Up in Plato's World

One of the central dogmas of the world system we live in is the dogma of growth. We are told by economic experts that if you aren't growing, then you're for certain getting left behind, because everybody else is. The world economy is driven by FOMO.

The assumption implicit in this, is that our economic system has infinite potential for growth. Even amongst those wise to the consequences of traditional ways of pursuing growth, there arises the question of whether there might not be some way of achieving growth without the resource extraction and environmental devastation that usually ensues.

  1. What is "growth"? As the economists define it
  2. Why should we want "growth"?


Amount of resources we use: number of people on the planet x amount of resource consumption per person.

"Resource-free" growth certainly feels like it ought to be within reach with the way that we primarily live our lives on the Internet these days. Bitcoin mining? Free money! You just need to do enough computations, and through the magic of proof of work, you get rewarded in Bitcoin for verifying other peoples' transactions. Netflix? Great jobs for their engineers, not to mention all the actors that get paid with a subscription. When the world we know is mediated through WiFi, it's easy to forget.

Forget that Bitcoin mining uses more power than entire countries—Ireland, for example. Forget that powering all our digital infrastructure now entails emitting as much carbon as the aviation industry. Flygskam? Try Flixskam. Still chill? Even me, typing this zettel on my computer: I'm partaking in it. I'm plugging in.


“I liken it to a game of whack-a-mole,” says Barron of a green transition. “So, we whack down fossil fuels and up pops metals. . . . We’re not just talking about car batteries—we’re talking about grid storage, home storage, industrial storage, and heavy transportation. The demand for those metals that we’re currently using to build batteries is going to go off the charts.” We haven’t come anywhere close to whacking down fossil fuels, but otherwise Barron is right: the European Union released a report in early September warning that it was facing a critical shortage of rare metals. The Financial Times suggests that in order for the EU to meet its climate goals, “it will need up to eighteen times more lithium and five times more cobalt in 2030. The forecasts rise to sixty times for lithium and fifteen times more cobalt by 2050.”

Deep Sea Rush

The "green" economy calls for yet more mining and extraction: lithium, nauru