Albert's ICSA-9 paper on sustainability

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International Communal Studies Association
9th Tri-Annual Conference
Damanhur, Italy, June 2007
"COMMUNITIES; YESTERDAY'S UTOPIA, TODAY'S REALITY"
Sustainable Communities in a Post-Petroleum World: Learning from Communal Studies
ADVANCE DRAFT NOT FOR PUBLICATION
Albert Bates
Albert Bates is a permaculture and appropriate technology instructor at the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm
community in Summertown, Tennessee. One of the founders of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas (1994) and the
Global Ecovillage Network (1995), he is author of eleven books, including Shutdown: Nuclear Power on Trial
(1979) and Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do (1990). His Post-Petroleum Survival Guide
and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times (Gabriolas Is., BC: New Society Publishers 2006) envisions the world as it
will be transformed by peak oil and climate change, and offers a prescription for re-inhabitation. A longer biography is
available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Bates
Contact: [email protected]
Abstract: The triple whammy of peak oil, climate change, and the population bomb will give birth to
an incendiary meme, sparked by dedicated individuals with eco-community living skills and fueled
by the growing necessity of changing the way in which human communities relate to natural
resources. The growth and expansion meme of the past two centuries, fueled by the one-time-only
exploitation of fossil fuels and the natural resources and habitable climates of Africa, Asia and the
Americas, is rapidly drawing to a close. Capitalism, which requires continuous economic expansion,
will simply be an inapt ap in the coming epoch of century-long recessions and global population
decline. There are a number of speculative scenarios, some now being played out tentatively on the
world stage, which suggest successor aps. Feudal theocracies, socialist unions of states, and anarchic
transitions to stateless tribes can all be seen seeding constituencies with beta test versions. A more
hopeful alternative can be sketched from the experience of small communal societies over the past
two hundred years, including Oneida, Amana, the Mormons, Kibbutzim, the hippies, and most
recently the ecovillages. Collectively, these experiments have provided vital tools for transition to
the steady-state economics required by a future on a much different planet than humanity has ever
known.
Sustainable Communities in a Post-Petroleum World: Learning from Communal Studies
Albert Bates
International Communal Studies Association
9th Tri-Annual Conference
Damanhur, Italy, June 2007
Society’s interaction with nature is characterized by an exchange of energy and resources such as
water, soil, ores and atmosphere, which, depending on how the exchange is balanced, is either
sustainable or unsustainable. Emerging stressors are demonstrating to us in unequivocal terms that
human ecological tendencies on a finite planet, or at least the dominant economic models of the
present era, are unsustainable.1
During the past few years the world’s rate of petroleum consumption has begun to level off, most
likely from the peaking of production in conventional oil which now seems likely to have either
occurred in 2005,2 or about to occur, placing us on an undulating plateau supported by minor
discoveries and new technology. Natural gas supply is also beginning to reach its limits and will
likely begin to decline within the next few years. We can’t turn to nuclear power because of the time
required and unresolved security and health issues. We can’t turn to coal because of the climate
impact, and also because if we supplanted all our oil and gas supplies with coal that resource would
also soon peak and decline.3 Solar photovoltaic, hydrogen, tidal and many other new and renewable
sources are still in development, shackled to the fossil monster, and unready for rapid deployment in
the pinch. Over the not-distant edge of the plateau, absent some remarkable new discovery of high
quality, low cost energy, we — global humanity — are likely to begin a “long emergency”4 of
energy supply decline.
“[S]aid Scrooge, 'answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be,
or are they shadows of things that May be, only?'
“Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.”5
In the 1950s, a Shell Oil geologist named M. King Hubbert predicted that the United States would
reach a point, probably about 1970, when it could no longer produce any more petroleum than it did
the year before. Hubbert observed, from Shell’s experience in West Texas, that the economic effect
of that phenomenon is that for entire nations or regions that export oil, oil becomes more expensive
to extract and refine. The result is that wells, fields, nations and regions are gradually taken out of
production. Irrespective of what demand may require, supply declines.
