What is growth? And is it good?

As with most things, growth is relative: some of it is very good, and some of it is, well, very bad. Growing our talents, skills, abilities, and knowledge—these are examples of good growth. But our economy, rooted in consumerism, too often promotes the pursuit of nonessential, single-use, throwaway items. This kind of growth is a mathematical formula for disaster.

This kind of carbon-based, perpetual-growth economy is not only unsustainable, it’s impossible. They say that something is going to give—but it’s already giving. We can either wait until it’s too late and let the inevitable math dictate our behavior, or we can step up and adopt lifestyle changes that help us walk to the beat of a new and better drum.

Let’s start by examining some important assumptions:

  • We must—and will, by choice or by natural selection—reduce the human population
  • We want to live in a state of abundance and peace
  • We know that there are billions of people without enough food, and many lack shelter
  • We see that the resource-heavy US lifestyle is untenable for the world population
  • We benefit from leisure time and opportunities to gain knowledge
  • We believe that it’s healthful to devote time to personal growth

The Industrial Revolution changed everything—but not always in the best way. We owe it to the labor unions and other workers’ rights activists, who fought hard to protect the working class by eliminating child labor, limiting the workweek to 40 hours, creating the concept of a weekend, and increasing workplace safety.

After all their effort, why does it seem like we’re working harder than ever before? Why, with the marvels of automation, are our basic needs harder to meet? Why are fewer “haves” continuing to benefit from unimaginable wealth, while the growing population of “have-nots” is struggling to do more with even less?

The answer to all these questions: the carbon economy is unraveling.

Solutions

We must redefine what it means to be human, and that starts by redefining our needs. Do we really need to rush around buying a lot of things during the holidays? Do we really need to always have the latest gadget or device?

The truth is that we can make do with less stuff. We can share more, buy less, and buy used. With less stuff comes less expense, with a wonderful byproduct of having more leisure time.

We can also work less. What if, instead of a 40-hour workweek, we worked 30 hours a week, or even 21 hours a week? There could be more available work for the unemployed and underemployed. There could be more time for self, community, and family, and more space for personal exploration.

We’re not naive—working less can be challenging to put into action, given how expensive housing and basic necessities have become—and we’ll explore this further next month. Nevertheless, it’s possible with the right trade-offs: instead of valuing having a lot of things, we can value having a lot of low- or no-cost experiences.

Others have already set good examples that we can follow. We can be like most Europeans and take more vacation time each year. Imagine if the world’s population were to spend three months each year to live lightly on the land. Fewer resources would be used, and more art and music would be created. We would talk more, use less energy, and find time to better connect with our fellow humans and Mother Nature.

Imagine this slower-paced life, one in which we aspire to grow in healthful ways—and have the freedom to do so. Would you trade all that superfluous stuff for a life of leisure, personal growth, and knowing that you’re a part of the solution?

Being a part of the solution is as simple as taking time off regularly and using fewer things. This seems like a plan that most people would love to get behind.

So hurry up and relax!

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