The Heresy of Growth
by Andrew McKillop

Revelation and heresy

Christians who take their revelations seriously are well served by the Revelation, also called the Apocalypse, of St John. This presents the New Jerusalem that true believers would see, live in, and adore. Crystal clear rivers teeming with fish flow through this magic city; each street, court and alley will be lined with ever-laden fruit and nut trees. At night no street lighting is needed — solving any problems of the electric power bill — by special dispensation of God. Its one-stade-thick foundations (1 stade was 60 Greek feet or about 157 metres) were to be built from jasper, amethyst and other precious stones, and its tallest buildings reached some 12 000 stades in height — not skyscrapers but far outer atmosphere scrapers. The Greek stade, we can note, had first been used by Eratosthenes, about 300 years before St John penned his Revelation in 94 AD, in his calculation of this planet's circumference. Eratosthenes studied the length of midday shadows cast by upright rods the same length, at two locations a known distance apart along a north-south track, and from the difference of shadow lengths calculated the Earth's circumference as 250 000 stades. The result — about 39 300 kms — was remarkably close to the real figure of about 40 005 kms at the Equator and about 39 955 kms at the Poles. Three hundred years before St John, therefore, at least one certain and fundamental limit, that of a spherical planet, had been proven. Budding Christians and potential recruits were however not informed of such things by St John, whose culture and religion preferred flat-earth theory. Heaven on Earth would by definition be limitless and boundless. St John's New Jerusalem not only had no night, but would cover 3.6 million square kilometres with a population of about 184 million inhabitants, dividing and multiplying as they should, yet their entire food needs would always be supplied from within the city limits, beyond which (of course) was desert and night.

Today's devout presidents, prime ministers and influential TV show presenters will profess their belief in Christian teachings and most have heard about St John, and surely of today's real Jerusalem of intifada, curfew and civil war, but they will likely know or care little about Eratosthenes, or have much interest in the tribulations, and the trial of the 17th century Italian physicist Galileo. Galileo faced the Inquisition for proposing that the Earth orbits the Sun, rather than the reverse. At the time, Christian dogma still claimed the world was so large, so boundless that "it had no limits", and the Sun itself was required to turn around our planet. This however was the age of navigation, in which real world data for a curved, spherical and therefore limited planet had fast increasing utility. Not much later, the heliocentric model of the solar system, where the planets turn around their central sun, became accepted, and ever more proofs of this correct theory were brought by astronomers, physicists and mechanical scientists. Today, the prospects of Peak Oil and Peak Gas — the twin peaks of production that the Earth will ever achieve — are as accepted in government planning ministries as Galileo's theory was accepted by the Inquisition. Much as religious dogma ruled that the Earth was flat, and the Sun orbited this centre of the Universe, today's New Economics notions plainly state that fossil fuels are essentially boundless and limitless, and environmental damage and climate change are mere 'externalities' in the heroic — even divine — process of building the New Jerusalem of Universal Prosperity, of course in a Globalised Market.

Heresy was a serious business for the official belief system of Christianity in Galileo's time, and still is, as shown by the revival of Christian and Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fatwa, of Hindu, Sikh and even Buddhist religious intolerance today. Only when truth becomes so evident that it is nearly impossible to deny, and can be demonstrated by repeated experiments always leading to the same result, can a non-truth vectored by religion be discredited. The waiting can be very long, reminding us of that adage of the economist Keynes — in the long run we are all dead. Mass and popular culture, with little difference between 'advanced industrial' and other societies, seeks to perpetuate and reinforce approved ideologies for as long as possible, even when there is overwhelming scientific or other evidence that the slogans and nostrums instilled, chanted or communicated by the doctrinal elite are false. In other words, and as any advertising and marketing guru knows by heart and by observation, people believe what they want to believe more than what is true. Constant repetition of the same false message, yet another basic in religious 'teaching', political propaganda and advertising, serves to reassure the stupid and the timid, the lazy and the inert, that they should go on believing a falsehood. In the political domain this was succintly stated by Hitler's very own adage — "The great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one", that is: the bigger the lie the easier it is to get away with.

