Friday, October 15, 2010

Something to Think About

The following is an excerpt from an article by Jerry Mander. I found it interesting and a bit frightening.

There's a missing link in the discussion (on ecomomic growth), ignored by nearly everyone in the mainstream debate: nature. They speak about our economy as if it were a separate entity, its own ever-expanding universe, unconnected to any realities outside itself, not embodied within a larger system from which, actually, it emerged and can't escape. Nature cannot be left out of the discussion. It may be the most important detail of the entire conversation. Leaving it out of consideration is, well, suicidal. Here's the point: never-ending growth on a small planet with finite resources is a profound impossibility. It's an absurdity. A fantasy. It's time to wake up.

The whole situation is something new for capitalism, a shock. For two centuries it's been like a closely guarded secret that the entire economic system we live in, and assumed was forever, is actually part of another larger system, but with only so many resources and dump sites. But the secret is out. We are eating up the materials that sustain us, and the feast is almost over.

During the great heydays of capitalism – the last two centuries of spectacular development and growth – we lived in what the great ecological economist Herman Daly called a "full world" of resources. We thought they were unlimited, some kind of permanent gift to the human race from God, so we could display our stewardship, or something. But it's not a "full world" any more. Somebody should tell our leaders.

Watch for the big announcement: THE PARTY IS OVER. Without ever-expanding resources, ever-expanding production and consumption, our economic growth model becomes a relic, instantly obsolete. But so far, no one in leadership roles is admitting to that. If they know it, they're too scared to say so.

So, we are left with a profound dilemma: do we serve the short-term interests of profits and growth? Or do we face reality and serve long-term planetary survival? How to solve one problem without exacerbating the other? So far, the decisions have favoured the corporate side, as usual. But circumstances may change that.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia, the only head of state from an indigenous heritage, made his position clear, first in Copenhagen, and then in Cochabamba: "We have a stark choice between capitalism and survival," he said. "The countries of the world have failed in their obligations … Either capitalism lives or Mother Earth lives."

The conclusion is clear. From here on, no one gets off easy. Everyone's in the same boat, caught in the same systemic conflict. The conundrums apply as much to Morales as to Obama. Growth is over, and they need a real, clear vision of a way forward. That's true for all of us. Surely it's time to agree that the first step is to start drawing curtains on an obsolete, out-of-date system that could kill us all, and to shape a new one. Which brings us to the good news.

The universal quest is to define systems that that can deliver economic sufficiency and equity, permanently, while remaining within the carrying capacities of the planet. Most accept that systemic economic growth will soon be over, though growth is encouraged in specific timely activities – for example, certain renewable energy forms, local agriculture practice, sustainable building and the arts. Other ingredients of a new economy that some groups advocate include:

• Adoption of an international "oil depletion protocol" for an orderly, equitable decline of fossil-fuel use and a transition to less total energy use; a commonly used term for this is "powering down" – that is, aiming at minimum energy for sufficiency and equity.

• Universal emphasis on conservation and efficiency in all activities.

• Emphasis on localisation not globalisation (thus reducing negative impacts of global transport). Local production for local consumption, especially in crucial areas such as food, housing and energy. Restrictions on the conversion of food-growing lands. Emphasis on the revitalisation of sustainable local agriculture systems. On national levels, revival of the "import substitution" model; an emphasis on local production for essential needs, rather than trade. Greater regulation and less movement of capital across borders.

• Less long-distance shipping, not more.

That is the tiniest sample of what thousands of people are now discussing in various forums, including Cochabamba, World Social Forums and many others. For more information, I suggest internet searches of some of the following: Post Carbon Institute, Transition Towns movement, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, New Economics Institute, Global Footprint Network, Ecosocialist International Network, New Economy Working Group, ETC Group, The Story of Stuff,, left or green biocentrism, Dark Mountain Project, Indigenous Environmental Network, Tebtebba foundation, Food and Water Watch, Navdanya, Third World Network, International Center for Technology Assessment, Global Alliance for Rights of Nature, Rainforest Action Network, Institute for Policy Studies, International Forum on Globalization. These will doubtless lead to dozens of others.


Anonymous said...

Great cut of the article. I'm going to repost!

Perhaps it's just the cynic in me, but I don't think that we're going to genuinely change. Despite a decline in our overall happiness and the destruction of communities, marriages, etc. since the onslaught of our consumerist lifestyle, we're convinced this is "the good life." I think we will fight to the bloody (literally) end to keep it. The resource wars over oil will continue and water is next.

I want to be wrong. I want to see us collectively wake up and change the way we live. I just don't think we'll do it until we have absolutely no other choice, and we will only get to that point after much more war.

And now I've gone and depressed myself.

Maureen said...

It did that to me too....sorry.

I heartily agree with you Aldra, especially on the 'water is next' thought. It is SO precious and I see it being wasted daily, as well as being completely taken for granted. We simply can't support our current just about every area of our lives. We need to make some MAJOR CHANGES (that's me yelling).

.....but I'm not sure we will.