Flow Rate Patterns

Target rates for natural flows are tightly linked to target levels for outputs: as output levels rise, flow rates will tend to rise; as output levels fall, flow rates will tend to fall.

For the rich countries, many output levels are presently far above their targets, and we would therefore expect both output levels and flow rates to decrease sharply when these economies adopt ENL.

For the poor countries, conversely, output levels are typically below their targets, and we would therefore expect both output levels and flow rates to increase.

Once target levels have been achieved in both rich and poor countries, we would expect output levels to remain roughly constant, but flow rates to decrease further as ecological efficiencies continue to rise and other economic modifications are made.

ENL refers to changes that can be achieved quickly as the short run. During this restricted period, ecological efficiencies and economic conditions that determine value and cost are assumed to be fixed, but output quantities can change.

The longer-term period is referred as the long run. During this more extended span, ecological efficiencies and economic conditions can change as well.

Based on this distinction, the following figure shows a hypothetical flow rate pattern for a rich country that has recently adopted ENL for economic guidance.

Natural flow rate pattern — rich country
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Flow rates should decrease sharply in the short run (until time t1) as a rich country moves towards target output quantities. Flow rates should continue a steady but slower decline over the long run due to increased ecological efficiencies and other economic improvements.

The current, excessive flow rate is F1, due to the excessive quantities for the various outputs that use this flow.

If ENL's principles are vigorously applied, these quantities will drop to their target levels in the short run, thereby decreasing the flow rate sharply to target rate F2.

The diagram shows this decrease occurring over time t1. The actual duration will obviously depend on circumstances, but based on the severity of our ecological predicament it should probably represent a decade or two at most.

Once rate F2 is reached, the flow rate declines further over the long run, albeit at a slower pace.

What economic modifications might achieve a continuing decline in natural flow rates?

Below is a brief list of the more significant ones, assuming a fixed population.

  1. Increase ecological efficiencies. While the focus in ENL is on rational guidance rather than technical ingenuity, there will always be room for clever innovation. Within the scope of society's chosen level of technological complexity, this deeply ingrained human facility should be fully exploited to create technologies and production methods that will continuously increase our ecological efficiencies. Ingenuity is problematic today because conventional thought relies on it heavily to provide technological fixes to the massive problems we face. This is too large a burden for even the most inventive minds to bear. However, once contractionary revolutions have occurred and our demands on nature have been significantly reduced, ingenuity can be relied on to make our modest life-styles increasingly efficient.
  2. Re-organize the economy. Achieving target output quantities in the short run already implies fundamental economic changes: some outputs may cease to be produced, while others may be sharply ramped up. Beyond these quantitative changes, however, there are qualitative factors that can be modified. Natural flows can be reduced by choosing the most efficient production facilities, by building new facilities that are designed and located so as to minimize resource use, and by using communication technologies to prevent environmental expenditures where these are not absolutely required.
  3. Reduce the consumption of wants. Society should critically examine the consumption of sanctioned wants so as to maximize the fun, entertainment, knowledge, etc. derived from environmental expenditures. This will likely result in a profound cultural shift, including the rediscovery of beneficial social patterns that were abandoned during the unsustainable bubble of plenitude of the last several centuries.

Even more dramatic than the above changes is a conscious reduction in a society’s level of technological complexity. A simpler life-style will significantly lower our reliance on natural resources, for both production and consumption. This choice will also decrease the optimum population, a change that could drastically reduce our natural flows over the long run.

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