Ideological belief — what people want to believe — is only abandoned very reluctantly. St John wrote an exaggerated version of any new town property developer's come-on to impress adherents to his then young and struggling religion, while his colleague St Paul practised mass conversions on the Billy Graham model, of course 'consigning' this to written copy, for use by following recruiters to the 'one and only truth' that Christian missionaries, propagandists and communicators had on offer. Ideology is always set in a framework of written dogma. Once in print — such as the Bible — the content of religious myths is hard to change. Within limits (because they are written in only one language) passages of, or entire, holy books can be creatively translated, reinterpreted, and then retranslated into yet more languages. Translation errors, along with original mistakes, become part and parcel of any religion's effective national linguistic variants, and with time even the origin of an error can become a matter of arcane debate and dispute, and be withdrawn from effective popular scrutiny. In other words, such a storm of debate, discussion and dispute is generated that both falsehoods and errors, and the truth, can coexist and circulate — exactly as in the 'debates' on climate change, species destruction, and the rapidly looming peaks for world oil and gas production.

The business of religion

At the turn of the 21st century about 30% of the world's population is Christian and about 19% is Muslim. These are the world's two biggest, most powerful religions, with the Hindu religion not far behind. While the various branches of the Christian Church are no longer so powerful and influential as they were, especially in the developed countries of the North, numbers are growing fast in the poorest countries, shifting this religion North-South, and making up for some of its lost wealth through increasing numbers. Increasingly in the South, both Christianity and Islam are in direct competition for recruits, with both attempting to preserve their bastions and heartlands, and with no let up in their missionary work. Islam is certainly more powerful today than it has ever been. In the former Christian heartlands of the developed world 'mainstream' churches and particularly the Protestant variety are losing out to Christian fundamentalism, while in the South the more radical or fundamentalist branches of Islam are most surely in rapid growth relative to more tolerant forms of the religion.

Organised religion seeks recruits the same way that business leaders always work towards greater sales and profit growth. Where necessary, as in business, competing products and concepts are demonstrated as false, inferior or even harmful. For world religions, apart from the growth of sects, cults and fads such as New Age mysticism, celebrity worship, sexual deviation, vampirism and others, the greatest threat to recruiting comes from simple facts and figures, and information on the real world, much of it originating in science. Whether it be DNA sequencing, the Big Bang theory in nuclear astrophysics, or the laws of thermodynamics, religious philosophers will affirm that a Greater Force lies somewhere behind and before this knowledge that so compromises the childish 'messages' of their official dogma. In the secular societies of the West, where business is much more the official religion, explaining away any and all physical and biological limits as a 'threat to our lifestyle' is big business but has to overcome the simple facts and figures produced by science. For religion this is easier — because religion essentially negates scientific knowledge — and growth of recruits is forging ahead wherever poverty and ignorance are on the upturn. In the impoverished, unstable, often war-racked societies of the former Third World or South recruits very often grow in inverse proportion to economic growth; in other words, increasing misery brings more recruits. Even in the secular, science-, technology- and business-based societies of the North the long recession of the 1980s brought large new followings to certain — more radical — churches and creeds, and a boom in numbers for apocalyptic cults. Also in the 1980s, the tradition of 'democratic' leaders making public appearances in churches at carefully chosen moments, for example before launching wars against smaller and poorly armed countries, was renewed and made a ritual part of warmaking. In the hierarchy of effective political power in the Islamic world organised religion, as ever, is well represented and in several countries has increased radically over the past few decades, as has Hindu political power and influence in its Indian bastion.

All of the 'Religions of the Book', that is Christianity, Judaism and Islam, proclaim that Man is the sole master of the Earth and God will provide.

