes over time). There are also those intriguing studies of people who win large amounts of money in the lottery and find themselves either just as unhappy as previously, or significantly more so.

In my field of study (Health, Wealth, Medical Care), there is a relationship between wealth and either self-reported health status, or other measures of health. One interesting relationship is between high blood pressure rates and both wealth and social status. This classic study was done in Great Britain among a highly hierarchical group, where they showed that there was a gradient all the way to the top, that could not be explained by access to material benefits. There are also intriguing (if heartbreaking) studies that show that hierarchy appears within kindergarteners and correlates with levels of certain stress hormones believed to be related to a variety of medical outcomes (cortisol, for one).

What I conclude from these is that although health and happiness is best optimized in a population by drastically reducing inequality, we may have some biological mechanisms that support the seeking of the top rung on the social ladder. This means a fair amount of effort needs to be expended to remind people that supporting the good of all is a worthwhile goal.

As an aside, some friends and I were having a discussion a few years back about the sayings we remember from our parents. One woman said her parents always repeated :"Life isn't fair" and another chimed in, "My parents said that too, but they qualified it: "Life isn't fair - you have to MAKE it so".

These national happiness ratings are meaningless without breaking it down by sex (as politically incorrect as that is)-the ideal lifestyle for the average Russian,Canadian,Greek,American male is strikingly similar-the ideal lifestyle for the average Russina,Canadian,Greek,American female is strikingly similar yet very different from the male version. Some countries are more set up for feminine needs, some more for masculine needs.

(e.g. US) saying one is unhappy is socially demeaning

No it is a 1 way trip to a head shrinker who'll want to solve it.

Kinda like telling someone every day is work. Think about it, you get up and you have to work of making your food, the work of cleaning up after oneself, the work of ..... It's just that the list is not one someone pays you for.


What an interesting word: "prosper".

Quickly I realized that, like so many other words we glibly use ever day, I had no idea what it really means.

Of course, the image of Star Trek's Spock, standing with fingers spread in the sign of the 'shin' (the Hebrew W) and saying: "Live long and prosper" jumped into mind.

But what does it mean and what are its origins?

I decided to boldly go where few have gone before, the dictionary.

Among my many stop overs was this, this and this.

There doesn't seem to be any one satisfactory definition. Perhaps one might wish prosperity on a colony of bacteria (i.e. yeast) and say to them: go forth, be fruitful and multiply, flourish, thrive, and succeed greatly with your biological imperative.

So are we humans any more "prosperous" than a vat of yeast? Hmmm.

In Switz. and France, much talks with many on a very local level, all involved in the new paragdim, that is new avenues for growth:

were discussed, all by well meaning ppl, some in positons of power, some local aspirants:

-bio fuels, more are needed

-sustainable development, which includes funding, buying from, local market gardeners. Support for local baker was a big thing in one spot

-stimulating eco-tourism, these decrepit places could use that as a calling card, it is a all ‘natural’ etc.

-building more sports facilities so that ppl can be more active (and come here and spend more money)

-having on offer green services, meaning recycling garbage even when it is all burnt together

-stressing local products and having them better marketed (packaged advertised etc.)

-creating new ecological ponds and waterways for nature observation, boating, and bathing, with special facilities for children

-getting ppl to be more 'ecological' in their home furnishing, thus buying accredited furniture - nobody quite sure what that is...

that was about it. :)

-sustainable development, which includes funding, buying from, local market gardeners. Support for local baker was a big thing in one spot

Guess it makes sense that at the beginning of a thing there might not be clear understanding of the issues.

Localized does not = sustainable.

When the import of what sustainable truly means sinks in, then we might have a chance.


Yes, I think the starting point of such a discussion should be - what is sustainable? Meaning, what manages to avoid using resources? What gives back more than it takes? There is also a hierarchy - it's OK to use some resources for very useful purposes where alternatives cannot be found, but one should doing it for entertainment (waste not, want not).