All oil fields eventually reach a time in their life when they become economically foolish. If it takes
the energy of a barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, then further production becomes pointless. In
1970, just as Hubbert had predicted, the halfway mark was reached for the known reserves of
conventional petroleum in the USA. A decline in production began. It was briefly interrupted in the
late 1970s by new oil finds in Alaska and elsewhere, and by advanced recovery technology, but
Barnett, H. J. and Morse, C. (1963), Scarcity and growth: The economics of natural resource availability, Johns
Hopkins University Press, London; Meadows, D. L., Meadows, D. H., Randers, J. and Behrens III, W. W. (1972), The
Limits To Growth, Universe Books, New York; Meadows, D. L., Randers, J. and Meadows, D.H. (2004). Limits To
Growth: The 30-Year Update (Chelsea Green); Tilton, J. E. (1996). Exhaustible resources and sustainable development:
Two different paradigms, Resources Policy 22: 91-97; Smith, V. K., ed. (1979), Scarcity and growth revisited, Johns
Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
2
Deffeyes, K.S. (2005). Beyond Peak Oil: The View From Hubbert’s Peak (Hill and Wang) and conversations with the
author.
3
Heinberg, R. (2004), Beyond the Peak, Closing Address to the First US Conference on Peak Oil and Community
Solutions, Yellow Springs Ohio, November 14, 2004, reprinted in Museletter 152.
4
Kunstler, J.H. (2005), The Long Emergency, Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging
Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic Monthly Press)
5
Dickens, C. (1843), A Christmas Carol (London: Chapman and Hall)
1
those made only a slight bump on the general downward sloping curve. The same thing happened to
the former Soviet Union in 1989, to the United Kingdom in 1999, to Norway in 2000, and to others
whose ambitions towards great empires or riches suddenly faded as their oil wells ran dry.
In 1974, Hubbert predicted the world as a whole would reach peak oil production around the year
1995, give or take a few years. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, global oil consumption
actually dropped, thanks to the OPEC oil embargo, more efficient cars, conservation advances, and
the shift to alternatives for heating and industrial processes. While new oil well discoveries peaked in
1965, and many individual countries peaked, the world as a whole did not peak. Until now.
The decline in our ability to find additional petroleum resources comes at a time when we are only
just beginning to appreciate what the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius discovered in 1895; that
adding carbon dioxide, methane and other insulating gases to the Earth’s atmosphere will cause the
planet to warm. 6 Arrhenius correctly determined that a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels,
for instance, would result in a 5-degree rise in the average temperature of the world. We are now
well on our way to that doubling and the consequences are becoming apparent. The latest reports
from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that we may already
have crossed a threshold and that catastrophic warming of our planet could now be unavoidable by
any means available to mere humans.
Sadly, as our supply of oil and gas declines, our use of coal is increasing dramatically. China is now
responsible for one third of world coal consumption, the U.S. for about 10 percent, and India 7.3
percent. Coal consumption worldwide is doubling approximately every 12 to 13 years, despite
concerns over runaway greenhouse warming and the Kyoto treaty. This will have to stop.
Two decades ago, when I was writing Climate in Crisis, a book that correctly forecast our current
predicament at a time when there were many more corrective options still open to us, I first heard the
reference to the growth of greenhouse gases as a “hockey stick.”7 It wasn’t until more recently that I
realized I was looking at the hockey stick from the wrong end. I saw the millennial timescale on the
x axes as the handle, the sudden jump of GHG and concomitant temperature change as the blade,
which had thrust us suddenly half a degree warmer in the 20th Century. Now I see that I was holding
the stick by the blade. The y axes is the handle. According to the IPCC report just released, world
temperatures may rise 6 degrees by 2100, or perhaps 2050. It really doesn’t matter even if the
process takes several centuries, because a change of that magnitude would spell the end of terrestrial
life as we know it. The Anthropocene8 will draw to a close and every form of life on Earth will adapt
or perish.
Joseph Tainter, in The Collapse of Complex Societies, attributes the failures of numerous
civilizations to declining returns on investments in complexity.9 Ancient Egypt or the Classical Maya
irrigated so that they could practice agriculture in dry seasons. They built social hierarchies to
allocate irrigation or to store and distribute grain from seasonally abundant harvests. Their strategies
of greater social complexity imposed hidden costs that quietly accumulated. Eventually imperial
overreach, a rupturing of trade, climate change or some other calamity forced civilization to retreat
and regroup. You could say it was an experience in involuntary simplicity.
6
Analogizing this phenomenon to “greenhouse” warming was first suggested by John Mercer at Ohio State University c.
1960.
7
The “hockey stick” was first coined by US climate researcher Michael Mann.
8
The “Anthropocene,” the post-Holocene epoch beginning in the industrial era, was named in 2000 by Dutch
atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen.
9
Tainter, J., (1990) The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press. See too: Catton, W. (1982)
Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, University of Illinois Press.
Richard Heinberg suggests that once the point of declining returns is reached, almost anything can
push a society into collapse.10 Typically, civilizations that are near their point of collapse become
involved in wars over resources, and they are often plagued by poor leadership that is unable to
understand the nature of the challenge or to propose effective responses in time to make a difference.
Collapse, as Jared Diamond observes from the experience of the Easter Islanders and the Greenland
colonies, may depend more on a society’s flexibility and willingness to learn from mistakes than on
the strength and persistence of the natural or unnatural calamities assailing it.11
Heinberg postulates four scenarios for the immediate post-peak reshuffling we are about to
experience:12
1. last one standing - the way of war and competition
2. waiting for the magic elixir - false hopes, wishful thinking and denial
3. powerdown - the path of self limitation, cooperation & sharing
4. building lifeboats - the path of community solidarity and preservation
As Tainter and also Joseph Catton observe, the decline of complex societies augurs a devolution to
tribes, clans, villages and hamlets, the status quo ante. Society reverts to the level of complexity that
is capable of being sustained from diminished resources, and perhaps even a little farther, as a
reverse overshoot.
One distinction between our present era and most previous civilization declines is that the empire
that now exists is a transnational, global economic matrix. Consequently, decline will leave no
region of safety or tranquility. To find an analogous collapse in history, you have to go back to
meteor impacts or supervolcano eruptions that altered global climate and ushered mass extinctions.
The “sustainabilty” challenge has a yet larger problem, one that dwarfs every other. In Albert
Bartlett’s classic lecture on exponential growth,13 he uses the example of a bottle filled with bacteria.
Bacteria grow by doubling, so one bacterium divides to become two, the two divide to become four,
and so on. Suppose we had bacteria that doubled this way every minute. Suppose we put one of these
bacteria into an empty bottle at eleven in the morning and then observed that the bottle was full at 12
noon.
First Question: When was the bottle half full? Answer: 11:59, one minute before 12, because they
double in number every minute.
Second Question: If you were an average bacterium in that bottle, when did you first realize that you
were running of space? Answer: At 12 noon the bottle is full. One minute before that it’s half full.
Two minutes before noon it’s a quarter full, then an eighth, then a sixteenth. At five minutes before
noon, when the bottle is only 3 percent full and 97 percent open space just yearning for development,
it is unlikely you, being a bacterium, would realize there’s a problem. If bacteria had human
intelligence, you might see your predicament in the last ten seconds.
Last Question: How long can the growth continue as a result of this magnificent discovery? Answer:
Suppose the bacteria are very smart — even smarter than humans — and they go out in that last ten
seconds and find three more bottles and get back with them before noon. At 12 noon, one bottle is
full and there are three to go. At 12:01, two bottles are filled and there are two to go, and at 12:02 all
four are filled and that’s it. Game over. They’d need to find four more bottles to go another minute.
10
Heinberg, R. (2004) op cit.
Diamond, J. (2005), Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin)
12
Heinberg, R. (2004) Powerdown (New Society Publishers)
13
Bartlett, A.,
11
The Worldwatch State of the World 2007 report includes a graph showing that Earth’s carrying
capacity was crossed in 1989-1990.14 Mathis Wagernagle calculates that we have been in deficit
spending ever since, adding stress and diminishing resilience with every passing year, so that by
2050, at present rates, we will be 34 planet years in debt.15 It is therefore likely that humans are not
as smart as the bacteria used in Bartlett’s example. Not only have we not gone looking for additional
planets, we have not even fully appreciated our predicament, at least not enough to change our
behavior.
“'Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,' said
Scrooge. 'But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what
you show me!'
“The Spirit was immovable as ever.”
Perhaps I am too inclusive in this condemnation. Not everyone is in denial. At the edge of
mainstream culture there are always creative pioneers, pushing against the edges. In the past we have
learned from the Cathars, Kibbutzniks and Diggers; the Perfectionists, Harmonists, and
Inspirationists. Today we can find New Urbanists, green builders, co-housing developers,
permaculturists and ecovillagers.
It is tempting to think of these experimental movements as lifeboats, preparing to lift us off the
sinking ship, but the lifeboat metaphor may be more apt for other reasons. Lifeboats are not intended
as a final destination, but as emergency transport, taking passengers uncomfortably but alive from
disaster at sea to some safe haven on land or aboard rescue ships. If you attempt to live permanently
aboard lifeboats, you are likely to run out of food and water, or to capsize and perish. Moreover,
lifeboats are small craft, and easily overwhelmed. Too many people, too few boats, and they swamp.
Lucilla Borio, Diana Christian and Jonathan Dawson have suggested that if we try to imagine
ecovillages or co-housing cooperatives as lifeboats for the refugees from resource-exhausted
consumer cultures, we are going to be disappointed. Ecovillages are inadequate to fill this function.
Their intended purpose is as laboratories of experimentation, no more.
While I agree that ecovillages are living laboratories, I think we should not understate their potential.
I believe the present generation of ecovillages, as inadequate as it may feel, is destined to point the
way towards the next evolution of civilization on Earth.16 Whether that is a pathway of energy and
population descent resembling our path to the present in reverse, or a technofix future, where we
sustain a high standard of living within a more resource-constrained budget, is impossible to
predict.17 What we can say with increasing certainty is that whatever will come next will be dictated
14
Worldwatch Institute (2007), State of the World 2007, Washington DC
François E. Cellier, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, internal seminar, April 2007, summarizing Mathis
Wagernagle, “One Planet Economy: An Empirical Baseline for SD,” Alliance for Global Sustainability Annual Meeting,
March 19, 2007.
16
As Lucilla Borio said in her paper at the 7th ICSA conference in 2001, “The goal of the ecovillage movement is to
create a network of attractive examples for a future society organised in self-reliant interactive modules which
sustainably fulfill their requirements for all basic needs of life, material and non-material.” Ecovillages are thus seen, by
the former President of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), as attractive models — examples that can be enlarged or
embellished upon by mainstream society. Borio, L. (2001) Ecovillages: the intentional communities of the future, in
Communal living on the threshold of a new millennium: Lessons and Perspectives, Proceedings of the Seventh
International Communal Studies Conference. Jonathan Dawson, the current president of GEN, enlarged on this theme in
his recent Schumacher lecture. See: Dawson, J. (2006), Ecovillages: New Frontiers for Sustainability, Schumacher
Briefing No. 12, Green Books, London.
17
Holmberg, J., Robèrt, K.-H. and Eriksson, K.-E. (1996). Socio-Ecological Principles for a Sustainable Society. In:
Getting down to Earth, eds. R. Costanza, O. Segura and J. Martinez-Alier, pp. 17-48. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
15
by considerations of changing climate and resource availability rather than the stability and relative
abundance that have characterized the past several millennia.
We are moving from expansion to contraction. Megacities are the apogee of expansion. Ecovillages
are the epitome of contraction. I think that in centuries hence, we will look back to the present time
from a nearly universal form of ecovillage living, a large portion of that urban. We will see the
ecovillages of the present, as weak and compromised as they are, as the beginnings of the next step
in human habitation of the planet.
Happiness
In recent years, efforts have been underway to re-evaluate “progress,” in social or anthropological
terms, not by Gross National Product, but through other indices, such as the Happy Planet Index
(HPI), Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), or World
Database of Happiness (WDH).18 One result of this inquiry has been a gradual de-coupling of
consumption from social welfare, where
HPI = Life Satisfaction x Life Expectancy
Ecological Footprint
an inescapable conclusion is that voluntary simplicity and ecological conscientiousness can bring
greater life satisfaction and life expectancy — greater quality of life. These findings draw together
the previously diverging disciplines of poverty eradication, environmentalism, energy descent
planning, and voluntary simplicity. Rather than seeing a direct increase in satisfaction as a function
of higher rates of production and consumption, we are forced to recognize that precisely the opposite
may be true.19 It is, as Gandhi said, satisfying needs, not wants, that produces the greatest wealth.
