Does growth always mean prosperity?
To people who have been paying attention to economic and environmental trends in the last decade or two, much of the basic information in the film Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth won’t come as a surprise.
We know our farmland, fisheries, timber supply, atmosphere and economy are all in decline. And we may see that driving all of these trends is the relentless expansion of human population, now over seven billion.
Who you gonna call?
What Growthbusters brings into high relief, however, is that there are layers of contradictory and self-defeating assumptions we all carry about the notion of growth.
Socially, culturally, and politically, our unexamined ideas about growth get in the way of coherent public discussion or policy. City councils tend to over encourage growth in order to increase their tax bases, only to be surprised by tomorrow’s traffic congestion, declining quality of life, and rising expenses for new schools or roads.
We think growth will create new jobs, and then we’re surprised when those jobs go mainly to newcomers to the community, with no net improvement in life or economy.
Growthbusters follows filmmaker Dave Gardner’s attempts to wake up his community of Colorado Springs to the dark side of the unexamined growth imperative. His dogged efforts lead him to campaign for a seat on the city council, which he chronicles in the film. Through his story, we encounter in microcosm most of the forces at work in our larger economy today, and many of the perverse consequences.
With a light shined on a more complete picture of the effects of growth we’re able to explore who profits from constant growth, and who’s hurt by it.
A chorus of the concerned
My favorite segments in the film are interviews with the modern-day prophets. Also included are comments of their critics at the time. These critiques are often smug, dismissive and dead wrong, and should serve us all as a reminder of the fallibility of any so-called expert opinions on hot-button topics.
The latter half of the film brings up the efforts of Charlottesville, Virginia, to control its growth and maintain quality of life. Although I found the film somewhat long at this point, it will doubtless be of special interest to viewers from that area and the neighboring Shenandoah Valley.
The subject of Growthbusters is critically important, and we ignore it at our peril.
Earth can’t support 7 billion people for long. If we don’t reduce our numbers voluntarily, it will happen involuntarily. The god of growth is indeed a false god, though our politicians don’t yet see it.
It’s unequivocally the most important issue of our time.
Of interest to readers may be some modern-day prophets profiled in Growthbusters:
Professor Al Bartlett, Colorado State: “When the jar was only 3% full, with all that room to expand, how many of you would realize there was a problem?”
Dennis Meadows, PhD. Widely known as co-author of the 1972 MIT/Club of Rome publication Limits to Growth (1972), and its 30-year updated version. The 1972 predictions, widely criticized at the time, have proven remarkably accurate.
Professor Herman Daly, University of Maryland. Former senior economist with the World Bank. He pioneered the concept of “uneconomic growth”, and has written widely on ecological economics and on steady-state economics.
Chris Martenson, PhD. , MBA. Chris has been both research scientist and a Fortune 300 corporate vice president. He’s the creator of The Crash Course, available as a free online lecture series, and in book form (2011). The Crash Course explores the mutual interdependence of the 3 E’s: Economy, Energy, and Environment.
–Doug Hendren, Transition Voice