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Involuntary Simplicity

Some people assume I’m a wealthy Hollywood producer, flush with cash to fund a little hobby-film about growth addiction. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

IMG_7687r-300x200 Producing the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth has turned out to be an exercise in involuntary simplicity. The first few years I continued taking on corporate film projects — to keep the lights on and to support the non-profit film. I also ran through my retirement savings. This year I mothballed the corporate work to devote full attention to finishing GrowthBusters – so we can release the film in the first half of 2011.

It’s not easy to attract major funding for a film project that questions the most fundamental beliefs powering our current system. Most people or organizations with money got that money by operating successfully in our growth-based system. It’s a pretty small slice of the universe of potential funders (both individuals and foundations) who are visionary enough to support a project this radical.

This has forced me to be extremely frugal – both personally and in my stewardship of this film project. While that’s been challenging and at times even frustrating, it turns out that cloud has a silver lining. Spending less money in many cases results in my walking lightly on this planet.  For example, I’ve had to be extremely efficient with my travel, minimizing airplane flights. Result: much smaller carbon footprint!

In short, being on a tight budget has encouraged me to learn to live with enough. I’ve been working for years now to get out of my growth-addicted, overconsuming habits; to focus on what brings real meaning to my life. Goodbye quest for more; hello satisfaction with sufficiency. Goodbye hamsterwheel in service to a gluttonous system, hello good life. Becoming a starving artist just makes that easier.

I’ve noticed parallels to this in the impacts of the recent recession. Everyone tightened their belts. Automobile sales dropped, so fewer were manufactured. More bicycles were sold than autos. GM stopped making Hummers. Airlines cut flights. Retail sales dropped, so consumer goods manufacturing was reduced. The average size of an American home shrank. Birth rates declined. Carbon emissions actually dropped.

In most cases these recession stories were presented as bad news. That’s the sad thing about a growth-addicted culture. The fact we needed to extract fewer resources to manufacture fewer cars should be good news! Isn’t it good for the planet and future generations that people wore their clothes longer and therefore made fewer clothing purchases? Shouldn’t we celebrate fewer planes in the air, consuming less jet fuel and pumping out less CO2? No, not in a culture of growth. Yet, the recession – painful as it is for our growth-addicted culture – is helping most of us to cut some of the excess out of our lives.

In the upcoming GrowthBusters film, I’ll be highlighting more examples of pro-growth bias in our news media. As we become aware of what’s in the Kool Aid we drink daily, it will begin to lose its power – over our lives and our culture.

P.S. Don’t feel sorry for me, but do pitch in and make a tax-deductible donation to the project so we can finish this film. I promise not to waste it on profligate consumption. And I can’t do it without your help.

Dave Gardner

Less Than symbol

Dave Gardner is producing the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. For more information or to join the movement, visit

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