Taking aim at the absurd idea at the root of modern civilization - the crazy idea that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet

The earth is full. It’s full of us. Full of our stuff. Full of our waste. Full of our demands. Our economy is now bigger than its host, our planet. What this means is our economy is unsustainable. When things aren’t sustainable, they stop. Economic growth, it will stop because of the end of cheap resources, it will stop because of the growing demand of us on all the systems of the earth. It is based a crazy idea. The crazy idea being that we’re going to have infinite growth on a finite planet. The earth doesn’t care what we need. Mother Nature doesn’t negotiation. She just sets rules and describes consequences. We tend to look at the world not as an integrated system that it is, but as a series of individual issues. We see the occupy protest. We see spiraling debt crises. We see growing inequality. We see money’s influence on politics.

But we seen, mistakenly each of these issues as individual problems to be solved. In fact, it’s the system in the painful process of breaking down. I could give you countless studies and evidence to prove this, but I won’t because if you want to see it, that evidence is all around you. The crisis is now inevitable. The issue is how will we react. Imagine our economy, when the carbon bubble bursts. When the financial markets recognize they don’t have any hope of preventing the climate spiraling out of control. The oil and coal industries are finished.

Imagine the Middle East without oil income, but with collapsing governments. Imagine China, India and Pakistan going to war, as climate impacts generate conflict over food and water. Imagine our highly tuned just in time food industry and our highly stressed agricultural system failing, and supermarket shelves emptying. Imagine 30% unemployment in America, as the global economy is gripped by fear and uncertainty. Imagine what it means for your personal security, as a heavily armed civilian population gets angrier and angrier about why this was allowed to happen.

How do you feel? When the lights go out on the global economy in your mind? When your assumptions about the future fade away, and something very different, emerges? Just take a moment, and take a breath, and think, what do you feel? When we think about the kind of possibilities I paint, we should feel a bit of fear. We are in danger, all of us. We’ve evolved to respond to danger with fear, to motivate a powerful response. We have achieved (music) remarkable things since working out how to grow food some 10,000 years ago. Those people that have faith that humans can solve any problem. That technology is limitless. That markets can be a force for good, are in fact right. The only thing they’re missing is that it takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear and we feel loss we are capable of quite extraordinary things.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it just took 4 days for the government to ban the production of civilian cars and to redirect the auto industry. From there, the rationing of food and energy. Think about how a company responds to a bankruptcy threat, and how change that seemed impossible, just gets done. Think about how an individual response to a diagnosis of a life threatening illness and how lifestyle changes that previously were just too difficult, suddenly become relatively easy. We can transform our economy. The only thing we need to change is how we think and how we feel. I know the free market fundamentalists will tell you that more growth, more stuff and 9 billion people going shopping is the best we can do. They’re wrong. We can be more. We can be much more.

We can choose this moment of crisis to ask and answer the big questions of society’s evolution. Like, what do we want to be when we grow up? When we move past this bumbling adolescence, where we think there are no limits and suffer delusions of immorality? Well, it’s time to grow up. To do wiser. To be calmer. To be more considered. Like generations before us, we’ll be growing up in war. Not a war between civilizations, but a war for civilization. This could be our finest hour.

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