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Humankind is faced with an historic challenge. Collectively, we have grown to where we are stretching the limits of our planet, yet society’s goal is more growth. Now that continued expansion is causing our biggest problems, we need a goal that aims to stabilize our impacts.” (Mike Nickerson)

Mike Nickerson on Shifting Society's Goals toward Sustainability
Mike Nickerson

Amidst today’s uncertainties, is an historic opportunity to secure our lives and the lives of those we love. First we have to recognize the common cause of our financial and ecological crises – that human activity is touching planetary limits.

In order to achieve a balanced relationship with the Earth, we need to picture a new order in our hearts and in our minds. Then, each time we buy food, pump gas or have a conversation with a friend, we can advance long-term well-being.

Two different types of economic activity are identified below, followed by three potent steps we can take toward a sane economy. Together they provide a foundation for imagining what can be. As enough minds ripen the images, change happens.

“Economics” is a somewhat mysterious word for “mutual provision.” While individually we have limited ability to provide for our needs, we produce abundance in societies. Each person gets good at certain tasks and we trade with each other.

Two types of economic activity

Industrial pollution
Resource Intensive Activities

One type of economic activity requires continual inputs of non-renewable resources and produces problematic waste – resource intensive activities. Transportation systems and disposable consumer goods are examples.

The other type consists largely of human creativity and good-will, like education and most health care at the preventative level – people intensive activities. While there are almost no physical limits to the amount of education and preventative care that we can have, there are serious limits associated with resource-intensive industries. For the things that we do need from the resource intensive line, the first two of the following steps can reduce our impacts on the Earth dramatically. All-together, these three steps can usher in a long period of ecological stability.

Three potent steps

  1. Shift the imagination and creativity that presently goes into designing for obsolescence, and use it instead to design goods that are durable and easily repaired.
  2. Instead of using our persuasive communication abilities (marketing) to encourage people to throw things away and to buy new stuff, we could use those same talents to reclaim an appreciation for durable and familiar products.
  3. Finally, if we search for personal fulfillment in what we can do with our lives, such as learning, love, laughter, friendship, art, music, dance, sport, service, and the like, rather than by accumulating and consuming material goods, we could have more real satisfaction while minimizing resource exploitation and waste.

While such steps would do wonders for securing the future, they would be disastrous for a growth-based economy. We either have to increase the size of the Earth, or reorganize mutual provision so that we can all share in the necessary work and revel in the new security.

There are many ways to reorganize mutual provision to serve a mature (post growth) civilization, but it is getting harder and harder to stretch the Earth. Do we want to grow until we drop, or develop the economics of sustainability? It is a Question of Direction.

Civilizations don’t change direction easily. They must either suffer catastrophe, or exercise an extraordinary redirection of will. By launching a public discussion about which direction offers the better future, millions will come to imagine the options. Together we can then make a major contribution toward redirecting society’s will.

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