Pressing on with growth first becomes costly and is now futile when unemployment remains high even with the stimulus of federal deficits and quantitative easing. Yet our faith in growth now requires denying ever more economic indicators.
We subsidize investments, but few of them occur when there are few industries we are competitive in. Corporate profits remain high but could be creating a stock market bubble, while declining real incomes for most Americans are causing demand in the economy to be weak. Our energy prospects have improved, but the losses from climate changes must be denied when the global economy is becoming so dependent on the fossil fuels.
The authentic opening we have is to move toward the simpler, more cooperative ways of life that can be supported with renewable energy.
For decades we have been biasing market forces toward growth. We could just as easily bias them toward sustainability. The most important step in this direction would be to offer assistance to those who would like to begin creating sustainable ways of life, and would cost far less than the $200,000 per job created in the mainstream economy with federal stimulus.
That would create work that increases in value as less energy is available, and would provide openings for the young, the unemployed and those who would like to be pioneers in creating sustainable ways of life.
This would be the first step in a sustainable revolution that continues for many generations and would lead to smaller, more decentralized economies. That would replace competing ever harder in an economy that favors bigness, in businesses, cities, and governments. Those who prefer to remain in the mainstream economy would be able to do that, and with fewer concerns about deficits, unemployment and oil.
With more physical work as less fossil fuels are used, everyone’s help would be welcomed and would reduce the feelings of being unneeded that afflict many in this society. Health would improve with more physical activity and simpler foods, and mental health as well.
Local markets would emerge to facilitate the exchanges that reduce the work needed to meet basic needs and while increasing the sense of benefiting from others that is the essence of community. As communities become more important, the values that support them will strengthen, filling the void left by the spreading disillusionment with modern values. People would be drawn together in the close human relationships that are the main source of happiness.
Those who contribute most to the community would be most honored, and loyalty, fairness and good-heartedness would once again be the virtues by which individuals and families are known. The selflessness called for by the great world faiths would once again be functional, as well as the pleasures of family, friends and working with others in a familiar environment.
Unimaginable? Perhaps; but think of this country before such ways were swept aside by machines powered by the fossil fuels. That led to the global economy, and the dangers of collapse on a global scale if growth failed. The dangers of deficits and unemployment can be debated, but not that at some point the flash in the historical pan made possible by the fossil fuels will dim and go out.
In its place would be the recovery of ways of life that can be supported with the renewable forms of energy that can go on indefinitely, and enriched with the technologies that can be made sustainable that would be the enduring legacy of the scientific revolution.
We would once again be a part of humankind’s great journey, rather than feeling superior to it. Achievements on a human scale would replace the excesses made possible with the fossil fuels, and with lives that are richer in social, emotional and spiritual ways even if simpler in material ways. We would come to terms with each other and this beautiful planet we have been given to live on.
Could we ask for a finer challenge?
Warren Johnson wrote “Muddling Toward Frugality” in 1978, and is finishing “The End of An Era, Not the End of the World: Creating Good Work as the Economy Slows.” www.endofera.org.