To understand this better and spend time thinking about it, I am reading David Holmgren's Permaculture book, and starting a permaculture design course. I am fascinated and excited by it. Talking with uninintiated friends, however (and my spouse...), the conversation quickly draws a blank. I think many people feel unimaginable grief at the idea that they will have to start thinking about what they do. Yesterday, my husband refused to carry a water bottle to Boulder's downtown fair, saying "we can just buy water there if we need it". As another poster on this forum mentioned, sustainability changes rob people of what they had considered to be symbols of their freedom and prosperity.

So, re-written, the above suggestions would be:

- conservation, not biofuels
- support for teaching local gardeners techniques that enhance soil fertility and produce nutrient content
- the local baker should be encouraged to make healthier food!!
- stimulate bicycle tourism; tax car rentals
- close down sports facilities, maintain and expand nature trails and snowshoeing
- no burning garbage ever
- foster the development of re-use, exchange objects which are no longer needed (freecycle)
- decrease packaging; subsidize farmers' markets and mandate they grow what they sell
- comprehensive evaluation of waterways - what is appropriate, what increases water availability for all (not sure what the situation is in Europe with drought, but here in the US, you want to decrease "boating" in deserts - see Lake Powell, for example)
- subsidize furniture repair shops, so beautiful locally repaired furniture becomes clearly more affordable - comprehensive list of toxic chemicals and best practices in furniture repair

I think this is more in the spirit of sustainability.
I believe Holmgren's 12 principles should be taught in school

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I will go out on a limb here and make a simple conjecture. And that is:

As long as we operate under a financial system in which compound interest on money lent is an integral part, we can never have prosperity without growth.

Why? Because the repayment of principal plus interest (in constant rather than inflated dollars) requires economic growth somewhere, somehow, by someone, and economic growth in turn requires physical growth of production of goods and services somewhere, somehow, by someone. I don't see any way around it.

As long as we operate under a financial system in which compound interest [exists] ...

At one barbecue over our USA Memorial Day Holiday, conversation turned to The Economy. Out of curiosity, I asked some of the guests:

"Where do you think money comes from and where does money to pay interest come from?"

Now mind you, these are highly educated people with advanced degrees in math and engineering (some from top notch Ivy League schools) and with jobs in the high tech industry. I was kind of curious what their answers would be, whether their views had changed in this Down Economy, although I was not surprised that it turned out to be the usual mindless dribble they had been brainwashed into believing during their educations and working lives.

Clearly, none of them fathomed the exponential function even though I'm sure they all studied it intensely in college.

If I can summarize their responses, it was basically:

"Money appears because people work. I work, therefore I get money. To pay for interest, we all work more and we work harder."

(They did appreciate that money comes out of thin air, that we print it, and that the government can't keep printing trillions of dollars forever because that would provoke hyper-inflation. However, they didn't see that as problem as long as we all have "jobs" and we all keep "working" hard and harder and over longer hours.)

None of them reads The Oil Drum (TOD) or believes in Peak Oil (PO). And of course, each of them depends on a corporate job in the high tech industry for their livelihood. So the answers did not surprise me. Nothing has changed.

(Oh yeah, none of them had been laid off recently. At a different barbecue, some of the high tech players had recently lost their jobs. There the mood was slightly different. They sensed that something has fundamentally gone wrong but they couldn't yet put their finger on it. If only they keep working harder at finding a new job, they told me, everything is going to turn out all right. Finding a job is their current new "job". The only reasons they are not finding a new job is because they are not yet working hard enough at it. With persistence and more hard work, the paying new new job is sure to come. It's always been like that and always will be. For all our sakes, I hope they're right.)

The monetary cranks are out in force again.

I really hope you're not trying very hard to see a way around it.
Let's assume your premise isn't fantasy. Growth is supposed to account for output.
When a class of debtors repays a class of creditors, what's growing is wealth equality (and/or the savings rate, depending on who the creditors are), not output. These are pretty much orthogonal.
You made up this problem out of whole cloth.

People love consumption, the ownership of things and the variety of choice.

