Heads Count: Global Population Speak Out, February 2010

It took virtually all of human history for our numbers to reach 1 billion in the 1800s. It took only about a century to add the second billion in 1930. We added the third billion in just 30 years and the fourth in only 15 years. We are now at 6.7 billion with projections of over 2 billion more to come in the next 40 years.

Global Population Speak Out

Creating a postgrowth world means moving beyond the growth consensus, which depends on more and more people consuming more and more stuff.

Once growth becomes uneconomic – hurting people and the environment, even if it seems to be desirable in the short term – then its drivers and the assumptions behind them should be open to debate.

To move beyond growth, we need to address how much we are consuming [and why], and how many of us there are consuming. Both are equally important factors in the equation of human impacts on the earth.

However, challenging either consumption or population is fraught with pitfalls, as there are currently social and political taboos associated with both.

Politicians of all flavours champion growth and encourage consumption at every opportunity – at the same time as people are being encouraged to reduce their greenhouse emissions, water use and other resource use. Which is it to be – the ‘eat more’ message or the ‘eat less’ message?

But if you think trying to talk about consumption – how people spend their money – is taboo, try starting a conversation about population.

Continue reading “Heads Count: Global Population Speak Out, February 2010”

An ‘Aesop’s Fable’ for Postgrowth

‘Postgrowth economics’ – hmm, it can seem a bit abstract, with no obvious connection to day to day life of the average person. A bit boring even? What does it mean for me?

We’ll explore all these questions together, but in the meantime, a good story never goes astray, so enjoy the following ‘postgrowth parable’ – it perfectly illustrates what we are on about:

fishing boat at sunset

‘An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?

The fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The banker then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats.

“Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery.

“You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would of course need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

The banker replied, “15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the fisherman.

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions?…Then what, senor?”

The American said:

“Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”‘

There are a number of themes in this story that connect to postgrowth concepts…

Quality of life over quantity…

Slower over fast…

Being in the moment instead of being mentally in the future…

Appreciation of what you already have rather than what external forces tell you you need…

  • Do you think you have a good work-life balance? What about the people around you?
  • Do you find yourself thinking about what you have to do when you get home/tomorrow/next week? How can you bring yourself back to the present?

image from GraphicsHunt

Measuring Progress

Measured Currencyphoto © 2008 Brooks Elliott | more info (via: Wylio)

What makes you feel as though you are progressing in life? Do you measure your success by the dollars in the bank? Perhaps you count the amount of cars you own, or boats, or socks, or elephants? Here’s a radical idea – do you measure progress by the life you live? I mean, the experiences, the knowledge, the family, the friends, and the community?

I would venture a guess that all of these things add together to create a more appropriate ideal of development – the dollars, the elephants, the community, the experiences. Unfortunately our governments insist on equating progress with growth in economic activity. Even more unfortunate, the metric used to measure this growth, GDP, is a failure at best and a gross misrepresentation at worst.

Continue reading “Measuring Progress”

Strategic Questions for Postgrowthers

maze through brain from question to exclamation mark from mouth

Strategic Questioning is an essential tool for any change agent, including advocates of postgrowth ideas.

Fran Peavey – activist, thinker and author of a manual on Strategic Questioning – describes it as ‘the skill of asking the questions that will make a difference.’

Key features of Strategic Questions include:

A strategic question creates motion.
By asking questions focussed on ‘how can we move?’, they are dynamic and don’t allow a situation to stay stuck.

A strategic question creates options.
‘Why don’t you [do x]?’ is a question that is dynamic in one direction. A strategic question opens the options up… ‘What would you like to do?’

A strategic question digs deeper.
Questions can be like a lever you use to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can.  A short lever will only just crack open that lid. But if we have a longer lever, or a more dynamic question, we can pry off the lid and really stir things up.

A strategic question avoids ‘Why.’
Most ‘why’ questions force you to defend an existing decision or rationalize the present. ‘Why’ questions can create resistance to change.

A strategic question avoids ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.
Questions that can only have binary answers leave the person being asked in an uncreative and passive state.

A strategic question empowers.
‘What would you like to do to [achieve your goal]?’ there is a confidence expressed that they can contribute to the process.

A strategic question asks the unaskable questions.
For every individual, group, or society, some questions are taboo. A strategic question often challenges the values that an issue rests upon. Asking taboo questions in a nonpartisan way can be a great service to anyone with an issue on which she or he is ‘stuck.’

[adapted from In Context, Spring 1995]

Strategic Questions help break societal and cultural taboos

What Strategic Questions might we ask to create dialogue about postgrowth ideas? What opportunities and positive challenges are there in acknowledging the physical limits of the planet, and that the human enterprise must fit within, not exceed, these limits?

Here are a few to kick things off – please offer any suggestions you may have!

  • what is more meaningful/enjoyable because of limits? what about sport, the lines on a field delineating the realm of play? marriage? staying within the limit of your credit card? consuming enough [but not too much] food, alcohol? can you think of any other examples?
  • how can we make decisions outside the framework of money, given money is an abstraction/cultural construct and not backed by anything of real value?
  • what will get people – and politicians – scrambling for postgrowth as much as they currently do economic growth?

References & Resources:

Strategic Questioning Manual – Fran Peavey
[sourced from The Change Agency]

Strategic Questioning: An Approach to Creating Personal and Social Change
[In Context, Spring 1995]

Post Growth Resources


Earthbank – Bankruptcy Noticefrom new economics foundation, one hundred months and enough is enough [UK]

UC Berkeley Ad in The Daily Californian [p5],  19 October 2009

this ad was initiated, developed and paid for by an outreach volunteer with the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, with creative input of other outreach volunteers from around the world

Moving Pictures

a one-hour television special that explores the high social and environmental costs of materialism and overconsumption; has an associated teacher’s guide

Escape from Affluenza is the solution-oriented sequel to Affluenza. Hosted by Wanda Urbanska, co-author of Simple Living, Escape picks up where Affluenza left off by profiling people and organizations that are reducing consumption and waste, choosing work that reflects their values and working to live in better balance with the environment.

The Money Fix is a feature-length documentary exploring our society’s relationship with money; most of us take the monetary system for granted, but it has a profound and largely misunderstood influence on our lives. The Money Fix examines economic patterning in both the human and the natural worlds, and through this lens we learn how we can empower ourselves by redesigning the lifeblood of the economy at the community level.

Post Growth Reading List

Here are two lists for the post-growth, steady state economy. The first list is for those of you who haven’t done much reading or are new to the topics. I would suggest reading them for an introduction into steady state concepts and then move on to the more in-depth list. The second list is what I consider (so far) to be the top books/articles – the “must haves” on your post growth reading list and is an expanded companion to the introduction list.

If you only read 5, 10, or 16 books/articles about sustainable economics and post-growth thought these are my suggestions:

Introduction to Post Growth, Steady State Economics

  1. Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, by Brian Czech
  2. Thought Control in Economics, Adbusters Issue #85
  3. Deep Economy, by Bill Mckibben
  4. Prosperity Without Growth, report by Prof. Tim Jackson at the SDC (now a book)
  5. The Great Transition, report by New Economics Foundation

Further Post Growth Reading

There you have it. There are many other books/articles/blogs out there and I would definitely recommend you read as much as you can on anything that interests you. My problem usually lies in having more books to read than I have time to devote to them. I’m sure there are worse up-hill battles to be in, though.