Biblical, Talmudic and Koranic doctrine demands that humanity "go forth and multiply". The current Pope lets it be known to all that every child born is a flag raised for humanity and that contraception is a crime. The Muslim faith is particularly pro-natalist. With Christianity it runs a breeding contest to "subdue the Earth". Since expanding populations have, at least 'classically' been the motor of economic growth it is easy to see that both economic and business elites regard natalism, or encouraging population growth, as a supporting doctrine. Religious leaders, however, can play two horses at the same time — if economic growth is swamped by growing human numbers they know that increasing poverty will always bring them more recruits. They can therefore be 'neutral on economic growth' whenever convenient, for example during slumps and crises, but can be sure that population growth will always serve their interests. Over the past 20 years succeeding right wing Republican administrations of the USA — apart from proselytising the virtues of capital punishment — have opened wide the floodgates of immigration, lent a sympathetic ear to the 'pro-life' and anti-birth-control lobbies, and sought to weaken population control programmes and projects operated by UN agencies. In certain countries and regions — especially in Africa — the Catholic Church has tirelessly worked against family planning and for increased poverty. In most Muslim countries contraception is illegal; any wife who is infertile, or who refuses to have children, can be divorced on those grounds alone. Population growth in fundamentalist Saudi Arabia since the 1970s remains close to 3.5% per year — a doubling time of just 19 years which ensures that so-called 'vast oil revenues' are quickly swallowed, per capita income falls, and unemployment rises. Saudi Arabia's demographic growth is probably out of control, and an aberration relative to many other regional countries, like Iran, where birth rates have fallen sharply, but only after a tripling (to nearly 70 Million) of its population in the period 1970-2000. Exploding human numbers and rising recruits for the most radical forms of its already fundamentalist state religion are a sure threat to survival for Saudi Arabia's current rulers, probably as great as that posed by the USA's war plans for control of oil reserves in the region. The explosion of Iran's population means that domestic oil consumption has grown so fast that the country will cease to have exportable surpluses of oil by about 2008-2011 and will necessarily seek supplies or reserves in the region.

The religion of business

Both religion and business deny and reject environment and resource limits, and are therefore in conflict with science. When scientists mount the public stage and identify the increasingly obvious limits on resource and environment capacities to feed 6.3 billion persons, still increasing at close to 90 million per year, they are challenging economic and religious orthodoxy. Neither doctrine — either God or Greed — can tolerate dissent. In its battle against the scientific community, the religion of business has a willing ally in government. Business managers running GloGrowth Inc., and country managers running Germany GmbH, Japan Kaizai Kogyo or UK PLC have much more in common with each other, and with religious leaders, than they do with the scientific community. Government and business interchange personnel, through a well-oiled set of revolving doors and tinkling cash registers. Governments appoint panels of corporate sector stars to make policy. Business provides nice sinecures for retired politicians. Democracies are increasingly corporatised as the line between government and business is blurred — governments are increasingly run either as or for the business sector. In the Islamic world few governments dare to give other religions a place in the sun that would compete with their state religion; religious committees often vet the heads of state corporations before they can take their seats of power.

Much as religious texts with their artful 'translation errors' freely plagiarise the myths and legends of preceding or contemporary societies, of course without attributing their source material, the religion of business in Consumer Civilisation has its own sacred and ancient texts. For the so-called New Economy doctrine, its founding beliefs draw on various late 18th and early 19th century ramblings, anecdotes and nostrums of certain writers, but one very important fact should be known: none of these writers called themselves economists because the word did not exist at the time. Usually they called themselves natural philosophers and inquirers, or even bankers and traders, doctors, soldiers or clergymen. A hodgepodge of their 'new' economic nostrums is today thought able to ward off the evil malady called inflation, and restore episodic and usually flagging economic growth to 'buoyant and healthy' rates. In the 18th century no 'new economics' forefather ever mentioned inflation, in any text, for the simple reason it did not exist at the time. Or, if it did, it was called something else and these soldiers, clergymen and part-time philosopher-scribes preferred not to waste their time with it. Economic growth, in the 18th century, was at best a vague and ill-defined concept; even the word 'nation' in the famous work by Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, had completely different meanings to those of the same word today. A 'nation' at the time when Smith wrote would be any small community, probably speaking the same language, and perhaps using the same money (and much barter). Communities even 50 miles away were different 'nations'. Comparing 'nations' over large regions was literally impossible. Where formal 'nations' did exist at that time — and countries like Germany, Italy and Belgium had no formal existence until late in the 19th century — this concerned their capital cities, an official money with various rates of exchange and acceptability outside the capital, and economic activities (many of which have entirely disappeared today) whose geographic range was minuscule compared to global marketing areas of today.

Economics, like religion, must forever be a doctrine and not a science because it is condemned to compare oranges of today with apples of yesteryear, to compare activities of today with non-comparable activities of the past, using money yardsticks whose value has vastly changed. Its real objective is in fact to create and maintain illusion and hope. Economists will for example bravely 'compare' the rapid cutover and destruction of European forests in the 18th and 19th century — for fuel and farming land to feed growing populations — with the 'progressive transition' to an entirely hypothetical, almost surely unworkable Hydrogen Economy and the development of genetically modifed food crops 'which will feed us all'. This is done to 'prove' that economic growth will go on, the unemployed from one declining industry will be absorbed by another which grows, any declining resource will be compensated by another. The cream on the cherry pie is that human ingenuity, like human greed, has no limits. Modern economists who want to keep their job have the essential role of saying that economic growth 'is always possible' and therefore persuade and cajole doubters in the same way that religious slogans can entice potential recruits from outside the jewelled walls of New Jerusalem. This in no way changes the truth: so-called New Economics is based on the nostrums, slogans and sometimes very far-fetched ideas of 18th century 'natural philosophers', who did not even use the word 'economics' and knew nothing, or cared less about inflation. New Economics is nothing more than a mishmash of illusion, myth and allegory when or if it is carefully examined. The similarity with organised religion could not be closer.