Native Americans were content, even happy, in a culture that had proven itself sustainable until they were exposed to the products of the white man, with whom they eagerly traded what they had to obtain. Even if there had been no warfare and conquest, Native Americans were undermined by their own human desire - drawn to the trading posts and forts where they could obtain tools and articles they prized. The white man could laugh at how easily the red man was taken for the simplest manufactured articles, but who will have the last laugh? Native Americans lived sustainably for centuries because they did not have the means to create the wealth of things we enjoy. They were forced to conserve because there was no alternative.

To say that growth in consumption is unsustainable is quite true. But to say that it can be curtailed voluntarily is, I believe, dreaming. People will not easily be told what to do, no matter how beneficial it may appear to be for the future. It's well known that we devalue the future strongly; a dollar today is desired much more than a dollar even a month away. Ask the multitude to abstain from this or that or pay more for a 2 degree rise in temperature over 100 years? They will answer: who's telling me what I can do?

I do not believe a democracy will support curtailment of consumption or dictation from an elected government about what they can and cannot do in the marketplace to the extent that such dictation would be meaningful for sustainablity...particularly when other people elsewhere on the globe are not being constrained. Those who have little now will bridle at the wealthy deciding that things must be scaled back.

We find identity and freedom in consumption. Our demand for things drive entrepreneurs to make the best products for the least cost. When those who are elected begin to decide what is best by prohibiting consumption for sustainability and trying to determine what will be produced from any factor other than market price, discontent will spread.

At the moment we are only in the initial stages of limitation. Being denied the use of plastic grocery bags is not big deal, just a small drop in convenience, if that. But as increasingly onerous rules kick in that begin to make things disappear from the market or change in ways that make them far more expensive or less desirable, real trouble will start.

Capitalism is a Pandora's box. Man can live sustainably, but it comes through denial. If Man does not know what he is missing, he can live without it. Disease and early death were long accepted because there was no alternative. Man was denied by his own ignorance of what he could do through technology. But recent years have shown that given the means, Joe Average will pine for a McMansion as surely as any count or duke wanted his own castle in the Middle Ages. And, like that count or duke, Joe Average will spend lavishly regardless of the condition of others.

In the last couple of years we've seen that Joe will even put himself so deeply in debt, willingly and eagerly, that his whole future, not just his house, is mortgaged. This direct danger was disregarded, yet we talk of altering behavior for a few inch rise in the oceans over a century and the disappearance of species most folks have never seen?!

Royalty went a long way toward ruining whole countries countries through consumption and rivalry by way of warfare that brought penury or death to many thousands. Now we have a benevolent Oprah setting the standard for opulent living along with almost everyone else who makes it big and we all see this as unobjectionable because theoretically such unlimited materialism is open to us all. The super-consumers are who the public adores and follows. Deny a connection between wealth/consumption and happiness if you will, most won't buy it, they won't deny themselves in order to see if it is true.

We are enabled by money for the consumption it brings and disabled by the lack of it. We reach for money/consumption as surely as a plant turns toward the light. There are some who can get out of this squirrel cage because of temperament or intellectual realization, but they are relatively few. Capitalism does not thrive because we have been duped, but because it produces the things we long to obtain in dazzling quantity and quality. Steve Jobs has probably brought more pleasure to more people than any philosopher could and millions hang on news of what he might come up with next.

There will be tough times ahead, not because of resource depletion, global warming or reaching capacity per se, but because of rules set by the few for the many that say: you cannot be what you want to be - the promise that has been before you is an illusion and cannot be attained. The lid will be closed on individualism through materialism and that won't go down well, if at all. The consumption genie is out of the bottle and won't be put back in. Praise for and personal testimony to the happiness that can be had from sustainable living won't turn back the tide.

