I picked this up, forgetting till I’d seen the back cover, that I had read his first book, Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller and quite enjoyed it. I had a twelve hour train ride ahead of me last week and needed something substantial to last me through the trip. I had also forgotten he was the head of world markets for the CIBC for twenty years, but I was reminded of it in the first chapter when he told having to choose to be an author or a banker, as his employer wasn’t keen on him being both, at least not while he was working for the CIBC.
Anyway, this book was right up my alley. A venerable authority giving us all a reality check on the end of economic growth and globalization, the ramifications for climate change and the part played by triple digit barrels of oil. Yeah, we all know it’s the end of the fossil-fuelled juggernaut we erroneously think of as progress. Yeah, says Mother Earth, thank friggin god. But like so many other over-specialized authors with a vision of the precipices within their own discipline, he has failed get high enough to see the big picture.
I like that he bluntly ties energy to growth. There is no magic there. Without oil we’d be carrying around steampunk iPhones and still driving more horses than beamers. I get that. When oil goes (as it’s going now by becoming more expensive and therefore, uneconomical for certain uses), the economy goes, too. But where the book fails is in its central idea that when oil and the economy head south, so too does any worry we might have about climate change. If we ain’t burning oil or coal, we ain’t wrecking the atmosphere. As far as this goes, it’s true. But it don’t go far enough.
The one thing climate scientists are unsure about are so-called tipping points. These are points at which all our warming of the land, the air, and the oceans create a domino effect, so that no matter how much we limit our spewing of heat-trapping gases, there is no going back. We’ve prodded the beast and he ain’t liking being awake. The oceans will reach a point where they can no longer absorb carbon dioxide and heat. Great forests of the world will reach a point where they can no longer absorb CO2 and become net emitters of it. Glaciers reach this point when they melt enough to expose centuries of dirt and crap embedded in them. The darker surface absorbs more heat than snow and ice, and it’s goodbye Charlie. When any one of these things happen, we’re hooped. But when they all happen at once, pretty much all life on the planet is in jeopardy.
Mr. Rubin doesn’t exactly state that everything will be rosey once our economies collapse. He does intimate that culturally, we -and Mamma Gaia – will be better off. If these two ingredients, oil and the economy, existed in a vacuum, he would have the last word. But instead of focussing only on oil’s effect on growth and the climate, how about having a look at climate’s effect on oil and growth. Droughts, floods, famine and hurricanes have a profound effect on the economy, and in the coming years will determine whether anyone is going to risk pumping oil from ravaged seas or ravaged countries. Don’t even get me started on pandemics, water wars, or mass migrations. I just have a tough time reading books where the writer hasn’t read enough. The End of Growth is well worth picking up. Just know that the author is shining a light on only one facet of the global diamond.