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Growth-Based Solutions Won’t Work


The video below, narrated by economist and author Juliet Schor and produced by the Center For the New American Dream, makes a point that hasn’t yet been repeated enough: the crises confronting us can’t be solved using methods based on economic growth.

Yes, we need to make renewable energy technology, yes, we need to create more computers to make them more efficient, and yes, we need to make cars that run on things other than gasoline. But Earth’s resources are running out, and if we try to realize these solutions and others by creating only new products, our problems will catch up with us. Instead, we need to focus on recycling and refurbishing.

The video, titled “Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth”, argues for a new economic system, based on working less in order to share existing jobs between more people and consume less.

We can slow the crises that face us simply by spending less money, leaving resources we badly need to salvage the 21st century.

Thank you to Christine at the 350 or bust blog for initially posting this.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. John Erickson permalink
    11/03/2011 8:42 PM

    Let me run this idea past you. 60-70 years ago, plastic as a construction material was unknown, yet most of our modern conveniences existed. Fans were made of steel and wood, casings were made of non-special steels or other metals, and so forth.
    Proposition: Through whatever methodology, we move most of our assembly back to 1930s materials.
    Now, I’m not saying drop plastic altogether – there are numerous uses where they have unique and hard to duplicate properties. But why not make more things of wood, paperboard, glass, and steel? They’re easier to recycle (and take less energy to do so) than plastic. Reducing plastic use would lower demands on the limited oil supplies. And for those things that people don’t recycle, most of these materials break down faster with far less environmental pollution.
    I realise making the manufacturers shift away from plastic would be hard, but through a series of regulations and economic incentives, wouldn’t it be possible to remove some of the oil usage/plastic pollution from the world economy?
    Okay, shoot my idea full of holes! ;) :D

    • 11/04/2011 12:58 AM

      That sounds promising to me! Plastic does seem like an all-around Bad Thing, from the oil required to create and ship it to its status as super-garbage. It’s cheap to produce, though, so the government would definitely need to have a heavy hand in reducing it.

      It unsettles me how many environmental solutions require the government to have a heavy hand. Hopefully the Occupy movement is successful in making that a somewhat less scary prospect.

  2. Christine permalink
    11/03/2011 10:15 PM

    John – you might be interested in reading “Cradle to Cradle” which is written by an architect and a chemist. They argue that it’s time to complete revision the way things are designed in our society. Rather than making things “less bad”, which is what they argue (well, I think) that environmentalists have done for the most part, it’s time to completely revolutionize the way things are designed. It’s a fantastic book, one that left me excited about the positive possibilities of the change we are about to experience by necessity.

    • 11/04/2011 1:08 AM

      The idea of progress-by-necessity is exciting, and it allows me to hope. The economic incentives John spoke of may indeed be provided by resource scarcity. Even plastic will become more expensive to produce as oil reserves are depleted.

      I think resource scarcity will inevitably force us to consume less, recycle more, buy local, etc., but I’m afraid that the process of actually depleting the resources will leave us with a world in which it is difficult to accomplish much of anything. Toxins already permeate practically every organism on Earth, and climate change has already brought us extreme weather on a regular basis. Low resources will inevitably be friendlier to the planet, but what will it mean for us?

  3. Anonymous permalink
    11/04/2011 8:17 AM

    This is amazing. What a profound video. It’s amazing to me that we need to be reminded to connect with each other. So sad.

  4. 11/05/2011 12:33 AM

    I love love love this video. It effectively sums up a complex set of ideas that have been stewing in my mind for several months. Work less, spend less, connect more and be happier. Done deal! It might take us a while to catch on to it though. We need to demand less hours, we need to be more open to part time work for all, and we need to define ourselves by not just what we do professionally, but the impact we have on our families, our communities, our world. For my part, I work part-time. But I would like to be not just the only part-time worker in my office. Where are the others? Doesn’t everyone else want to be affluent in time? If not, why not?

    I hope we can make this switch soon. It really is the only solution. Really.

    • 11/06/2011 8:10 PM

      I definitely share that line of thinking, and lately I’ve read/watched a lot of things that suggest it’s in line with sustainability. Which is nice, since my thinking on the matter wasn’t this grounded before–all I knew was that I dislike working in conventional settings and I love writing.

      I think you’re right–we need to find new ways to define ourselves that aren’t so grounded in work. Especially when studies show that time spent with family and friends contributes most to our happiness.

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