Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sustainability and Its Implications

 Reflections from Summer 2012

Most of us have a goal every day to live better (more fully), encourage others, enjoy what we have been given and work to achieve more of what we think valuable, whether that's money or world peace.  More seems to be the watchword.  More implies growth and we have an economic system that depends upon growth to function.  If it does not grow--it cannot repay the debts taken out to finance the improvements that were undertaken to deliver them.  This dependence on growth is connected to our fundamental Faith in Progress.  With our narrow scope we do things to make our lives better and the consequences ripple out to those we do not know.
     So if we say that growth is not always better (e.g. cancer) then we might have to redefine Progress as steady state sustainability.  Years ago I did a bike ride half way across the country to reflect on the direction of America following the financial crisis of 2008 and thought it sounded good to aim for a multi-ethnic, ecologically sustainable, substantially just society.  Is there a vision hidden in what are just words. What would it mean?  The multi-ethnic part requires tolerance to include those not like us.  Can it work?  I am not convinced that it can but as a goal in my heart I would like to do whatever I could to see if it could be accomplished.
     But my reflection here is on economic sustainability, and what that means.  If GDP growth and personal income growth are the current goals of citizens and the State, how do we get to personal "growth" with LESS resource use?  It's not just an efficiency question of how to do more with less but how to really prefer less so that the surplus can support others.  It is not denying our needs but restraining them and retraining them to make us happier with LESS.  Capitalism is built on the foundation of more but to move to Sustainability we need an ethic of stewardship.  Care taking.  Economy in the old sense of the word--activities that support our local area of concern.  I do not see the possibility of a plan to "care take" the world.  There is a little too much hubris in that wish.  I can wish for less rain forest destruction and ocean pollution but I can only take care of my local area.
    How are we going to get from a growth system to a steady state system? Collapse.  Either fast or slow. We do not seem predisposed to choose it.

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