Degrowth in the Americas: Understanding and Changing Our Worldview

May 15th, 2012 | By | Category: Consumption and Waste, Economics and GDP

By Suzanne York, May 15, 2012

A full agenda was on tap here at the first main day of the Degrowth in the Americas conference. Below is some of what was discussed at the morning session, which set the stage for this week-long event.

It kicked off with a showing of the film Journey of the Universe, a thought-provoking piece on how the universe and humans came to be, and how a new narrative can be created from our connection to the world. Produced by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, both with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and authors of numerous publications ranging from indigenous wisdom to religion to ecology, it fuses science and the humanities to define a new sense of meaning in our world. It is much more than simply a primer on how Earth came to exist; it provides an enhanced understanding that humans, nature and the universe are one.

A plenary panel after the film proved just as interesting. Tucker and Grim were joined by ecological economist William Rees. Also an ecologist, he is the originator and co-developer of the ecological footprint analysis, a much-used tool for measuring our carbon footprint on the planet. Rees talked about how our economic system is incompatible with the ways of the universe. Our whole way of life relies upon a steady input of energy and materials imported from outside to maintain ourselves, which unfortunately means the importation of more energy and materials than the ecosystem can produce. “Everything we produce in our economy requires destruction of nature,” Rees said.

Tucker and Grim hope that their film promotes a different narrative or map, and see it as an opportunity to rewrite our human story based on a new sense of economics and ecology, while incorporating traditional wisdom. A story is an invitation to change, Tucker said, and a chance to draw on cultural systems, human creativity, arts, spirituality, and more. And, she stressed, “We need to get the story right.”

Rees also touched upon what he views as two unique qualities to humans – that we have the capacity for higher intellect and the capacity for forward planning. “If we fail to use them, we will not have risen to the full challenge of what it means to be human.” What he was saying, essentially, was that humans should use what we know about the universe and the collapse of previous civilizations to head off disaster. What is really standing in our way, he said, is an enormous barrier put up by the 1%, who benefit from the status quo, to undermine the current narrative of what we really need to do.

Rees’ economics-based position contrasted with and complimented Tucker and Grim’s views. Both together point towards what is truly needed: a blending of science, spirituality, history, and ingenuity to overcome our pressing problems. We have the means and ability. We just need to find ways to express it so that the 99% of people who aren’t benefiting from environmental destruction and excessive wealth can better grasp what is at stake, and perhaps more importantly, understand where humans came from and where we can go.

Suzanne York is a Senior Writer with the Institute for Population Studies,

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