Recently, we sent filmmaker Ben Zolno to New York to bring the “end of growth” message to Occupy Wall Street. While the global Occupy movement is right to name inequity and lack of opportunity for what they are—unacceptable and un-American—addressing these alone cannot fix an economic system that is fundamentally unsustainable.

Below is Ben’s story of what he learned in New York as he hand-delivered 100 copies of PCI Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth to #OWS participants. We hope to send Ben back to New York soon so that he can further the critical work of spreading literacy around the dwindling resources that run our economy.

– Asher Miller, Post Carbon Institute

The New Message at Occupy Wall Street – Ben Zolno

Meet Beth. She just dropped out of NYU $50,000 in debt because, with job prospects so dire, she doesn’t want to dig a deeper hole for herself.

Meet Brian. He’s software engineer from Minnesota who knows his job is entirely dependent on a growing economy, so he’s planning on leaving tech to focus on back-to-the-land basics.

Meet David. David is an environmental science professor disgusted to see his university selling the “growth-lite” paradigm to his Sustainable MBA students.

On my first day in New York, I met Beth, Brian, David and many others…and quickly learned Occupy Wall Street is the hub for highly intelligent, educated citizens who have been brought to the edge by a sense of desperation.

Desperate for change. Desperate for work. Desperate for answers.

While I enjoyed the dialogue and learned a lot, I heard many solutions that didn’t take the big picture into account. Instead, most demand their “fair share”–higher taxes on the rich, more corporate responsibility and, of course, Goldman Sachs schemers sent to the slammer. All valid, if you’re looking at the current injustices of the system, but I found little examination of the system itself.

And so, I teamed up with Post Carbon Institute to spread the word. The real story is that our economic system requires infinite inputs, on a planet with finite resources. It’s just not physically possible to continue this way. Sooner rather than later we’re going to run out of the resources that maintain our growth.

Thus, most “solutions” of equity and accountability will actually make things worse–by increasing participation, increasing growth, speeding up the train’s path toward ultimate destruction of the planet we depend on to further our quantity and quality of life.

We must now broaden the questions beyond, “How can we make sure we all get our fair share in this system,” to include: “How do we make sure we all get our fair share in the new system–a lower-carbon system–and how do we handle this transition?” Also, “What economic change can we create, and what default changes must we learn to accept?”

I shared these questions with hundreds of Occupiers, and stood patiently while they went through the usual phases: confusion, denial, anger and acceptance. Ultimately, they each walked away with a good grasp on this new perspective, grateful to have a copy of The End of Growth to explore and share.

OCCUPY is the new national discourse. This moment is permeable, yearning for an honest exchange of ideas. Good ideas can push the movement forward into territory never seen before; bad ones could mean the end of the movement. Now is the opportunity to use the energy of passionate, intelligent people to make an all-hands-on-steering-wheel turn away from out-of-control consumption and toward a path of conscious sustainability.

This is why I’ve proposed to go back. I want to continue inserting Post Carbon Institute’s message into the discussion. I’m currently hammering out details of my proposal with PCI. If we can swing it, I will give more seminars, like this impromptu speech that got 40 people engaged. I will talk to the press more, which is waiting to spread coherent messages like the quote I gave to Fox Business News. Working with Occupy Wall Street’s Education and Empowerment Group, I’ll help start ecological/economic education groups. I’ll present the ideas to the General Assembly and stay engaged until “the end of growth” becomes part of the national dialogue.

Thanks and stay sane,

Ben Zolno

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Get The End of Growth | Watch the animation Who Killed Economic Growth?