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Challenging the "Religion" of Economic Growth

January 19, 2012

For those of us concerned about poverty, environmental degradation, and climate change, the idea that economic growth underlies these problems will probably not come as a surprise. Growth--higher production of consumer goods, stepped-up extraction of resources, more and bigger houses, freeways and shopping malls--has been accepted almost unconditionally as the best way to run governments and assure prosperity. It is seen as the most potent answer to lifting people out of poverty and assuring full employment. Go out and shop more, we are told. Few people dare to publicly challenge the American religion of growth, and those who do should be read, supported, and discussed.

Or in the case of one new documentary, watched. Iím referring to Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth (remember Ghostbusters?), in which Dave Gardner, a courageous citizen of Colorado Springs, Colorado, becomes sufficiently fed up with the development, congestion, and depletion of resources he sees around him to run for his city council. The film follows his campaign, interspersed with headlines and newsclips from around the world praising growth, and shows the destructive effects of such growth. Gardner keeps it from becoming too heavy with a generous dose of humor; for example, he calls the Pope to offer him Endangered Species condoms.

Growthbusters is effective because it not only provides viewers with the reasons to oppose growth, but shows an average guy stepping forward and challenging his city officials. He comments that his campaign for city council often took him outside his comfort zone, but he did it anyway. I was glad to see a long segment on overpopulation, a subject often considered too controversial to address. I hadnít realized how many countries are actually encouraging couples, by giving tax breaks and bonuses, to have more children--this is madness! A segment on the Transition movement was included, but I would have liked to see more on what a steady-state economy might look like, as well as something on the environmental effects of diet, specifically showing the benefits of plant-based diets. However, the film is still powerful; its message is critically important to share with as many people as possible. Keith and I hosted a screening last night, and attendees were favorably impressed. Hereís how to schedule a screening in your area.