Post Growth: The Two Producers Of Sand

[Articles and opinion pieces published in this blog do not
necessarily reflect the polices and opinions of the organizers of
the International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas. They are
posted here to stimulate discussion and debate on issues relevant
to degrowth.]

Gunnar Rundgren, who has worked with most parts of the organic farmer sector – from farming to policy – since 1977, brings us a parable which highlights some of the dilemmas of international trade as they relate to issues of growth, resource use, and inequity.

Once upon a time there were two producers of sand, Henry and Loser. They dug out the sand from the same place, with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. The sand was sold at the side of the road to by-passers. They didn’t earn a lot but enough to survive, to send their children to school, and buy a new wheelbarrow and shovel every other year. The little they could save was used for funerals or if someone in their families fell sick, or had an accident….

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This little story shows what happens in an unequal world with free trade and access to fossil fuel; where the price of oil determines the “value” of human labour. That is one of the most important factors in the story. It is simply not possible for human muscle power to compete with fossil fuel driven machinery. We might think that gas is expensive, but a barrel of oil has as much energy as 14 peoples’ annual labour. The absolute poverty line is 1 dollar per day, which is more or less the lowest salary one can pay any place on earth. Even with such a deplorable salary, the cost for 14 peoples annual work is around 5,000 dollars, while a barrel of oil costs 100 dollars!

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