The messiness of human life: the ultimate limit of technosphere expansion

Recently, the term ‘technosphere’ is increasingly used in a slightly different sense than in the Earth system context (see the new issue of ‘The Economist’ and the briefing that inspired and informed this post). The technosphere would be the world of the internet, roughly defined. This refers to the global and comprehensive connectivity and the …

What is the purpose of the economy? The case for a geocentric turn in economics

Recently I have been working on a chapter contribution to a volume on geoethics edited by Martin Bohle “Geo-societal narratives – contextualising geosciences” (Palgrave). Dealing with literature that I was largely unfamiliar with helped me a lot to focus my thinking about ideas that I have been working on for years. This has been condensed …

The modern corporation: centre of power in the technosphere

There is a black hole in climate research, ecological economics and Earth system models: The corporation. Of course, corporations are recognized as actors, but what happens inside the corporation is normally not included in the macro-scale perspective that most Earth sciences research in the broadest sense adopts. Even when critics claim that the ‘anthropocene’ should …

The technosphere as a computer: What are the thermodynamic implications?

In modern economics, information is arguably the core notion. Indeed, many economists would agree that the market is a giant distributed computer that processes information about scarcities of resources and generates prices that guide the actions of economic agents accordingly. However, economists rarely consider the physical side of information, although in practice that matters much, …

Eigentimes in co-evolution of biosphere and technosphere: A challenge to policy design

The Corona crisis has highlighted a problem of considerable significance for the study of co-evolutionary processes: temporal dynamics and temporal coordination. In my 2002 book (in German) ‘Elements of Evolutionary Economics’ I devoted a full chapter to time and introduced the term ‘Eigentime’ that is mostly known from physics but is rarely used in other …

Universal basic income: Revolutionizing technosphere governance

Universal basic income UBI has been suggested by many authors as a major institutional innovation in designing the economy of the future. One motivation that increasingly gains acceptance is that it might be the solution to the problem of technological unemployment created by digitization and automation. In our context, that would translate into the assumption …

The Corona, Oil and the Challenge of Climate Change

Many observers have noticed that the current crisis could serve as a policy template for meeting the challenge of climate change. We collectively experience and manage a ‘de-growth’ process of unprecedented speed, and most governments are busy with finding ways how to recover growth. Yet, astute analysts such as the previous governor of the Bank …

Will Corona kill capitalism?

Economic historians know well that pandemics and existential crises can change the evolutionary trajectory of economic systems. The most illustrious case was the Black Death that ushered the demise of feudalism via its impact on labour supply and wages. In the 20th century, the Great Depression and WWII fundamentally changed the role of government in …

How to restore human agency in the technosphere

Most observers of the current climate crisis argue that we need fundamental changes of our lifestyles and economic policies. There is less emphasis on whether and how we must change the fundamental institutional structures of our economic systems. But when thinking about agency in the technosphere, institutions are central. If the technosphere follows its partly …

Vaclav Smil on Growth: Seeing the Trees, but not the Forest

Vaclav Smil is one of the world’s leading thinkers on energy, society and nature. He has just published a volume on growth across many scales and domains (“Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities”). As always, he presents an amazing richness of facts, often extremely enlightening. For example, he definitively shows that all thinking about ‘decoupling’ or …

Global urbanization: The dangerous delusion of economics

In recent debates about reforming capitalism, we observe a problematic tension between the social and the ecological. There are growing concerns about the social consequences of capitalism, which eerily remind me of Karl Polanyi’s political analysis of the ‘Great Transformation’: These social conundrums are increasingly driving the rise of populism worldwide. Many commentators explain them …

Money and the technosphere

Fifteen years ago, the late and renowned Swiss economist Hans Christoph Binswanger published a book that deeply influenced my own work in economics: The Growth Spiral: Money, Energy, and Imagination in the Dynamics of the Market Process In a nutshell, he argued that the monetary economy is inherently expansive, and that this drives the relentless …

In a Climate-neutral Solar Economy, Would the Technosphere Outcompete the Biosphere? A Provocation.

In his recent post, Axel Kleidon offered a grand view on the thermodynamics of the Earth system that includes the human domain. His fundamental point is that the human economy follows the same systemic dynamics as the Earth system, i.e. Lotka’s Maximum Power principle. That means, it manifests an inherent physical trend towards maximizing energy …