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I am a Growthbuster

Today’s guest post in our Limits to Growth 40th anniversary series is by Andrew Gaines, co-founder of Transform Australia. I spent a wonderful afternoon sitting with Andrew in a coffee shop in Sydney two weeks ago, plotting the salvation of our civilization. Andrew understands and evangelizes about the need for system change. Check out his Whole System Change Ideas Bank. I appreciate this contribution to our series from Andrew and the good work he’s doing. I expect we will collaborate a lot in the future.

I am a Growthbuster

by Andrew Gaines
Transform Australia

I challenge the myth that unlimited growth is both possible and good.

Why? Because the plain fact is that unlimited growth will kill us.

What is needed is caring intelligent will.

Earth-Think-Small_FB_EventPoster_1000px_2012-03-13 This is not a matter of ideology, but of how reality works. Any civilisation that outruns its energy and ecological base dies.

Many civilisations have gone before us.
You have heard of Rome? Those folks starved for centuries.
You have heard of Easter Island? They almost went extinct.
You have heard of the Norse colony on Greenland? Perhaps not.
They did go extinct.

Our situation is different. Not because we can have unlimited growth, but because we have the design techniques to evolve materially modest lifestyles and live happily within the actual ecological boundaries of our planet.

Why bother now?
Because the big picture ecological facts are grim, and the trends will affect not only coming generations, but us. I hope that you are a sufficiently thoughtful person to be able to deal with them.

I will mention three. They tell the story.

The great underground lakes (aquifers) that provide water to Chinese cities, Indian farmers, and the breadbasket of the US Midwest are headed towards empty. You’ve heard of the American dustbowl in the 1930s? Irrigation stopped it.

Dust bowls are set to return. At the same time, many of the major rivers of the world often run dry before they reach the sea. Industry, agriculture and cities compete for freshwater. Growth only makes this worse.

Do you like fish? Or going to the beach? Millions of people around the world live on fish. But forget about overfishing. Because of CO2 emissions the oceans have gotten measurably more acid. But fish only breed within a narrow range ocean pH. They are finely calibrated. So we are on track to lose the entire oceanic food chain. And, to add injury to injury, as the oceans become acid the calcium shells on the tiny organisms at the bottom of the food chain dissolve.  No more krill. No more whales. And nothing of value in between.

And what does this mean for beach lovers? You can look, but not swim. The primitive organisms that survive thrive. They are the ocean’s equivalent of athlete’s foot. They get into your skin and won’t go away. It is already happening in some places.

I have heard that people like me – people who care about the environment and a positive future for coming generations – should not talk about doomsday. People’s eyes will close over, we are told.

Are your eyes glazing over? Are you tuning out?

Please notice if you are. You have a choice, as do all of us: to be present to current reality, or hope things will get better even though we know in our hearts that things are getting worse.

So I ask you to recall the part of you that cares about your kids – if you have children – and look one more fact in the face. This fact, if nothing else is, is our wake-up call.

Beneath the Arctic Ocean and in other locations around the world there are billions of tonnes of frozen methane in the form of gas hydrates. In the Arctic they are covered by an icy vault of permafrost – seemingly impenetrable.

Well, nature surprises us. In 2010 Russian researchers reported plumes of methane coming up from the seabed. English researchers found something similar.

What does this mean? It means that our window of opportunity to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions is gone. It means that we are now at the beginning of uncontrollable global warming. Climate mayhem has already started – witness the extreme droughts, forest fires and floods in Australia and around the world.  This is just a foretaste of the mayhem that will escalate if millions of tons of methane gush into the atmosphere.

Is there a possibility of things coming right? Oh yes. We have the design strategies turn things around. But only if we now embrace low-energy materially modest lifestyles. And reduce population.

And only if we (those of us who care) help other people wake up and take responsibility. The changes we need are up to all of us, and they involve every aspect of life. Our times call for a change so profound, and so magnificent, that we may call it a whole system change. If it goes well people everywhere will live better than ever before. But with less stuff.

So I invite you to become a Growth Buster – helping to puncture the illusion of unlimited growth, and championing the vision of rapidly evolving an astute society that lives within our ecological means… and aims to bring out the best in people.

Educational tools to support this vision are freely downloadable from the Whole System Change Ideas Bank.

I invite you to join us. If we succeed in changing direction future generations will thank us – profoundly.

Andrew Gaines
Transform Australia
Whole system change for a viable society
andrew.gaines [@]

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