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OPINION - The Wages of Growth


OPINION - The Wages of Growth

By Robert Beauchamp

Our growing concerns about our worsening environmental crisis, instigating increasing countermeasures towards a goal of eventual “sustainability”, are certainly timely and commendable. If enough of us become informed, and cooperate towards this common cause, we will surely “make a difference” and hopefully end the stalemate between our wayward habits and the inviolable laws of nature.         

Such optimism can have real meaning; thoughtful conservation of precious resources will definitely reduce our impact upon our planet, and paves the way towards “resolution”. Unfortunately, from a deeper perspective, such strategies become relatively ineffective. Here, there exists an alternative reality that - since conservation endeavors invariably create a surplus of resources that can be exploited to accommodate a continuation of growth - ironically worsens the crisis we are attempting to correct.

Our current economy is an unnatural contrivance that originated when we enjoyed abundant, seemingly endless natural resources; it, of necessity, needed to base itself on a misguided premise of perpetual growth. At the time, this seemed reasonable enough; any significant consequences would fall well into the future, and thus were easily dismissed. Now, our economy has swelled into a unyielding monolith that is stretched thin and increasingly dependent on growth for its basic operations. Any tweak to its delicate structure can threaten job security and initiate a meltdown of our economy.

In order to protect our habituated system, it is thus deemed essential that we covertly monitor conservation endeavors carefully; those that create surplus can be heartily encouraged, while those that challenge economic growth  - and/or its overseer, population growth - are not only discouraged, they are rendered “politically incorrect” to even acknowledge. We, even our most avid activists, then, have locked ourselves into an ironic self-defeating collective denial; we work to save the planet, and inadvertently feed the roots to the destruction.

A nature-based perspective towards this issue quickly finds an elaborate system of universal laws that exist in direct opposition to our economic model. We have been degrading our planet for too long; our ecosystems are beginning to flounder, and present us with a dire prospect of consequences that ought to be very alarming. By now, it is obvious that, in order to forestall collapse, we must stop growing; beyond that, since there are already too many of us to foster realistic sustainability (and to restore a more decent quality of life), we must get very serious about reducing our populations to a smaller scale.

The solution here, from a strictly pragmatic perspective, is incredibly simple, and one that would yield immediate results: curtail our birthrate and disallow immigration. This, of course, would, realistically, be excruciatingly painful, as we would be called upon to question, perhaps overthrow, our most cherished lifestyles, traditions, and even our religious beliefs. Our exalted Holy Bible, perhaps our greatest such influence, cajoles us to “be fruitful” (work hard, produce), to “multiply” (foster population growth), and to “have dominion over the earth” (beat nature into submission) ... while we worship a singular God - the presumably all-powerful creator of the entire universe - in our own image. With today’s scientific knowledge, such naive interpretations demonstrate an incredible arrogance that can only lead to disaster.       

Difficult as this may be, it can only become worse in the future; we need to now be very timely about crafting a brand-new interpretation of our presence on the planet, one that will completely transform our attitudes and behavior. If we are to worship a higher power, it had better be that of the natural universe, and one that mandates respectful subservience towards its awesome processes.