Dave Gardner is a GrowthBuster. His mission is to warn us that our growth addiction is dangerous. Reckless growth is liquidating the Earth’s resources, stealing from future generations, and enslaving us.
Greed is good?
The unlimited growth idea “served us well through most of the 20th century, if you think that material growth is the goal of all life,” notes William Rees, professor and originator of the “ecological footprint” concept. “But it’s outdated and we now need a new cultural narrative.”
“We happen to have had growth and prosperity coincident for long enough that we’ve confused them,” according to Chris Martenson, creator of The Crash Course.
The economic growth mantra has hypnotized us into subsidizing overdevelopment and watching our quality of life dwindle, says Gardner. Non-stop growth demands that we work long hours to finance lifestyles promoted by advertising.
Gardner runs for a City Council seat in Colorado Springs. Forests, farmlands and prairies have been developed into sprawling new communities there. Taxes are rising. Public services have been cut.
“If the entire world consumed as much as the average American does, then we would need nine planets,” notes Raj Patel, a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy, and author of The Value of Nothing.
Happiness eludes us
Time for family, friends and fun is scarce. Stress is rampant. “For a long time, ‘more’ and ‘better’ were pretty much in the same direction, says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and author of Deep Economy and the End of Nature.
“Now, we no longer find ourselves growing happier as our economy grows, or even as our individual prosperity grows,” McKibben adds.
“There was a group of people who did very well with growth, but it’s an elite group,” says Juliet Schor, Boston College professor and author of Plenitude.
Creativity and celebration
Growth can mean leading a satisfying, creative life, Schor explains. Farmers’ markets, co-ops and local businesses are quietly thriving.
Rees believes that job sharing can raise our standard of living even as incomes decline. More jobs would be created. Gus Speth, former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, sees a post-growth world that emphasizes family, friends, community, volunteering and further education.
“It’s a movement to get back to what’s real,” the film proclaims. “It’s OK to be for a sustainable model, a model that values sufficiency and community and will provide good lives for our children and their children.”
How to bust growth
Martenson added solar panels to his home. His family tends animals and a backyard garden. They buy food from local farmers. “We’re surprised to find that not only is this new life that we’re leading possible, but it’s more enjoyable,” he comments.
Lisa Hymas, senior editor of Grist, shares her decision not to have a baby. “When women have political power, when they have good educations, when they have access to good health care, most women around the world will choose to have fewer children, and it’s their choice, you don’t need to coerce it.”
Grassroots movements like Transition US seek to build community resilience. Global challenges are “calling all of us to engage and make our communities work,” according to executive director Carolyne Stayton. “It’s not a left movement, or right movement, or any movement. It’s an all of us movement.”
The “spend more” trap
Energetic interviews and funny news clips lighten the serious theme. Jay Leno quips, “Spending our way out of the recession. Isn’t that like trying to drink your way out of alcoholism?”
Former U.S. Representative Bill McCloskey, a co-sponsor of the original Earth Day, says “I don’t know of any member of congress or senator who doesn’t resent the fact that he or she has to spend half of his time raising money.” Big donors are imperative.
Governments on board
World governments encourage population growth with tax incentives. “That’s what America is all about – going out there and getting rich,” says U.S. President Barack Obama. “It’s good for America when the consumer spends money,” says U.S. Senator John McCain.
The corporate-controlled media persuades us that “you have to keep running ever faster in place to get more and more junk to consume,” says Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University professor and author of The Population Bomb. Whenever there’s a glitch in the economy, politicians urge us to go out and spend.
“God of Growth”
Dick Smith, the founder of Australia’s Dick Smith Electronics, is repenting. “We haven’t realized that by putting the GDP up, that quite, quite often the quality of life is going down. We need a new measure, and that’s what we should be thinking about.”
Smith offers a $1 million prize to any Australian under 30 who can develop sustainable solutions. “It’s become obvious to me that my generation has over-exploited our wonderful world, and it’s younger people who will pay the price,” he announces.
Where’s the outrage?
“I have to wonder, where is the outrage?” asks Gardner. “With our current system on the rocks, it’s the perfect opportunity to try a new model.”
He doesn’t blame the wealthy, but wants to encourage responsibility. The costumed crusader plans a GrowthBusters sequel. (5 out of 5 stars)
GrowthBusters / 2011 / NR / 1 hour, 30 min
Cast Overview: Dave Gardner, Michael Swaim, Eben Fodor, Madeline Weld, Bill McKibben, Raj Patel, Carolyne Stayton, Juliet Schor, Dick Smith, Chris Martenson, Paul Ehrlich, Gus Speth, William Rees, Lisa Hymas, Mike Nickerson, Pete McCloskey, Al Bartlett
Director: Dave Gardner
Genres: Documentary, New Economics