The victims of the farce

The environment and any nonhuman living thing in it, as a 'free good' in business, and an 'inert' space in religion, is a special target for and victim of theft, pillage and corporate contempt. Despite the smokescreen of 'environmental initiatives' few or no governments in the world today regard the environment as more than a side-show when it comes to hard decisions hitting lifestyles and pocketbooks. Personal consumption and egoism are the real core values of dumbed down, downsized 'democracies' proclaiming their supremacy in all things, and successful politicians are those with the reptilian certitude they can stay atop the greasy pole of power if they abandon any attempt at reasoning with the consumer mob.

Global warming has surfaced as an issue despite being discredited, denied and rejected, and sidelined by the corporatist forces of government and business. The basis for climatological variation theory dates back to 18th and 19th century geographers and astronomers. By 1924 the Serbian mathematical climatologist Milankovitch had developed his theory that orbital variation of planets sets regimes of climate variation due to tiny but constant shifts in how a planet rotates around its sun. Total solar insolation, by hemisphere, varies through about 14% with time because of continual but slow shifts in our Earth's orbital characterists as well as variations in the solar flux. This concerns natural variation of our planet's climate. However, much more dramatic, grotesque changes have been made to the chemical makeup of this planet's atmosphere due to fossil fuel burning. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by nearly 200% in under 200 years. The last time these levels existed was about 450 000 years ago. The simple facts of the matter are hard to deny — the warmest years known to scientifically reliable meteorological records are all from the 1980s decade and after. Records for early springs and short winters, floods, cyclones, glacier melt, windstorms and other effects of global warming, that is, climatic instability, are very regularly beaten.

Global warming like fossil fuel depletion and the mass extinction of species is above all an ideological threat to business and politics as usual, placing science in a head-on collision with the real decision-making elites of consumer democracies. Rejection of global warming by these elites led the drafters of the Kyoto Treaty to make attempts at enticing big business, with cash, through the possibility of trading licenses to pollute and so called clean development mechanism credits. Since the number one villain in global warming is carbon dioxide, and the anthropogenic source of this is fossil fuel burning, the simplest solution is, in fact, to burn less fossil fuel. Unfortunately, countless corporate and individual consumers of fossil fuels and users of carbon-based products depend totally on these fast-depleting resources in their economic way of life. Not only business profits and political power flow from the oil barrel, but also our daily bread or fast-food, the family car, our pharmaceuticals and even our clothes. One plank of the quickly constructed climate change denial industry was therefore easy to put in place — doing anything about climate change will hurt your pocketbook and cramp your lifestyle. Other planks were soon put in place by the business-government axis using the finest advertising and marketing that money can buy: climatologists along with dissenting environmentalists, demographers, earth scientists, and oil geologists, are essentially wrong because they 'do not understand' human ingenuity and our collective ability to take up the 'challenges of growth'.

Communication and negation

In the last ten years the corporate sector, often with support from Big Government (particularly in the USA) has demonised and ridiculed climate scientists for going public on greenhouse gas build up, ozone layer depletion, ice cap thinning and other aspects of the dramatic change that is occurring to the Earth's atmosphere and climate. The basic causes of climate change, the mass extinction of species, and accelerating wipeout of cheap fossil energy resources, all trace back to population growth and the growth economy. Remedy of these problems would in fact require total restructuring of our economy, society and culture, and conversion to low-energy living, but even the most immediate and small alleviation is expensive and could weaken precious consumer confidence in the single goal and demonstrated religion of mass consumption. Government and business 'communication' on these threats therefore always presents them as surmountable 'challenges to our way of life' and first and most uses denial. Climate change is thus presented as a fantasy, or too complex for hard working, hard consuming democrats to understand; species destruction is easily communicated as simply clearing away useless trash; while the approaching peaks for world oil and gas production are — at present — brushed aside as childish pessimism by excited academics and grandstanding commentators. However, denial only works if the cover up can be sufficiently financed, and operated with the same determination and hermetic contempt for truth with which religious and political myths are perpetuated.

