Thought Control in Economics

Howard Odum

Humans must wean themselves off fossil fuels in light of rapidly shrinking reserves.

Few economists – love for scientific rigor notwithstanding – understand how concepts like chaos theory and the laws of thermodynamics could possibly impact their work. For Howard Odum, however, scientific principles were central to both the study of economics and life in general. As he saw it, “The struggle between order and disorder, between the angels and devils, is still with us.”

Odum was a prominent figure in the vanguard of the ecological economics revolution. Throughout his long career, Odum wrote extensively about the biological limits to economic activity, the role fossil fuels play in international relations, and net energy analysis. He applied the laws of thermodynamics to demonstrate that energy use has to be measured not only in terms of usage but also of waste. Generating nuclear power, for example, requires a massive amount of energy. By Odum’s measures, more energy is consumed in its creation than produced. So why, he asked, would we do it? Odum was among the first to conceptualize energy as currency, demonstrating the differences between the ecological impact of natural versus manufactured processes. He also pioneered the field of “ecological engineering,” the management and restoration of ecosystems to account for the demands of both human activity and the natural environment. 

Late in life, Odum and his wife Elizabeth devoted their time to warning of an imminent ecological collapse if our patterns of consumption remained unchanged. In their 2001 book, A Prosperous Way Down, they argued that humans must wean themselves off fossil fuels in light of rapidly shrinking reserves. Among other things, the pair suggested redistributing the world’s wealth more equitably, curbing population growth, streamlining energy use, promoting lower intensity agriculture and modifying capitalism to make it less focused on growth. Doing so gradually, they claimed, would allow a “soft path down” that would make the world more prosperous after a global economic descent.

When he died in 2002, Odum ended his career as he began it – as a sentinel at the very forefront of revolutionary economic thought.

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Anonymous

Considering that the same people who run this country also own perverse amounts of U.S. natural resources and have a strong hand in the distribution of these resources, why does it come as any surprise that we continue to pollute the environment instead of finding alternate, natural non-polluting energy forms. These people LOVE to make money and HATE to spend it so you can forget about money going into beneficial energy research. It is pure greed and power grabbing on the part of our so-called leaders. I am sure they hope we all get cancer because these same people own the drug companies and control our medical system. It costs lots of money to die of cancer. So someone is benefiting from our painful, miserable deaths.

Anonymous

Considering that the same people who run this country also own perverse amounts of U.S. natural resources and have a strong hand in the distribution of these resources, why does it come as any surprise that we continue to pollute the environment instead of finding alternate, natural non-polluting energy forms. These people LOVE to make money and HATE to spend it so you can forget about money going into beneficial energy research. It is pure greed and power grabbing on the part of our so-called leaders. I am sure they hope we all get cancer because these same people own the drug companies and control our medical system. It costs lots of money to die of cancer. So someone is benefiting from our painful, miserable deaths.

twessels

I met Dr. Howard T. Odum in 1974 while attending his "Energy Systems Workshop" at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Dr.Odum's strength was his work in "energy systems analysis" and evolving the concept of "net energy" as applied to the study of natural and man-made systems. One of his students, Dr. Charles A.S. Hall has carried on Dr. Odum's work as a distinguished professor of Systems Ecology at SUNY Syracuse. Dr. Hall would be the first to tell you that "the powers that be" have no interest in funding his work on net energy analysis because they prefer to continue "lying to themselves" about the implications of an irreversible decline in global net energy. The most important implication of which is the end of economic growth, not economic activity, but the end of material growth in the economy. This creates a terrible problem for America's capitalist government because the solution to every social problem since the founding of the republic has been to call for more economic growth. When more economic growth cannot be obtained we will be forced to manage our lives and livelihoods in a new manner. Dr. Odum and others, like Herman Daly, believe a "steady-state" economy would balance the needs of people with available energy and resources in order to avoid the collapse of industrial civilization due to resource exhaustion and ecosystem degradation. I think they under estimate the dominant social power exercised by the capitalist elite, who may be quite willing to plunge the world into wars to secure the remaining reserves of fossil energy and natural resources so economic growth can continue for a little while longer. The fundamental decision for most Americans is whether we want to continue with a capitalist corporate government or change to a people democracy government and separate governance from corporate economic interests. Time is short and "business as usual" will likely lead to a massive human die-off due to war, starvation and disease.

twessels

I met Dr. Howard T. Odum in 1974 while attending his "Energy Systems Workshop" at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Dr.Odum's strength was his work in "energy systems analysis" and evolving the concept of "net energy" as applied to the study of natural and man-made systems. One of his students, Dr. Charles A.S. Hall has carried on Dr. Odum's work as a distinguished professor of Systems Ecology at SUNY Syracuse. Dr. Hall would be the first to tell you that "the powers that be" have no interest in funding his work on net energy analysis because they prefer to continue "lying to themselves" about the implications of an irreversible decline in global net energy. The most important implication of which is the end of economic growth, not economic activity, but the end of material growth in the economy. This creates a terrible problem for America's capitalist government because the solution to every social problem since the founding of the republic has been to call for more economic growth. When more economic growth cannot be obtained we will be forced to manage our lives and livelihoods in a new manner. Dr. Odum and others, like Herman Daly, believe a "steady-state" economy would balance the needs of people with available energy and resources in order to avoid the collapse of industrial civilization due to resource exhaustion and ecosystem degradation. I think they under estimate the dominant social power exercised by the capitalist elite, who may be quite willing to plunge the world into wars to secure the remaining reserves of fossil energy and natural resources so economic growth can continue for a little while longer. The fundamental decision for most Americans is whether we want to continue with a capitalist corporate government or change to a people democracy government and separate governance from corporate economic interests. Time is short and "business as usual" will likely lead to a massive human die-off due to war, starvation and disease.

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