Written by Rob Dietz, Dan O’Neill
The numbers are telling us something:
- 7 billion people on earth, with 2.7 billion scraping by on less than $2 per day.
- 394 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, threatening to destabilize the global climate.
- $15 trillion of public debt in the United States, an unfathomable sum of money to be paid back by the next generation.
- 2 percent of adults owning more than half of all household wealth in the world.
- 400 ocean zones devoid of life, with the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico estimated to cover almost as much area as the U.S. state of New Jersey.
Hidden in these numbers are stories of real people and real places in real trouble. And perhaps the most important number of all is one—one single blue-green planet with finite resources that we all must share.
Our pursuit of never-ending economic growth has become dysfunctional. With each passing day, we are witnessing more and more uneconomic growth—growth that costs more than it is worth. An economy that chases perpetually increasing production and consumption, always in search of more, stands no chance of achieving a lasting prosperity. Most of us are overlooking the underlying cause of our problems: our economy has grown too large.
That’s a strong indictment against economic growth, but this indictment is backed up by scientific studies of environmental and social systems. The evidence shows that the pursuit of a bigger economy is undermining the life-support systems of the planet and failing to make us better off—a grave situation, to be sure.
This model of more is failing both environmentally and socially, yet practically everyone is still cheering it on . . . it almost makes you want to climb to the top of the highest building and shout, “Enough!”
Crying out in such a way expresses intense frustration at the seemingly intractable environmental and social problems we face, but it also carries the basic solution to these problems. By stopping at enough when it comes to production and consumption in the economy, instead of constantly chasing more, we can restore environmental health and achieve widespread well-being. That’s an incredibly hopeful message, but it opens up all sorts of questions. What would this economy look like? What new institutions would we need? How would we secure jobs?
Before diving into the science that clarifies why enough is preferable to more, it’s worth thinking about it from a common-sense perspective. More is certainly a good thing when you don’t have enough. For instance, if you can’t find enough to eat, then more food is better. But what about times when you do have enough? Eating more food leads to obesity. More, then, may be either helpful or harmful, depending on the situation, but enough is the amount that’s just right.
Once we put aside our obsession with growth, we can focus on the task of building a better economy: a steady-state economy. In order to generate ideas for moving past the culture of consumerism, we need to be starting a public dialogue about the downsides of growth and the upsides of a steady-state economy, and expanding cooperation among nations. All this discussion leads up to the presentation of an economic blueprint that summarizes the components and steps needed to build a steady-state economy.
This blueprint offers hope at a time when we need it most. It provides a viable way of responding to the profound environmental and social problems of our era. In a steady-state economy, we can:
- Limit the use of materials and energy to sustainable levels.
- Stabilize population through compassionate and non-coercive means.
- Achieve a fair distribution of income and wealth.
- Reform monetary and financial systems for stability.
- Change the way we measure progress.
- Secure meaningful jobs and full employment.
- Reconfigure the way businesses create value.
Taken together, the policies described in our form an agenda for transforming the economic goal from more to enough. But these policies will sit on the shelf unless we can gain extensive support for, and concerted action toward, achieving an economy of enough.
The time has come to figure out what we can do. We don’t have to play by the old rules anymore. We can meet our needs and care for the planet at the same time.
Let’s get to it. Enough is enough.
Based on the book Enough is Enough – Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, Copyright © 2013 by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. Reprinted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA.