“The pursuit of Affluence and Growth is a terrible mistake”

Below is an honest and realistic view by Ted Trainer on limits to the lifestyles of Western Cultures.

What I feel is missing from many arguments like Ted Trainer’s is the need to address personal growth and development and the fact that the pursuit of affluence, over consumption of food and consumption of non-essential yet coveted material objects is directly related to a limited and ever eroding sense of self and purpose of the individual. That Western Culture and its Growth Economics has bred a society of insecure adolescents continually in search of security, meaning, satisfaction and an authentic experience – one that eludes all that prescribe to the ‘pop’ ( popular culture) model presented by corporate media and the corporations profiteering off limited natural resources driving us all towards ultimate  non- existence – collapse.

Views such as Ted’s can appear extremist by individuals entrenched in a culture possessed by Affluenzer. The separation experience has desensitized the masses into a downward spiral of self obsession and competition. By separation I mean the disconnection from the natural world and the universe we are born from – our life source – which ultimately results in limited or lack of,  sense of Spirit and Spirituality.

Will advocates of Simplicity ever succeed in spreading the message to the self-loathing majority who’s life support systems comprise of anti-depressants, constant entertainment, processed GM food and propaganda news? For the sake of the natural world I am so grateful to experience – I hope so.

We can’t go on living like this

THE fundamental cause of the big global problems threatening us now is simply over-consumption. The rate at which we in rich countries are using up resources is grossly unsustainable. It’s far beyond levels that can be kept up for long or that could be spread to all people. Yet most people totally fail to grasp the magnitude.

The reductions required are so big that they cannot be achieved within a consumer capitalist society. Huge and extremely radical changes to systems and culture are necessary.

The per capita area of productive land needed to supply one Australian with food, water, settlements and energy, is about seven to eight hectares. The United States figure is closer to 12 hectares. But the average per capita area of productive land available on the planet is only about 1.3 hectares. When the world population reaches 9 billion, the per capita area of productive land available will be only 0.8 hectares. In other words, in a world in which resources were shared equally, we would all have to get by on about 10 per cent of the present average for Australians.

The greenhouse problem is the most powerful and alarming illustration of the overshoot. The scientists are telling us that if we are to stop the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere from reaching twice the pre-industrial level, we must cut global carbon emissions and thus fossil fuel use by 60 per cent in the short term, and more later. If we cut it 60 per cent and shared the remaining energy among 9 billion people, each Australian would have to get by on less than 5 per cent of the fossil fuel now used.

These lines of argument show we must face up to enormous reductions in rich-world resource use, perhaps by 90 per cent, if we’re to solve the big global problems.

This makes it clear that the present situation is grossly unsustainable. But this society is fundamentally and fiercely obsessed with raising levels of production and consumption constantly, as fast as possible and without any limit. In other words, our supreme, sacred, never-questioned goal is economic growth. We’re already at impossible levels of production and consumption but our top priority is to go on increasing them.

If we in Australia average 3 per cent growth to 2070 and by then the 9 billion people expected on Earth have all risen to the living standards we would then have, total world economic output each year would be 60 times as great as it is now.

Yet the present level is grossly unsustainable.

What, then, is the answer? If the question is how we can run a sustainable and just consumer capitalist society, the point is that there isn’t any answer. That cannot be done. We cannot achieve a sustainable and just society unless we face up to a huge and radical transition to what some identify as the simpler way. This is a society based on non-affluent but adequate living standards, high levels of self-sufficiency, in small-scale localised economies and co-operative and participatory communities. It would have to be an economy that is not driven by market forces and profit, with no growth and, most difficult of all, little concern with competition, individualism and acquisitiveness.The simpler way could be a far more satisfying way of life. Consider being able to live well on two days’ work for money a week, without any threat of unemployment, or insecurity in old age, in a supportive community. To the conventional mind such claims are insanely impossible.

Yet there is a total failure, indeed an adamant refusal, to even think about these themes, let alone to accept that the pursuit of affluence and growth is a terrible mistake. Arnold Toynbee analysed the fate of civilisations in terms of their capacity to respond to challenges. What then are our prospects, given that we cannot even recognise that we are committed to fatally mistaken goals?

It hardly needs to be said that our chances of making such a huge and radical transition are negligible. For 50 years you have been told about all this, by many scientists and reports. You have taken not the slightest bit of notice. This indicates that you do not have the wit or the will to save yourselves. Your chances in the next few decades will depend very much on whether your region manages to build local economies and on whether the people living there are willing to shift to frugal, co-operative and self-sufficient ways.

Just ask yourself, when oil becomes very scarce, what shape will you wish your neighbourhood was in? You had better get out there and start remaking it.

Ted Trainer is a visiting fellow in the faculty of arts, University of NSW.

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