I believe most discussions of sustainability fail to grasp the magnitude of the problem, and therefore fail to realize that it can’t be solved without extremely radical change. I also believe the transition to the required Simpler Way could easily be made … if we wanted to do that, and that it would greatly improve the quality of life.
Following is an outline of the case, firstly that present ways are grossly unsustainable and secondly that the solution must involve far lower rates of production and consumption and GDP, frugal and self-sufficient lifestyles in small, localized, and largely self-governing communities, in a zero growth economy which is not driven by market forces. The most difficult element in the transition will be cultural, that is moving from competitive, individualistic acquisitiveness to being able to enjoy non- material life satisfactions in stable and cooperative local communities.
The present levels of production, consumption and GDP in rich countries are far beyond those that could be kept up for long or spread to all the world’s people. The basic numbers here are indisputable (below) and they mean that a sustainable and just world cannot be achieved unless we shift to systems, ways and values that allow us all to live well on a very small fraction of present rich world per capita resource consumption. The Simpler Way vision is firstly concerned to get the seriousness and nature of the situation more clearly understood, and then to persuade people that a workable and attractive alternative to the present society is easily imagined … and achieved if that’s what we want to do.
Most thinking about sustainability proceeds as if it will be possible to solve the resource and ecological problems without much if any need to question affluent lifestyles or economic growth or the free enterprise system. The reasons why this belief is seriously mistaken will be outlined below.
If this analysis of our situation is sound we have no choice but to try to move to a society in which there cannot be any economic growth, market forces cannot be allowed to determine our fate, there must be mostly small and highly self-sufficient and self-governing settlements, mostly local economies, very little international trade, highly participatory political systems, and above all willing acceptance of frugal lifestyles and non-material sources of life satisfaction. The argument is that these extreme steps are the only way that the accelerating global problems can be solved, including resource depletion, destruction of the environment, Third World deprivation and poverty, conflict and warfare over dwindling resources, and a falling quality of life in even the richest countries.
Many groups and movements are now working for a transition to more local, small scale, self sufficient and communal ways. For instance there are De-growth, Eco- village, Transition Towns, Permaculture and Voluntary Simplicity movements. However The Simpler Way argument is that change must be more radical than most people in these movements realize.
The chances of us making such a transition are not at all promising but the challenge to people concerned about sustainability is, when the seriousness of the limits analysis is understood, what other perspective makes sense?
Photo: Courtesy of the Simplicity Institute (Australia).