Growthism. The belief that measurable productivity and growth are the purpose of human organization. If asked now whether you felt that your reason for existence as a species revolved around this principle, I imagine you would scoff, roll your eyes, feel angry even. Yet we currently co-habit a world in which the structures of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism exert a force over our everyday actions and thoughts, shaping our reality and the world as we know it.
Capitalism has only existed for the last 600 years or so, yet during that time its systematic appropriation, expansion, extraction, and violence has enabled it to become a norm. We cannot imagine a world without it. A destructively insatiable force, under capitalism the aim was never to generate a steady sustainable profit. Exchange value is thrown away to be replaced by a cycle of reinvesting profit to generate further profit. This profit in turn becomes the capital of investors and shareholders who go to greater lengths each time to ensure ever higher returns.
Capitalist growthism even stifles hope for a technological saving grace. In 2017 the World Bank released a report identifying how many resources it would take to supply half the global economy through solar and wind energy alone by 2050. We would be looking at 17 million metric tonnes of copper, 20 million tons of lead, 81 million tons of aluminium and 2.4 billion tons of iron. This only takes account for a portion of the new things that will need to be created, double it and you just about come close to understanding the level of extraction and ecological disaster our reliance on a clean energy growth economy will still bring.
Time for change
This growth-centred reality has become a norm for so many of us, yet there is so much capacity to deconstruct what has been constructed. For instance by simply shifting the collective mindset away from measuring ourselves against GDP, instead using indicators such as the Better Life Index or GPI, we come to realise that abandoning growthism does not have to mean abandoning human progress.
Principally the steps towards reversing growthism will need a more fundamental change in our legal, political, and economic policy, yet as consumers we can play a significant part.
Our role as consumers
The consumer is often scapegoated as being the predominant facilitator for the system as it exists. If only we would stop following trends or spending money on luxury items, then things would be better. Right? But in a world of planned obsolescence, where cutting edge companies can only provide products with an average lifespan of four years or less, and where our personal space is invaded by around 40 adverts a day we must question whether it really is the player or the game.
That being said, the impact one can make on a personal level cannot be overemphasised.
Principally we can all take steps to become aware of our own individual actions. See what you consume in your daily life and how much. By taking the time to calculate what you believe you need and don’t need to consume and acting on this you can make a huge impact on scaling down destructive industries.
Scale down on beef. Whilst it accounts for only 2% of the calories humans consume the industry produces 20% of annual emissions. Ask yourself if there is a more environmentally efficient way of doing something. Switch from mailing to emailing.
Shifts from ownership to usership mentality can not only have an impact on global consumption but strengthen community ties. Find neighbourhood fund and sharing projects near you. Save money, save time. Save resources, stop growthism.
The virus has revealed massive holes within the systems we have grown up with, but it has also showed how humans are able to adapt on a scale previously unimaginable. We find ourselves within a unique opportunity to really question our daily actions and take a stance on the future we want. Let’s use it.