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Million Dollar Prize to Cure Growth Addiction

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from Australia. A gentleman named Dick Smith was on the line and he was very complimentary about our film project. Quickly I was brought up to speed on this man and his new, noble effort to get the world talking about limits to growth and into a recovery program for growth addiction.

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$1m cash to save civilization

That was the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald last week as Mr. Smith announced his one million dollar Wilberforce Award – a grant to be awarded to someone under 30 “who can impress me by becoming famous through his or her ability to show leadership in communicating an alternative to our population and consumption growth-obsessed economy.”

Did you see a news story about this audacious offer? I found no news stories about this outside of Australia, other than a photo in Times of India and the UK Guardian. The rest of the world apparently doesn’t consider this million-dollar prize offered by one individual newsworthy. I find that incredibly disappointing, but I suppose that is to be expected in a world where denial of limits to growth is so widespread and growth addiction is perpetuated by the pushers (growth profiteers, who include mainstream media).

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In fact, Dick Smith has taken on the mainstream media in his quest to eliminate the megadose of pro-growth Kool Aid served to us daily. He recently took out this ad in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper.

Unless you live in Australia, you may not know who Dick Smith is. The subject line of his follow-up email to me read: Rapacious Capitalist Loves your Website. So, who is this “rapacious capitalist” who is not pushing growth at every turn in order to finance his next private jet or another 10,000 square-foot vacation home? You can read more about him here.

Smith is a man who concedes “I’ve benefited from a long period of constant economic and population growth – we are addicted to it.” He is indeed a wealthy businessman. But Dick Smith has seen the light. It has come to his attention (thanks to his daughter) that there are limits. He writes, “sooner or later this consumption growth will have an end. We appear to be already bumping against the limits of what our planet can sustain and the evidence is everywhere to see.”

I’m encouraged that a number of wealthy capitalists are speaking out today about the fallacy of our quest for and belief in unending growth. Media mogul Ted Turner frequently raises the issue of overpopulation and sustainability. “Too many people are using too much stuff,” he told Charlie Rose two years ago. Zhang Yue, Chairman and Chief executive of BROAD Air Conditioning spoke eloquently about limits to growth in a speech last year to the Business for Social Responsibility Conference: “Today, that mission to grow more, to get more, to make more, isn’t suitable for society.”

Fact is we’ve all benefited from the era of growth. But just as it’s not too late for those who’ve built empires and made fortunes to learn from our mistakes and promote a more sustainable model, it’s not too late for society at large. It is time for us to get over our growth addiction and move quickly to a model that celebrates “enough.”

I applaud Australian Dick Smith for having the vision to see where our worship of growth everlasting will take us, the courage to confess his sins, and enough concern about future generations to put his money where his mouth is. According to Smith, “I will be looking for candidates whose actions over the next year show that they have what it takes to be among the next generation of leaders our incredible planet so badly needs.”

Quick note: Now you can subscribe to get an email whenever I publish a new blog post. See the Blog Subscription box to the upper right (just below where you can click to donate and support this film)!

Dave Gardner is currently producing the non-profit documentary, Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity.

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