Visualizing A Sustainable Economy: How Much Is Enough?

Introduction: The Sustainable Economy Discussion Group (SEDG) 

Part of Ecotecture’s eco-nomics discussion will be reports on the ongoing meetings and activities of the Sustainable Economy Discussion Group (SEDG) of Corvallis, Oregon. The Group, which began its informal monthly meetings at a local coffee house in October, 2011, grew out of an earlier discussion group based on the study of the book “Prosperity Without Growth” by Tim Jackson. (That group was organized by the Corvallis branch of The Natural Step of Oregon.) 

 The purpose of SEDG is to explore issues in sustainable economics. SEDG’s members are not professional economists, but ordinary citizens who bring a variety of perspectives to economic issues: a farmer/agronomy student, a retired forester, a retired USDA rural infrastructure development specialist, a high school science teacher, a school psychologist, an ecologist, a Corvallis City Council member, Ecotecture’s editor and others. 

 SEDG is thus a “peer learning group” focused on macroeconomics and local economic vitality and sustainability. Since its discussions cover conditions and developments relevant to people and economies everywhere — globalization, the limits to growth, consumerism, steady-state economics, community economics — Ecotecture finds them relevant to its goal of empowering our readers to solve environmental problems. 

 We invite you  join SEDG’s conversations by posting comments or by sending us guest blogs about your own community’s economic discussions or initiatives — if your experiences inform our readers, we’ll publish them. 


(Note: Corvallis, Oregon is a college town (Oregon State University) with a population of about 55,000 including 20,000 students. Corvallis’s economy, like that of most American towns, has declined since its peak in the pre-2008 era.

These notes are an edited version of the SEDG monthly meeting minutes sent to the membership. Some the SEDG members quoted or mentioned in these notes are given pseudonyms to protect their privacy. Pseudonyms will be noted: otherwise, assume the name is real.)

 SEDG Meeting Notes #1- December, 2011: — Main Topic: “What is Enough?”

The first event of the evening was the presentation by Maegan Prentice of a video she made of a talk given at the University of Oregon (Eugene) by Rob Dietz. The contents of the video are not summarized here, but Dietz is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE), and information about his work work may be found on CASSE’s web site.

Maegan would like to make a new video of several SEDG members having a group discussion about “What is Enough.” (I call it “sufficiency” in these notes.)  The three-point framework for that discussion is as follows:

1) We would discuss sufficiency in the context of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” The Hierarchy, (from my notes) is as follows:

• physiological needs — breathing, food, water, sleep, etc.
• safety or security — employment, property, etc.
• love and belonging — family, friendship, romantic attachments, etc.
• self-esteem — confidence, self-respect, respect of others, etc.
• self-actualization — acceptance of reality, morality, creativity, etc.

2) Why do we give more value to power than compassion?

3) The Buddhist concept of the Hungry Ghost . From Wikipedia: “Hungry ghost” is a Western translation of the Chinese “èguǐ,” a concept in Chinese Buddhism and traditional Chinese religion representing beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. … ƒƒ.)

Other Thoughts on a Sustainable Economy

Following the discussion of the “What is Enough” and the new video, a number of other topics were touched on. Here is a (mostly unannotated) list:

• The Global Footprint Network was mentioned.  It will be discussed more in subsequent meetings.

• Capital Limitations: The need to distinguish between natural capital (the capital provided by the earth and ecosystem services) and financial capital. Natural capital circumscribes and limits financial capital. Within the context of that topic we discussed:
- sustainable scale
- the limits to growth
- equitable distribution

• Someone suggested that we should abandon Gross National Product (GNP) as a measure of prosperity and substitute Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNP measures negatives as well as positives — virtually all recorded economic transactions. Therefore the cost of incarcerating a felon is part of the nation’s “product.” So is the cost of cleaning up the environment after a toxic spill. In other words, GNP confuses unproductive with productive, and wasteful with regenerative economic activity, and gives the impression that the growth of GNP is always good, and the more growth the better, but doesn’t reflect how economic activity affects people’s well being.

Gross National Happiness measures the quality of life. From Wikipedia: The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s then King Jigme Singye Wanchuck, who has opened Bhutan to the age of modernization… He used the phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values…ƒƒ)

• It was also mentioned that there are two types of sustainable economic models: Steady State vs. Sustainable Development. Evolving toward a steady-state economy is an appropriate goal for developed economies, whereas sustainable development is appropriate for less developed countries.


Relevant Reading:

Buy books and help Ecotecture! If you liked this article and want to learn more, we invite you to buy books through the links below — we earn a small commission on each purchase you make, but our commission does not raise your price by one cent. We’ll use that commission to expand our efforts to empower you to solve environmental problems.

Prosperity Without Growth, Tim Jackson
The End of Growth, Richard Heinberg
Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development, Herman Daly
Steady State Economics, Herman Daly
Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Meadows, Randers and Meadows
Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up, Stiglitz, Sen and Fatoussi
Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster, Peter Victor 

Related posts on Ecotecture:

Eco-nomics: Modeling a Sustainable Economy on Ecosystems 

Can Gross National Happiness Lead to An Economic Revival? 


Comments are welcome and generally will be posted if they are on topic and inoffensive. However, Ecotecture does not post comments to the effect that global warming is a hoax. Read our position on global warming here.


One Response to “Visualizing A Sustainable Economy: How Much Is Enough?”

  1. Jona Sealander Says:

    For the record, hardly any pesticides are used on commercially grown rice. I am involved in rice farming in Northeast Arkansas on the edge of one of highest rice producing counties in the country. More than anything else, herbicides are used on rice but the majority of those are hardly toxic in the amount that MIGHT make it to the end users kitchen.Report this comment as spam or abuse

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