Actions come from thoughts and thoughts from feelings.
“The greenest dollar is the one not spent.” 1 Imagine !
Spending more is what Growth economics is all about. Humanity is already stretching planetary limits, yet governments almost everywhere encourage more Growth. Growth that would double—and more—human impacts on our already stressed planet.
It has been said that “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism!” 2
Since the industrial revolution, the culture of Capitalism has shaped how our characters develop. Earn and spend; invest, produce, profit and grow, Grow, GROW is the framework we’ve grown up in.
While producing enormous financial wealth, this process wrecks havoc. For many generations human impacts on Earth were minimal. Today, however, the exponential expansion of capital increasingly exhausts natural resources and pollutes the soil, water and atmosphere.
“If the economy doesn’t collapse soon, something terrible is going to happen.” 3
What is more terrible than economic collapse? Social breakdown and environmental collapse would be far worse. No society can endure if people won’t work together and the environment is crippled. As accumulated fortunes scan the planet for natural and human resources to turn into ever more money, the problems compound.
Differing views of obsolescence clarify the needed change. If the kettle you bought six months ago quits because its temperature control burns out, or if new clothing is no longer stylish enough to wear, growth is stimulated, jobs are created, and profits increase! In the new order, we could be richer in resources and less polluted once obsolescence no longer squanders natural resources and creates unnecessary waste. Is it not a confession of its own obsolescence that contemporary accounting says that well-being depends on resources draw-down and pollution?
We need to reduce resource exploitation and pollution, by reducing consumption. Belt-tightening, however, lacks appeal. Instead, let's look at what we can reclaim.
More fun, less stuff 4 is a beacon for setting our course toward the new order. Long-term well-being is found in relationships, appreciation, helping, sport, creativity, and learning. Such life-based activities 5 can be represented by the single word, “fun”. We could get so much satisfaction from living that we wouldn’t have time to consume at a dangerous level.
We can no longer have everything we want, but we can be more than we ever imagined. 6
Ours is the most serious challenge in recorded history. We have to focus on internal development and learn to enjoy ourselves!
We will always need to consume food and shelter. How we provide for them, however, can aggravate problems, or be the greenest of the dollars we do spend. They can substantially increase sustainability.
Quality nutrition can be sustained with minimal impact. The majority of our nutritional needs circulate freely in the atmosphere nearly everywhere on Earth. Carbon, oxygen and hydrogen make up most of our body weight. Other necessary elements can be cycled endlessly between our bodies and local soils. 7 What we do with the life secured by integrating with these cycles makes all the difference.
Shelters can be sustainable. Indoor spaces can be durably constructed and kept warm using renewable energy. Seasonal shade and tapping underground chill can keep them cool.
Education and health care can be provided with minimal material impacts. Education consists mostly of knowledge and goodwill—both life-based. We can have all we want of these and more. Health care is the same, at the preventative level. We know what sorts of nutrition, activity, and circumstances result in good health. 8 By sharing that knowledge and encouraging each other to be our best, more complex medical interventions will be reduced dramatically.
We also need to contribute to our communities—we call such work ‘jobs'. There will be lots to do during the transformation, but afterward, we may have to share productive work and find fulfilling ways to spend increased leisure time. A Just Transition is essential. People need to be confident that they won’t suffer from the necessary changes.
If the voice of advertising fell silent, what would people want?
Successful transformation depends on what we want. Our attention is famously distracted by shiny things; a quality extensively exploited by advertising. Presently over six hundred billion dollars are spent each year telling us that we need things to be happy. It is not true and that’s why that message costs so much. What we need are each other and things to do that inspire us to get out of bed in the morning.
George Monbiot talks about private sufficiency and public luxury. 9
There are not enough resources for every person to have private luxuries, but if we enjoy them together, in public libraries, sports facilities, public parks, and the like, there can be extensive public luxury with sufficient still available for everyone’s basic needs.
Love what is plentiful as much as what is scarce.10
While this confronts craving for status and thrills, imagine the possibilities. We could end the threat of conflict over scarce resources and avoid environmental collapse, while leading more fulfilling lives.
While a world based on health and sufficiency and focused on what we can do with our lives is hard to imagine, action begins with feeling. By sharing the bold lines above, we can stimulate people’s feelings, get them thinking and together shift toward a viable world.
1. Richard Jones, renewable energy systems.
2. Attributed to Slavoj Žižek’s but perhaps coined by Fredric Jameson.
3. Richard Thomas, a candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party of Ontario. He later gained notoriety when he was arrested for distilling ethanol to power his car. The charges were dropped.
4. www.sustainwellbeing.net/Getting-From-Here-to-There.html and www.sustainwellbeing.net/meme.html
5. Life-Based Activities, www.sustainwellbeing.net/life.html
6. Howard Jerome
7. My take on economic and biological aspects of sustainability. Full cycle nutrient management is described shortly after the 42-minute point. Available at: https://tinyurl.com/v27zbb5c
8. Determinants of health: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/populat...
9. George Monbiot, Schumacher Lecture. Available at:
A text version is available at:
10. Alice Walker, We Alone Can Devalue Gold
In 1971, Mike Nickerson founded the Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution to look into how change takes place in societies. The study focused on the problems and solutions that motivated voluntary and non-profit organizations. That study resulted in an eight point outline of sustainability: www.sustainwellbeing.net/sustain.html
To clarify the resulting vision and how it might become society’s new goal Mike has written three books:
- Change the World I Want to Stay On (1977)
- Planning for Seven Generations (1990) and
- Life Money & Illusion Living on Earth as if we want to stay (2006) second edition (2009).
Since "Life, Money and Illusion" was published he has toured extensively encouraging people to think and talk about how we might adapt now that we touch planetary limits.
To support his study and writing habit Mike designs and builds custom furniture.