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Hooked on a system that no longer serves

The economic crisis continues to dominate the news and is a common topic in holiday party chatter. CNN calls it “Issue #1.” As a documenter of growth mania, I find this crisis an irresistible and fascinating opportunity.

Step back as I do, and take a detached, thoughtful look at our behavior. Ponder the following questions, and then ask a few of these while chatting with friends at your next holiday party. Let me know the reactions.


If we were designing a global system to meet our basic needs and provide opportunities for happiness and fulfillment, would we choose a model that only works if we need/want/make/sell/buy more automobiles this year than last, a system that falls apart if our needs have been met? . . .

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Troubled Waters

gardnerborderfencecropped221x1461 “Do you have…protection?” The U.S. Border Patrol officer patted his holster as he asked. “No, do I need to? I replied. He suggested to his supervisor perhaps one of them should escort me. This section of the U.S.-Mexico border has been one of the most dangerous.

That’s a 16-foot border fence behind me in the photo. The escort idea was nixed due to lack of manpower, so I bid the officers adieu and struck out for the main channel of the Colorado River, lugging tripod and video camera across 1/3-mile of delta. In places I sank so deep in the silt that it poured into my boots.

As expected there was not a drop of water in the river. It had all been diverted to Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and the Imperial Valley. Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently calculated a 50 percent chance lakes Mead and Powell will dry up by 2021, and a 10 percent chance the lakes will run out of usable water by 2013. Yet growth addicts in our metropolitan areas are busy plotting to make sure they get every drop of water they have a legal right to, water that is unlikely to be there. . . .

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Economic System Broke(n)

While the pain we all feel in the current economic meltdown is very real, the system we’re attempting to revive was broken long before the latest bubble and recession. Our economy has come to depend on perpetual growth. Whether that growth is real (as in increasing throughput and the inherent liquidation of finite resources) or just on paper (speculators speculating about what other speculators will do), it cannot be sustained.

The problems with our current system extend far beyond its sheer unsustainability. It long ago stopped providing us the prosperity or happiness we seek. Our communities have been crumbling under the costs and impacts of growth, and rising GDP is no longer an indicator of increasing quality of life. . . .

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Progress on the film


Phoenix, San Francisco, Dallas and Kansas City were in my viewfinder over the past six months as we passed a milestone: over 75% of Hooked on Growth has been shot. From volunteers crewing our shoots to authorities I’m interviewing about population, urban growth or the psychology of climate change denial, everyone I meet is cheering us on. I wish I had room here to share these stories. You’ll just have to see the film!

This film’s message is needed now, more than ever. I need your help to make that happen. I’ve got to shoot in Los Angeles next month, and I still must hit the East Coast for some important interviews. I’m very frugal on these trips, but they still rapidly deplete our resources. Please make a tax-deductible contribution to help fund these production trips and the editing ahead. . . .

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Birth Rate Hogwash

Gazette reporter Perry Swanson invested considerable time into trying to understand why I discount growth boosters’ preoccupation with using “net natural increase” and “net migration” figures to give the impression fertility is the biggest contributor to our burgeoning local population. So it surprised and disappointed me to see a gross figure, birth rate, compared with net migration in both a caption and his story (Look how we’ve grown, 3/16/06). That’s the kind of manipulation of data I’ve come to expect from the growth industry.

One might wonder if there’s something in our water making us much more fertile than the rest of the country. The fertility rate in the U.S. today is just barely above replacement level, so it defies logic that birth rate would be the biggest contributor to our rapidly growing El Paso County population. Part of the explanation is we have many young military families of child-bearing age. Our state demographer has confirmed most of those babies leave the county within a year or two of their birth. . . .

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