A Future that Works

These are challenging times. 

How do we get a civilization that has been growing for 10,000 years to realize it is grown up now?  Getting bigger is no longer what we need to do.

Since before recorded history, more people and more activity made humanity stronger.  We lack models for a mature, post-growing state.  Yet, many problems are unfolding as we grow toward planetary limits: the rising prices and conflicts associated with diminishing natural resources along with the health and safety issues resulting from pollution, including climate change, are just a few.  

In search of visions for a post-growth world, our 7th Generation Initiative has asked a lot of questions.  While the magnitude of the necessary change is too great to offer a detailed plan, some ways of thinking about the challenge can be helpful.

History speaks often of communities accomplishing great works when informed by a common vision: transport and communications networks, rebuilding after conflicts and disasters and splendid public places come to mind.  Once we set sight on a world that can endure, there is reason to be optimistic.  People thrive when their efforts have purpose.  

The vision for resolving today’s challenges must include two key elements:  1) the well-being of the natural world upon which all living things depend and 2) the well-being of all people.  Our intent must focus directly on these outcomes.  The goal of perpetual growth will not lead us there.

While there are few cultural examples of a no-growth world, some guidance can be gathered from individual human experience.  Growing is good for children.  If a four-year-old is not growing, it is cause for concern.  If an adult grows as fast as a four year old, however, that is cause for concern.  Fortunately, stabilizing at a certain size is built into our individual lives and there are lots of adults around to help us make the transition.  Unfortunately, besides overshoot and collapse, there are no clear models for post-growth humanity.  

There is hope though.  As individuals, once we reach mature size, while we stop getting physically bigger, our circle of relationships expands, we become more knowledgeable and develop more skills.  We develop interests in sport, music and other arts and find satisfaction in helping others and simply appreciating the wonders of our world.  If such were the general aspirations of people, the basics of life can easily be assured.  

Our bodies are mostly made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen which circulate in the air practically everywhere.  Other elements that we need to sustain healthy life can be cycled endlessly through soil, plants, animals, people and back to soil.  We know how to build structures that require no fossil energy to maintain.  Health care, at the preventative level, and education are mostly products of our unlimited capacity for knowledge and goodwill.  Humankind could be comfortable, healthier, more content and far more secure in such a world.  Why would we choose to grow until we drop?

Our challenge is to recognize our ecological maturity at all levels of society and to base decisions on accommodating that maturity.  When accommodation becomes society’s purpose, enthusiasm will replace fear and denial in response to the time ahead.

7th Generation Initiative