We need to curb our addiction to growth and set about building a more sustainable society, says columnist. (Stock photo)

We need to curb our addiction to growth and set about building a more sustainable society, says columnist. (Stock photo)

Column: Addressing over-consumption needs to be a priority

For 50 years we have been avoiding action for sustainability, says columnist


In this world of lockdowns and bubbles and social distancing and political unrest, we must challenge the religion of growth economics. In social media land I often feel trapped in that pantomime loop where the performers are yelling ‘Oh yes it is!’ while the audience roars back ‘Oh no it isn’t!’ In panto the audience wins, the truth triumphs and the scene closes. Not so with social media, where the loops seem to go round and round forever, now assisted by ‘artificial intelligence’ endowed with unlimited information and programmed by unknown vested interests.

Richard Heinberg outlines the wicked problem of tangled failures humanity faces in an article at Resilience.org entitled ‘A simple way to understand what’s happening … and what to do.’ First, focus on essential energy and face up to the reality that the days of limitless energy from non-renewable fossil fuels are over. Human energy comes from food and over the millennia we learned to use woodfire, water and wind before we discovered coal, gas and oil.

Conservatism has always been the political philosophy of the rich, beginning with warlords and kings, followed by merchants and priests, with peasants forced to labour for others. The peasantry were recently bought off by consumerism used to offer cheap versions of the luxuries enjoyed by the rich, while the extra work was done by non-human energy. Socialism operates on the assumption that a comfortable life can be attained for all. But with consumerism comes increased population, along with the desire to live like the rich. And growth consumerism leads to planetary destruction. No amount of political in-fighting will change the inevitable outcome of over-consumption.

COVID-19, a direct result of destroying wildlife habitat, is forcing us to face real reality while breaking down global systems faster than climate change or banking mismanagement or fuel shortages.

Renewable energy will not replace fossil fuels, At best, it will support small-scale infrastructure. Very few people are prepared to consider reducing the numbers of humans making demands on the planet.

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Heinberg points out that social cohesion will be essential to achieve the changes we need in expectations and behaviour “while working hard and making sacrifices … Forget 5G, the Internet of Things and self-driving cars.” We need to get priorities straight: use renewable energy for necessities and concentrate on low tech.

For 50 years we have been avoiding action for sustainability. We can either continue with culpable ignorance or work together for a better future.

Right here in central Vancouver Island we can see some hope in the local food movement and support for famers markets. But we have a long way to go to replace staple goods like edible oils and wean ourselves off supermarket junk foods and junk fast food. War time shortages proved rationing of food can succeed. Regenerative agriculture replenishes soil rather than destroying it.

Improving the rights of women can reduce population. But we can’t re-design while picking fights over every disagreement. We have to make common cause to fight the growth addiction all together, treating each other with the respect required for social cohesion.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairperson of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.

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