All of this, the de-consumerism, the energy descent path, the simple life, poses a problem for
capitalism as an economic system. Capitalism’s very existence depends on the ability to re-invest
profits, to capitalize economic expansion. If an economy must turn around and continuously contract
until it eventually achieves a steady state balance between resource renewability and population, then
where does the margin of profit come in? How does a business that contracts consistently every
quarter and every year produce surpluses of capital that can be re-invested? And what would be the
purpose of re-investment if not to foster growth? Who would invest in such a scheme?
We are now seeing the resurgence of economic systems that capitalism seemed to have displaced
centuries ago: feudal theocracies, socialist unions, and stateless anarchies ruled by tribal spiritual
leaders (if you like them) or warlords (if you don’t). By and large, the scenario that we place the
greatest amount of our attention and planning into is the one we are most likely to be saddled with. If
the world is not to descend it to a meaner, crueler, less humane condition, there will need to be a
countervailing meme offered. It will need to be something with greater appeal, and yet practical.
18
Daly, H (1991), Steady State Economics, 2nd ed, Washington: Island Press; Daly H and Cobb J B (1989) For the
common good: redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future, (Boston: Beacon
Press); Cobb, CW and Cobb J 8 (1994) The Green National Product: a proposed index of sustainable economic welfare
(Lanham: University Press of America); Jackson T, Laing F, MacGillivray A, Marks N, Ralis J. and Stymne S (1997)
"An index of sustainable economic welfare for the UK 1950-1996 (Guildford, UK: University of Surrey Centre for
Environmental Strategy); Anielski M and Rowe J (1999) The Genuine Progress Indicator: 1998 Update (San Francisco:
Redefining Progress); Hamilton C (1999) The genuine progress indicator: methodological developments and results from
Australia, Ecological Economics 30, pp. 13-28; Nettle D (2005), Happiness: the science behind your smile (Oxford:
Oxford University Press); Veenhoven R (2005), Average happiness in 91 nations 1995-2005: world database of
happiness (www.worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl)
19
This paper necessarily oversimplies this notion of happiness and what determines it. For a more nuanced discussion,
see, e.g.: Can We Be Happy Using Less Energy? Uhhh.... YES! http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2671.
I find the word “sustainability,” per se, less than satisfying. For one thing, “sustainability” is nearly
as imprecise a term as “anti-globalization” or “the corporations.” Some positive things are
sustainable — freshwater from the hydrologic cycle, for instance — and so are some negative things
— such as volcanic activity in Italy. Ultimately, nothing — not our planet, our sun, nor our universe
— sustains. Sustainability is, in the final analysis, unachievable.
The historic influence of utopian societies may be considered poor in part because of this lack of
precision in creating a comprehensive meme that can readily be transferred. I do not presume to
suggest that this is the only reason communal experiments fail. As scholars of communal society
literature know far better than most, failures (if there even are such things in an experimental
context) derive from many complex sources. In part because of cross-fertilization with this vein of
scholarship, the modern ecovillage movement has a better understanding of the interconnectedness
of separate elements of the sustainability challenge.
Ecovillages now undertake to go beyond merely shared use of facilities in order to result in a
lower per capita use of energy and resources, as might a co-housing project.20 Ecovillages then
undertake to become energy and resource positive, through maximizing use of solar energy income
via polyculture, passive heating and cooling, mixed use of the built environment, carbon
sequestration, and comprehensive recycling, and concomitantly, steady reductions in fossil energy
consumption. Success creates surplus, but surplus unshared is just more pollution, so ecovillages
share their gains, both within and outside the ecovillage movement.
Ecovillages undertake to go beyond self-governance through democratic, open-access, transparent,
well-managed meetings and interventions, such as might have been seen in Oneida, Esalen, or other
historical examples. Ecovillages start by learning to manage those processes more skillfully, but then
use the collective strength gained in that effort to create outreach programs that strengthen larger
social justice, peace, preservation, environmental and other social and political movements in the
mainstream society. In this instance it is a surplus of social capital that is being shared.
