Near the end of her career, Helen Keller was asked by a student if there was anything worse than losing her sight. She replied, “Yes, I could have lost my vision.”
Grow until we drop
As human activity expands to press against planetary limits, we need a new vision. We don’t have to grow until we drop. We could be well fed, comfortably housed, educated and healthy, using only a small fraction of the material and energy that the average person uses today — an amount which, realistically, can be provided from recycled and renewable sources.
It is far easier than most would imagine to live within the limitations of the Earth. Life’s material substances cycle endlessly through air and soil. Oxygen, hydrogen and carbon are airborne and make up most of our physical bodies. Other nutrient elements — phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and numerous other trace materials — can be cycled through local soils.
Local resources can sustain healthy lives – forever!
By starting with these essentials, humans can secure the future and work out what we can safely do within the context of a healthy planet. For example, we can build shelters to capture and hold the Sun’s warmth in cold seasons and keep the heat out in the summer. We don’t actually have to import any energy for heating and cooling. Education consists mostly of knowledge and goodwill, both of which are practically unlimited. The same goes for preventative healthcare. We already know what foods, activity and community relations stimulate good health. By learning these details and encouraging each other to live by them, we can avoid many complicated, costly health interventions.
As it is, we are outgrowing our planet. Climate disruption is a serious symptom with its storms, droughts and rising seas. Yet, if climate wasn’t an issue, we are still threatened by other types of pollution, by species loss, and by the depletion of fresh water, soil fertility, forests, fish and other natural resources. Further problems arise from inequality and social instability, which increase as limited resources flow to the well-connected and into wasteful wars.
The problem to solve, as we stretch planetary limits, is the centuries long habit of continuous expansion — growth.
Climate change alone can stimulate the fear of death, for ourselves or for those we love. While such fear can motivate, its vision is narrow. Fine-tuning the growth-based system might enable one to live out one’s own life, but it is not equal to the greater task.
Share the vision
For a vision that is up to the task, consider the continuity of our species, beyond the lifetimes of any offspring that we care about. Scan your feelings for sparks of concern about humanity’s long-term future. Focus on that. Zoom in until it fills your vision. With vision set beyond ourselves, greater things are possible. This is the stuff that has guided humankind from our primitive awakening to our greatest accomplishments. By experiencing and expressing the vision of human possibilities, within planetary limits, we can recreate the human project.
Everything that lives, except for some migratory species, sustain their lives from the local areas where they live. We can too. For challenge and stimulation: learning, love and laughter, appreciation, sport, music, art and other creativity based on our human abilities can provide endless opportunities. We could be getting so much satisfaction from living that we wouldn’t have time to consume at a level that endangers the Earth.
Humans are extraordinary. By living within the cycles of natural abundance, we can live healthy fulfilling lives, generation after generation, and cruise the universe on Spaceship Earth for countless millennia to come.
Consider the possibilities – share the vision.
When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum. — George Monbiot
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No one could have imagined that certain of corporate directors, once addicted to wealth, could be left free to operate any kind of commerce their way; that’s why we have always had ‘regulations.’ And, that’s why we have such entities in government where we expect elected representatives to ensure that no one CEO consumes everything in sight, including his own worker-generators, for yet more wealth. But, that’s what’s happened, and still is, since the onset of neoliberalism and ‘free trade.’
Different forms of organization have evolved over time. The neoliberal form grew out of respect for the way that markets relay the millions of consumer choices to instruct producers on what to make. That part works (ad-persuasion excepted.)
Leaving other decisions up to markets, or to those controlling production, does not necessarily follow. However, the illusion has been exploited to produce the corporate control that endangers us today.
Many writers aim to illuminate another form of organization that would acknowledge and accommodate natural resources, ecosystems and human community well-being.
Bringing about the shift to such responsibility is an enormous challenge. We can all do our part by thinking, writing and talking about how the new order could be.
Historian R. H. Tawney explained the mechanism for change like this:
“The impetus to reform or revolution springs in every age from the realization of the contrast between the external order of society and the moral standards recognized as valid by the conscience or reason of the individual.”
Clearly growing until we drop is not valid
We need to keep beating the drum until enough people understand and the shift takes place.
Prepare to build strong drumming muscles. We are up against the most pervasive propaganda machine that has ever existed. That said, our future depends on the shift happening, so best wishes for your efforts.