THE NEED FOR TRANSITION TO THE SIMPLER WAY
(Three page Summary.
The basic cause of the many alarming global problems we face is the pursuit of affluent "living standards" and economic growth…the determination to produce and consume more and more, without limit, even in the richest countries. There is no possibility that the per capita levels of resource consumption in rich countries can be kept up for long. Only a few of the world’s people have these "living standards" and the rest can never rise to anything like them.
This is causing the big global problems:
o Resources including food, land, forests, fisheries, soils, minerals and energy (especially petroleum) are being depleted because the people in rich countries are consuming grossly unsustainable amounts, and the rest are trying to live as the few in rich countries live…and all are determined to consume more and increase GDP all the time and without limit.
o The environment is being destroyed because far too much is being taken from nature and too many wastes are being dumped back into nature. The environment problem cannot be solved unless rich world per capita levels of production and consumption are greatly reduced. For instance the Australian "footprint", the amount of productive land per capita used, is 8 ha, but by 2050 the amount available in the world per capita will only be about 0.8 ha. We are ten times over the amount all could ever rise to.
o The Third World problem of perhaps 4 billion people living in deprivation and poverty (and 3 billion on an income of less than $2 per day and possibly 1 billion hungry) is basically due to the fact that the global economy gears most of the Third World’s resources and productive capacity to enriching our rich world corporations and stacking our supermarket shelves. We could not have our high "living standards" if we were not taking far more than our fair share of the world’s resources.
o Most problems of armed conflict and of oppression are due to the determination of some to take the resources of others. If we all go on fiercely intent to live in, or aspire to, ways it is impossible for all to rise to, then there must inevitably be more and more armed conflict. We in rich countries could not have our high "living standards" if we were not getting far more than our fair share. We do this partly through the way the grossly unjust global economy works. It allows the rich to outbid the poor for scarce things, and will only permit development of what is most profitable to corporations, i.e., of ventures that serve our consumers. But in addition the rich countries support oppressive regimes and engage in military actions in order to keep Third World countries to the policies that suit us.
o Social cohesion and the quality of life in even the richest societies are being damaged, because the supreme goals are raising business turnover, incomes and the GDP, not meeting needs, building community and improving the quality of life.
These problems are inevitable consequences of a society that is driven by acquisitiveness, competition, the profit motive, market forces and growth. It is not just that this society is grossly unsustainable and unjust – the point is that such a society cannot be made sustainable or just. It is not possible to reform such a society so that it does not generate the above problems, while it continues to be about the fierce drive to get as rich as possible and to allow development to be determined by what will be most profitable to corporations and banks.
Most people however believe that technical advance, such as the development of more efficient cars and of renewable energy sources, will indeed enable us to plunge on down the affluence and growth path forever while it solves the environment and other problems. But the magnitude of the overshoot, the unsustainability, is far too great for this to be possible. If by 2050 all the world’s people had risen to the "living standards" we in rich countries will have then given 3% p.a. growth, then world economic output would be 20 times as great as it is now…and right now it is at a grossly unsustainable level …and if 3% growth were to continue the task would be twice as great every 23 years thereafter Technical advance cannot make any of that sustainable.
As noted above, in addition to having exceeded the limits to growth, we have an economic system that is massively unjust. Most of the world’s resources and markets are taken by the few in rich countries, basically because it is a market system. Markets allow the rich to take most of what is produced, and to ensure that the "development" that takes place in the Third World is development that will enrich corporations and rich world consumers. There cannot be peace or justice in the world until the rich countries stop hogging most of its wealth and begin to live on their fair share. In this economy what is done is determined by what is profitable, not what people, society or the environment need.
The can be no solution to these alarming problems unless there is enormous and radical transition to very different ways and systems. There must be,
- Simpler lifestyles, much less production and consumption, much less concern concern with luxury, affluence, possessions and wealth, and much more attention to non-material sources of life satisfaction.
- Mostly small, highly self-sufficient local economies, largely independent of the global economy, putting local resources to meeting local needs. When petroleum becomes scarce there will be no choice about this.
- More cooperative and participatory ways, enabling people in small communities to take control of their own development, to include and provide for all. In the coming era of scarcity communities that cooperate to meet needs will have much better chances. We must develop commons and working bees, and there must be town assemblies, local committees and referenda making the important decisions about local development and administration.
- A new economy, one that is not driven by profit or market forces, and one that has no growth at all, that produces much less than the present one, and focuses on needs and rights and be geared to maximising the quality of life of all in the region. There must be mostly small highly self-sufficient local economies using mostly local resources. There might be many small private firms and markets, but there must be (participatory, democratic, open and local) social control over what is developed, what is produced, and how it is distributed, e.g., via town meetings.
- Some very different values, especially cooperative not competitive, more collectivist and less individualistic, and concerned with frugality and self-sufficiency not acquisitiveness and consuming.
The alternative or Simpler Way is about ensuring a high quality of life for all without anywhere near as much work, worry, production, consumption, exporting, travel, investment, resource use, environmental damage etc. as our present society involves. It is about liberation from the consumer rat race, and the insecurity, inequality, conflict and cultural squalor that goes with it. Consider having to work for money maybe only two days a week, and therefore having a lot of time for arts and crafts and personal growth, living in a rich and supportive community, and in a diverse and productive leisure-rich landscape, having socially worthwhile and enjoyable work with no fear of unemployment...and knowing you are not contributing to global problems.
Increasing numbers of people now accept this view of our situation and the solution, and are working for transition to this general kind of alternative. There are now Global Eco-village, Voluntary Simplicity, De-growth and Transition Towns Movements. The fate of the planet depends on whether they can provide many impressive examples of sustainable, just and pleasant settlements showing people in consumer society that there is a better way.
What should one do? The most important contribution is simply to help spread this vision; explain to as many as possible the need for radical change from consumer society and the alternative we could move to. In addition think about forming a small group in your town or suburb to start developing elements of the new way, such as small cooperative community gardens and workshops, community working bees, edible landscapes, festivals…and helping to organise wasted local resources such as unemployed, retired and excluded people into producing to meet some of their own needs….with the vision of gradually expanding until we have transformed the entire suburb. But these efforts must eventually go beyond merely creating community gardens etc.; they must be informed by the need for vast and radical system change, including getting rid of an economy driven by profit, market forces and growth. As conditions in consumer society deteriorate people will see the wisdom of coming across to The Simple Way we are pioneering.
For a more detailed account of the above case, see The Simpler Way; Main Account, 25 pages, at thesimplerway.info/TSWMain.htm