At the same time, boundless and uncritical confidence must be maintained in Man's technological mastery, that is, 'ingenuity'. This requires denial and negation of technological catastrophe but this in turn is confronted by the problem that the bigger the catastrophe to be denied, the harder this will be over time, and especially where the number of victims and economic losses continue to multiply. Two recent — in fact continuing — examples are the Bhopal and Chernobyl catastrophes. Both were stoutly denied from the start, in the case of Bhopal by the company (Union Carbide) operating the pesticide and chemicals plant which exploded, and in the case of the Chernobyl catastrophe by none other than the father of 'Perestoika' ('Openness'), Mikhail Gorbatchev.

Concerning Chernobyl, not only Soviet nuclear prestige was menaced, but confidence in 'clean, cheap and safe' nuclear electricity by consumers in the West. Nuclear power, in official mythology, is believed to safeguard against blackmail by greedy oil producers bent on ruining consumer paradise through price hikes. In reality nuclear power requires heavy fossil energy subsidies and produces lethal wastes which can kill for thousands of years. Yet such is the power of the nuclear lobby that, working through the UN agency for atomic energy (IAEA), the UN agencies most concerned by the Chernobyl catastrophe, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), were 'persuaded' to publish absurdly untruthful, lying estimates for human casualties and economic damage from this worst possible nuclear accident. Until January 2002, that is nearly 16 years after the accident, no UN Web site such as that of WHO gave figures for the numbers of victims from this real catastrophe that went above 30 dead, with 'a few hundred' injured. Today that has radically changed, as any Web search will show, and UN agency sites now give figures of dead and injured of tens of thousands, with economic loss and damage of up to $250 billion. These sites also state that death, injury and loss will continue from this technological catastrophe, for the simple reasons that well over 150 kgs of long-lived plutonium and uranium nuclides escaped in the explosion. Truth has come out, but it has taken many years, in which the nuclear business was able to go on raking in orders and making money. Conversely, some 20 years after the Bhopal catastrophe, this is still denied by the US corporation whose factory was inherently unsafe, and no serious compensation has been paid to the thousands of surviving and new victims.

From welfare to warfare

In a similar way the coming catastrophe for the growth economy and consumer-hedonist lifestyles that Peak Oil and Peak Gas will very surely bring has been negated or deflected through inciting public opinions to colonial war in the oil-rich Middle East and Central Asia. US and UK media, right through 2002, much preferred to 'build public support' for war on Iraq — to enable greedy corporate hands to grab what was believed to be 'huge oil reserves' — than to offer any explanation at all of why these reserves had become so critical to consumer civilisation. The great length of time needed by American and British politicians to 'build a war coalition', with rather few major allies, permitted public opinions in many countries to grope and grapple with a few of the real issues, and become openly disenchanted with, and even fearful of this Oil War. Some journalists, a tiny minority of course, went so far as to give a few simple facts illustrating that there are no military solutions to the geological problem of rapidly depleting world oil reserves.

Yet no mass media will state that within ten years and perhaps much sooner the world economy will enter a period of torment from which surviving and sustainable economic activities will be very different from those of today. Negation of our fundamental dependence on fossil fuel resources of a planet whose natural environments, living species and even atmosphere have been heavily destabilised, degraded and in some cases destroyed will soon require almost religious credulity on the part of public opinion. The demagogues in control of our Old Democracies will surely seek to maintain public deference for the government-business axis, searching new, lightly armed countries to bombard, conquer and occupy, to deflect public attention with the voyeuristic pleasures of seeing people killed and cities ruined on TV news shows. But without economic growth and that of personal consumption, the nearest things to religion for the mindless mass in 'advanced industrial' countries, their effective 'demonstrated religion' will be discredited. This demonstrated religion is underlied by the unstated but evident moral principle of New Economics that 'another person's misery is my opportunity for pleasure and profit' but in economic slump everybody loses. As in a previous embodiment of mass disillusion in the religion of the growth economy — the 1929-35 Great Depression — the almost inevitable sequel is preparation for world war, in a world where the number of heavily armed players has followed the curves for energy and population.

The Iraq War
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