Last night I attended one of the joint meetings between Transition Town Berkhamsted and the transition group in the neighbouring town, Tring in Transition (they call themselves TinT rather than the other obvious acronym). The meeting concerned what is termed inner transition, which loosely speaking means discussing the softer side of what we do – the mind-sets we face when trying to raise people’s sights over the horizon, plus our own health and wellbeing.
At this particular gathering we watched a video by Joanna Macey about what she calls “the Great Turning”. She described how human society is currently going through a fundamental change, comparable to the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution. In her words, we are moving from the industrial growth model, to a life sustaining society.
She depicted the reliance of the current system on the resources we take from the planet (air, water, minerals, metals, fossil fuels) and on its ability to clean the waste at the end (be that liquid or gaseous pollution or the products at the end of their “life”). Perpetual growth is doomed to fail, to self-destruct, because it does not allow for those resources and capacity to absorb waste to be finite.
The future as she sees it is one where financial growth at all costs is a thing of the past, and we have instead reconnected with the natural cycle in some way.
She may be right. My question is this, though – can the free market and growth model really not cope with climate change and the inherent limits of the planet?
I see a couple of other potential futures. Could we instead move to a society where at its core we have connected the circle by re-using or recycling all of our waste and pollutants into the next set of products? The other future I see is where our society has so abruptly and completely collapsed that we have been forced to move back to the cycle of nature itself, and we have no choice but to wind the clock back a few tens of thousands of years to when we lived more simply.
In my eyes this is the single greatest challenge to the free market and perpetual growth models. Can it (can we) acknowledge and cope with dwindling resources and an increasingly crippled natural world? Or will it implode. And how much damage will be caused in the meantime, either way?
It may surprise you to hear that I believe it can. It would need some fundamental changes to the way we think and the processes we use, to incorporate the costs of our actions into the price we pay and therefore our financial decisions.
My concern, which hits me deep down in the gut as I write, is that if it can it will do so at such a great cost to the beauty of the natural world that generations to come will never be able to witness the wonders that we are privileged to be able to observe: the vast diversity of life on our planet.