SO much of our time is spent on striving for approval, for love, to get something from someone, somewhere, at some time. We get, and hope to get while the getting is good, but is all this getting really good ?
Is “consumerism” sustainable ?
What is wrong with a concept of endless growth ?
Getting approval seems to be a highly evolved mechanism for social stability.
It leads to practices that tend to hold groups together, so is one of the strategies that make our species so spectacularly successful as a socially cooperative ape.
In one sense it is successful precisely because it subverts the needs of the individual to the needs of the group. It is one of the many “group think” characteristics that we have that have worked well in small groups, but are causing us major problems when some people try to apply them to entire populations.
Strangely what we need most is growth of individual awareness, but that is often constrained at the margins by the approval seeking behaviours.
Consumerism is not sustainable indefinitely, and as a phase it may be a step on the path to greater levels of awareness and real long term sustainability.
Long term continued growth is unsustainable.
Even at just 1% population growth per year it would take just 200 years for us to reach the carrying capacity of the land area of the earth.
At that point we would have to start looking at more efficient ways of organising mass than living on the outside of big balls of it (planets) – probably living on the inside of large spinning cylinders would be the most efficient use of mass (large space ships).
But even taking the earth apart and rebuilding it into efficient cylinders would only meet our needs for space for another 1,500 years.
The rest of the planets in our solar systems could sustain 1% growth for a further 800 years, then we would be off to other star systems in search of their mass and energy.
It would not be long before the growth front of humanity was expanding through the universe at close to the speed of light, which would eventually force us to reduce our rate of growth.
Continued exponential growth is not an option.
Oddly, adopting China’s one child policy is a perfectly stable solution, even with immortal individuals, as each couple would have only one child, the rate of growth would slow as it reached the numerical limit of twice our current population (which is well within the carrying capacity of the planet, if we adopt sensible technologies and practices everyone could enjoy very high standards of living, but not as outright consumers).
There is a name in biology for systems that show unrestricted grow, it is called cancer. Unless it is bought under control, it is invariably fatal to the organism concerned.
Endless growth of material use is not a real option.
Endless change of material use is a real option.
Endless growth of ideas and creativity is perfectly stable – as it allows us to make ever more creative uses of the energy and mass we have available.
My cell phone is much smaller than my old TV and my old phone and combines the services of both.
Our advancing technology allows us to deliver many services far more efficiently in terms of mass and energy.
We have room for substantial growth, but not indefinite growth in terms of our uses of mass and energy.
We certainly cannot afford to continue trashing the ecology of the planet in ways that we have in the past.
The myth of the tragedy of the commons is now well and truly debunked. It is not commons ownership that leads to ecological degradation, that happens just as often in private ownership. The biggest driver of ecological degradation is short term market driven exploitation coupled with lack of awareness of (or concern for) the long term consequences of actions.
We are finding that we need to set ecological limits on how private owners exploit their land, as the outcomes are just as devastating as any commons based destruction.
It is a failure of the very notion of markets, and the short term nature of much market thinking, with the demands for quarterly cash flow returns.
And with all of this, I am cautiously optimistic that we are actually on track to a level of awareness and technology that will allow us to sustain all people in a healthy and secure society, where individual differences are not only tolerated but cherished.