"It's all very well for you to talk about the end of growth" said my friend. "You are comfortable enough. Growth has been good to you and perhaps you don't need any more of it. But who are you to deny to others the opportunities that you have had? There are billions living in poverty. Do you want to kick away the ladder that they are climbing up?"
It is a sharp critique, one that I need to take to heart. But at bottom, I think it rests on a confusion - what Ehrenfeld would call a "humanist" assumption - that what I want to happen and what I think will happen are the same.
When overall growth comes to a halt, this won't be because some comfortably situated math professor (or some policy elite) does not want it to continue. It will be because the growth imperative has collided with the non-negotiable realities of life on a finite planet - realities that are independent of what anybody wants or does not want.
This collision can't be averted (though it may be postponed) just by "greening" parts of the growth machine while leaving its basic structure untouched. As Richard Heinberg writes, "Many people assume that solving our
problems means being able to continue doing what we are doing now. Yet it is what we are doing now that is creating our problems."
If we reduce our personal energy and water use, or grow our own vegetables, or cycle rather than drive to work, that won't allow the growth agenda to continue unimpeded - in fact, nothing that we can do will allow that. What it will do, though, is to begin to make visible the structure of a different kind of society, one that can be sustained beyond our present age of ever-growing consumption.
My friend's critique reminds me that the rich blessings I have received are not for me to hoard, but to share. And one way I can share them is to participate in this "making visible" - to move from worryism to activism. I am sure that the GreenFaith program will be challenging me to do this in practical ways. I'll keep you posted.
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