Opinionated Essay

(6) Since the industrial revolution, economic growth—continuously expanding production and consumption—has been an essential prerequisite of capitalist societies, necessary for economies to function, and hence, a sign of “health.” Yet never-ending growth on a finite planet seems suicidal. As the U.S. nature writer Edward Abbey put it, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” In fact, more and more people are beginning to advocate a movement towards “de-growth”—scaling back our civilization’s impact on nature, living more lightly on the earth, embracing “voluntary simplicity” as a lifestyle. Can we — will we — scale back out consumer lifestyles to prevent the collapse predicted by most earth scientists? How can people be convinced that “de-growth” is necessary?

a. How can we, as individuals and communities, continue to support such a destructive—and perhaps, suicidal—economic system? How can we support the values it promotes: selfishness, egotistic individualism, narcissism, greed, wastefulness, competitiveness? How can we support the corporations and people that profit from it?

b. As Richard Heinberg points out in his article on consumerism, National Happiness has been declining since the 1950s, when modern consumer lifestyles really began to take hold. Can we, as individuals and communities, return to an earlier, happier way of life?