Our society is obsessed by growth; it’s how we measure the success of organizations and of countries. And yet, it’s this very obsession that is accelerating our own demise. All around us, as we observe widespread evidence of ecological destruction, it’s easy to slip into a state of despair or denial. Neither of these are helpful.
We live on a planet that has the capacity to provide everything that we humans, and other species, require to live. However, our excessive consumption – not to mention the extraction of resources – has led to a situation where the world’s natural abundance can no longer be taken for granted. International research organization the Global Footprint Network estimates the point each year when these natural resources have been depleted. This year, their so-called Earth Overshoot Day is July 28. This is the day when we have ‘used’ all the resources that Earth regenerates for an entire year.
At the heart of the ecological crisis is the dominant myth of modernity – that endless growth, engineered by humans, is possible on a planet with finite resources. However, this is a short-term approach which looks to immediate benefits over long-term viability, feeding a societal perspective that frowns on decay. It promotes competition over collaboration, profits over people, and material success as the primary route to happiness. Behind the shiny face of consumerism lies a ticking time bomb.
Defining stories of our time
In their book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone refer to three defining stories of our time.
The first story, and the one that dominates mainstream society, is that of Business As Usual. In this scenario, economic growth is vital for prosperity and wellbeing, and humans see themselves as above all other living things: these exist primarily as resources. This is a consumerist utopia, where massive inequalities between the haves and have-nots is “unfortunate”, and the main goal of external success measured by wealth is achieved through competitive means. For some to succeed, others must fail.
The second story is The Great Unravelling, characterized by economic decline, a depletion of natural resources, global pandemics, hardships caused by climate change, the mass extinction of species, and an increase in social and political unrest.
The third story is The Great Turning, which involves a transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative one and the emergence of a life-sustaining society. According to the authors, there are three dimensions of The Great Turning that need to occur simultaneously if we want to achieve this: holding actions in defense of life on earth, life sustaining systems and practices through the development of new economic and social structures, and a shift in consciousness whereby we change our perception, thinking and values.