Alternative medicine, alternative energy, alternative agriculture, alternative building construction,
alternative theatre and dance — all of these seemingly separate movements in past centuries are
being synthesized and harmonized in the context of alternative community now. This is the holistic
nature of ecovillage, and it is also the whole systems challenge they confront.
With capitalism teetering on the brink of bankruptcy in the face of Peak Oil, ecovillages and other
experimental, alternative communities are developing complimentary currencies and localized
economies — local food, local energy, local manufacture, local credit unions. Here in the
Damanhurian Federation is a currency, the Credit, which is today matched to the Euro, but could, at
a moment’s notice, be cut free to float on its own, carried by the full faith and credit of local
residents one to another. Microlending, peer lending, permaculture credit loans, income-sharing and
more novel experiments in local economic well-being are being employed by communities to give
them a perch to stand on if all around them should fall away.21 The experience of the kibbutz over
more than a half century in establishing a thriving national economy almost entirely through the
shared purse is perhaps the most hopeful indication that, even in the most difficult of circumstances,
the human spirit will bring forward the hope, perseverance, organization and ingenuity required for
survival.
20
See: Herring H. (2001), Does Communal Living Save Energy? In Communal living on the threshold of a new
millennium: Lessons and Perspectives, Proceedings of the Seventh International Communal Studies Conference.
21
But see the caveats provided by Christian D. and Steinman, J. (2006) Community Survival During the Coming Energy
Decline, Communities (Spring 2006), reprinted in The Last Straw 56:19-21 (December 2006)
There is neither a common religion, nor ethnicity, nor philosophical approach to ecovillages, any
more than there is to intentional communities in general. There are simply too many, in too many
different cultures. There are hundreds of very different eco-communities in Brazil, thousands in
South Asia. They learn skills from each other, the world over, whether in conflict transformation,
construction and engineering, small enterprise, or meditation. From the vast menu of offerings
coming out of the ecovillage movement, and the methods and techniques derived from the hard
lessons of intentional and alternative communities of the past, today’s villages pick and choose to
suit their tastes and their needs of the moment. They pick up a tool, try it out, set it down, pick up
another.
Steady States
What does a steady state economy look like? It should be thought of as something that neither overconsumes nor over-produces. The advances of the petroleum era may lend us a net leisure time
benefit, despite the diminished resource base. An example of benefits derived from the era just
passing is the development of bicycle craft, which gives us better and more efficient transportation
options, much in the manner that consistently improving horse breeding bettered the lot of farmers
and trades-people a thousand years ago. Assuming that the internet stays up, the universal data
resource the internet represents could continue to better our lives in an era of less overall energy,
reduced travel, and very expensive materials. The internet is a shared purse for knowledge.
Through seed sharing across the world, and sharing water and soil management techniques for
perennial food production, we may not have to spend as much time in toil for our food as did
generations before, despite the potential for near-complete loss of fossil fuel-based pesticides,
fertilizers, mechanized agriculture, and distribution.
I would speculate that perhaps the greatest challenge of the post-petroleum era will be in finding the
ability to slow down and take life at a different pace. We have grown so accustomed to speed, to
multi-tasking, to running constantly to keep up with elevated demands for our time and attention,
that simply simplifying our lives, as we may need to, may be, well, boring.
The example I have used in my book, The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes
for Changing Times (New Society, 2006) is the surfer culture. What does a surfer actually produce
for society? Very little. He or she may need to work a few hours every week just for food, clothing
and shelter, but those needs can be met inexpensively if care is paid. A surfer consumes little. The
primary product is a feeling of well-being, personal satisfaction with life, and connection to nature.
This is not such a bad thing to aspire to.
Sustainable growth, as Herman Daly observed, is an oxymoron. Like islanders without boats, we are
limited by simple physics in how much we can expand our agriculture, our population, our water
uses. Exponential growth is a delusion, as passionately as we may want to see it continue the way it
did in the fossil fuel era. In the final analysis, it is a physical, mathematical impossibility.
Sustainable development, however, is still feasible. What can continue to grow is culture: personal
growth, spirituality, art, science, literature; the life of the mind. We are unlimited in that area. Our
presently impoverished satisfaction-with-life-index has nowhere to go but up.
__________
Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. Contact: Albert
Bates, Global Village Institute, Summertown TN 38483-0090 USA, [email protected]
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