interesting. you suggest greed, avarice, and selfishness are bred into us. Further your conclusions seem consistent with those of OldSkeptic last week, when he predicted that available resource supplies will be pursued until the last bullet is spent. I wonder if this outlook, with which i generally agree with, is a function of age or of just rumination about the facts. Folks of our generation, 60+, (i believe you are close} made it through a few small bottlenecks and if we were asked would say we have lived a pretty good life. Even if the worst happens in the near future we really couldn't complain. I seem to notice its the young that are grasping at the straws of the technological quick fix. Don't blame em. Consumption is a real problem. But you know, my kids have everything from SUV's to air planes and yet their most happy moments, and to this they would testify, are when camping or participating in some outdoor activity, including gardening. I hope we are not underestimating the resilience of these younger folks. I got a couple of "high consumption" grand children i would walk off into the woods with tomorrow. I agree in the long run we are all star dust. However, this thing is going to play out in unpredictable ways and awareness and basic skills come fast in a pinch. Its the boys in the high positions we have to worry about, I agree. But the ranks of the rich and powerful are being thinned faster than the rest percentage wise. Some pretty good talent moving into the ranks of the poor. Don't worry, the poets will show them the way.

Native Americans were content, even happy, in a culture that had proven itself sustainable

The fossil record shows species that were made extinct once humans (what would become 'Native Americans') arrived in North America.

Extinction via overharvest is not a 'sustainable' practice.

Native Americans were content, even happy, in a culture that had proven itself sustainable until they were exposed to the products of the white man, with whom they eagerly traded what they had to obtain.

I recently read some fascinating first hand historical accounts of 18th Century America in which the Indians were described as becoming lazy and worthless after buying alcohol from the Whites.

The Native Americans where of Asian decent so maybe there is a genetic basis to this.
It is well documented that there is some sort of enzyme "deficiency" among asians that does not allow them to process alcohol efficiently.
Just a thought.

It is obvious that there are physical limits growth,and apparent that at least here on this site that there is something approaching a consensus that we are either at or very near those limits.

So if we have growth in one area, it looks as if we are compelled to suffer(?)or maybe I should say experience corresponding shrinkage in some other area.

Assuming we manage a so called soft landing(possible imo and to be hoped for) the big question becomes one of meaningful employment for the tens of millions of us who earn our livings providing goods and services that will no longer be available or at least sharply curtailed in this new no growth world.

I am sure a good many more people will be needed in certain fields,particularly corn fields,(well it seems funny to me!)but just what are all these people going to do?I can see the construction people moving into building renewable energy infrastructure,etc,but what about all the burger flippers?

We do not need growth to be happy; all we need is fair distribution and adequacy of fulfillment of basic needs. As for prosperity, we do not need that at all, so I think the idea of prosperity without growth is misguided and on the wrong path--as wrong as the current system.

A suitable and sustainable human civilization needs to have a sense of collective responsibility for basic needs; and a sense of individual responsibility for anything beyond those needs.

Our basic needs are water, air, food, shelter, and energy. To meet these basic needs, these things should be considered collective resources, collectively shared, produced, and consumed. Everyone should be required to work to produce and sustain these basic goods. Through division of labor and bartering or trading, some people may spend more time on one or another or these than others, but everyone puts in the "same" work and everyone draws out the same, equal, share as everyone else. Money can be a means to share and trade and distribute these goods.

Once these basic needs are met, the individual is free to do whatever he or she wants with their time and energy. Some will want clothes, some will want entertainment, some will want nothing more. But there will be limits and controls and regulations on what you can do or make with your own time--for example, nothing that harms others, etc. Some will do science, some will do drugs; some will run races, some will watch. Whatever!

Money can be a means to share, trade and distribute goods [and services].


I'm quite sure many share your sentiment. I'm not here to criticize. Merely to get you thinking a little more deeply about all this stuff.

Where we have money, we also have interest. After all, no one gets something for nothing (unless you're too big to fail, but that's another topic). So when you borrow money, you have to pay for that. It's called interest.

With compound interest, there is something called doubling time. A rough approximation is 70 years divided by annual rate.

So let's say We the People (a.k.a. US Government) owe 10 Billion dollars and the interest rate is 10%. (Actually, on credit cards, it's much higher.)

If we don't manage to pay it all down right away (and we can't because our economy is feeling ill lately), in 7 years from now we will owe $20B, then 7 years later $40B, then $80B. Well, you get the picture.

And that is of course, assuming population doesn't grow. If population grows then all those new kids are going to need college loans so they can get more jobs in our "information economy" and can make even more kids and buy more houses, more SUV's, more more. Well, you get the picture.

So let's say We the People (a.k.a. US Government) owe 10 Billion dollars and the interest rate is 10%.

The interest rate is 3.6%, and only 2.8% on debt not owed to the government itself. That makes for a lengthy doubling time.

Even based on a moderate level of growth of 2% per year, meeting 2050 carbon reduction targets would mean achieving a carbon content of no more than 6g CO2 for each dollar spent - a staggering 130 times lower than the average carbon intensity today.

This translates into about 3kWh of FF energy per $1 in US economy(100,000kWh/year/p.person with $30,000 GDP/p.person).
Presently would expect 600g CO2 from this energy(1800g/$), but if replaced by renewable energy would only need about one third(due to X3 higher efficiency of electricity) or 1kWh/$ of GDP.

The lifetime CO2 emissions of wind, hydro, solar are 5-40g/CO2/kWh but when most FF is replaced by renewable will be at the lower end of this, so it is achievable to have 6g/$ of GDP.

A better reading of the chart would say that anybody near Russia is unhappy.

I come from Bulgaria and can give you some feedback on this. Yes here it is very common to complain about something (very often it is reasonable). A problem is the lack of justice, I think this has a big impact on people's happiness.
Best regards, Daniel.

Then the big question arises: Can we build a system that enables prosperity (happiness) of the human being without economic growth?

That's the wrong question.

The problem to be solved is:

"Resources, including energy, are exhaustible and because of medium-term environmental imbalances caused by growth will make human life more difficult or even impossible."

The correct question, then, is one that addresses this problem directly:

Can we build a system that enables prosperity (happiness) of the human being without over-exploiting our resources or environment?

It makes no sense to assume that "zero growth" is the answer to this question. The correct amount of growth may be above zero or below zero; assuming it will be exactly zero is foolish. There's no reason to do that other than due to personal biases, and reasoning based on those isn't a good way to solve problems.

Many resources and some forms of renewable energy are exhaustible but not in a time period that is significant for humans, ie a few million years. More importantly, there are limits to power(rates of energy use) and rates of resource use. This places upper limits on either intensity of resource use per person or on the total population or both. I see no reason why the worlds population will not slowly decline, as more people have higher standards of living, and especially as women have more choices in life. This is already happening in many OEDC countries including many "Catholic" countries.

I think you have stated the correct question.

I find this call for a new ethics and a new religion interesting.

Abolishing slavery, brotherhood and equality are not new ideas. These were the values of the French revolution. They were those who wanted to create a new religion around these values back then... but I think it's fair to say these efforts are now seen as quaint.
Luis Queiros also talks about abolishing exploitation. This reminds me more of communism. Communists certainly didn't bill their movement as a religion but I'd say some rather preeminent communist outfits had many of the trappings of organized religion.
Do we really want to go there?
The quasi-religious aspects of these political movements were arguably their worst. If you're hoping for something else than a bloodthirsty dictatorship, I think you'd better hope for a thoroughly realistic, decidedly non-religious kind of revolutionary movement that would value the individual, her freedoms and opinions.
In the last 200+ years we have seen pretty much every idealistic revolution turn on itself after an autocratic power grab. Electoral democracy is not a protection against that: dictators have famously managed to take power through the ballot box by talking a good game as well.

I think that people's ethics are by and large just fine. There are not that many who actually favor slavery, exploitation and such. It seems to me there's more than enough people trying to do the right thing at an individual level out there.
But people of good will can't seem to work collectively at a large scale. For lack of consensus and coordination, even the simplest goals such as preventing destructive warmongers from winning elections seem out of reach. Managing an economic transition to a more sustainable paradigm would be much harder. That, I think, is the real issue.
A effective democracy at a large scale would require, instead a new religion, a new way for people to inform themselves, relate to one another and take genuinely collective decisions. Don't ask me how to bring such a new social organization about or how it would look like.
Following messiahs is much easier.