By Gary Berg-Cross
I got an email recently about a MeetuP to talk about What are the challenges we face before 2100, and what can we do about them? It’s a good question and they asked for ideas. Just looking at the related Meetups provided a few obvious items like environment and energy. With gas prices high one thinks of Peak Oil (Fossil fuel and mineral resources rapidly depleting ) along with pollution (Topsoil is disappearing and with it the land’s ability to produce nutritious food). To these we might add interlocking challenges like:
- Personal & institutional debt ( from man-made capital) which has spiraled out of control
- Divisions between the rich and the poor are wider than ever before
- Fresh water supplies are drying up (natural capital)
- Clean air, untainted by pollution, in urban centers is becoming a distant memory
- Fish stocks in our oceans are critically low
- The population, increasingly poor, has increased beyond the point where the planet’s resources can support it
- With stress and pollution and expensive health care rates of illness– both physical and mental – are rising
- Values of many people in the developed are less humanistic and more consumeristic
- Political systems are locking up.
"How do we achieve greater global growth?"
But not everyone agrees with this 1% consensus. Recently a few economists have advanced a no growth view. They argue that we have lived in a growth economy for a while, with an underlying assumption that growth makes us richer. But now we see that only 1-5% have gotten richer and now the has slowed with loss for most and bonuses for the people who seem somewhat responsible. If the global economy stops growing as predicted by a Limits to Growth idea (GDP growth is impossible to sustain over the long run anyway because we live on a planet with limited natural resources), will everything fall apart unless we change the structural relations and value sustainability? Herman Daly (Professor Emeritus, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland who also worked at the World Bank, says that we can and need to. But this requires that we change our values. He falls on a general notion beyond what he calls chance and natural selection, which I could see in a Humanist tradition.
Other economists like France’s Serge Latouche have argued that growth is not always (usually??) good for the environment including the deep health of communities who need more sharing of resources (urban farms, green open spaces, communal housing). The commons is a new way to express a very old idea – that some forms of wealth belong to all of us, and that these community resources must be actively protected and managed for the greater good. A more commons-based society would shift values and policies away from a narrowly focused on private wealth achieved via the market-based system that has dominates modern society since WWII and has more recently morphed into what seems like a mixture of speculation, crony capitalism and crony government.This introduces another factor - the political environment which along with climate change skepticism and free market ideology makes progress on things like climate change legislation and financial reform unlikelyIndeed each of these makes it difficult to attack a range of social problems like population and immigration challenges.