Seven generations from now I can imagine two distinct realities.
In one, if people are still here on earth we are in a constant state of terror, plagued by inequality. The richest few have great luxuries like clean water and healthy food. Everyone else is in a desperate grab for arable land, drinking water and survival. Flash flooding, fires and living in waste are a norm. Despair is a norm.
But there is another vision.
In this vision we have harnessed the power of technology to create regenerative systems. These are systems with built in renewal, growth and restoration. People have their needs met while replenishing natural resources. People thrive within an economy that is no longer the “sustainable economy” or the “green economy” but the only economy. The conditions of ordinary life allow for a focus on lifelong education and growth. We remember the shortness of our time here on earth. Each person focuses on contributing the most to creating an ever more harmonious balance.
In one world you would walk out your door to meet neighbors you know and do work you love. You would see vertical gardens and hydroponically grown vegetables. In another it’s likely you would not have a door.
Where would you rather live?
Seven generations ago was the industrial revolution. How might we see ahead and plan with the clarity we wish those revolutionaries had? Now the stakes are higher. Now we might not exist as a species if we do not install the innovations we have created. But we live in a conflict between these limits to growth and the possibility of abundance that has come with technology. A conflict that, if unresolved, leads us down the darker path.
Limits to Growth
1972 saw the publication of the seminal work Limits to Growth. With it the idea began to penetrate society that perhaps these resources we had taken as endless, these massive woods and waters, glorious mountains and fields, were limited.
Limits to Growth began a long line of research and discovery of the impact our way of life was and is having. The few saying we faced limits met with huge resistance, almost ridicule. Over time though most people began to realize this truth. People began to see that the way we were extracting resources could not go on without end.
We started to make changes. We recycle. Eat less meat. Ride bikes more often.
Yet we still hear that we are doomed. Not just that we as individuals face death, but that our line of decedents face it too. And not just at some distant time. It is measurable doom. We can calculate it as 350 parts per million of an atmospheric compound that we neither see nor can touch. Is it surprising that this creates feelings of disempowerment? In the face of such an outcome, one so dramatic, on such a large scale and in a way abstract, it is hard to shift our actions. It is hard to be clear on what shifts really matter.
The Promise of Abundance
With the rise of technology there is another reality we have collectively experienced. We have collectively experienced the possibility of rapid change of our outward situation. Millionaires made, it seems, in minutes. The possibility of abundance without many of the traditional trappings like college degrees or decades of toil. The “in the garage” start-up.
The acceleration of technology has been exponential. Each new technology outpacing the last in its rate of adoption and scaling.
In 1991 Paul Zane Pilzer published Unlimited Wealth: The Theory and Practice of Economic Alchemy. In it he argues that because of this rapid advancement and acceleration of technology, we actually live in a world of unlimited physical resources. With the possibilities of technology, the pie will expand endlessly. We will constantly invent ourselves out of any limits. Many of our modern technological heros agree.
So we live with two narratives. One describes a fundamentally scarce reality. The other promises endless abundance. Living with both creates cognitive dissonance.
What if we reframe the situation as a single whole? From this view the outcome for our planet and for our decedents, the possibilities of technology and the realities of our current challenges, are all parts of a single body with a shared fate.
From this perspective we might ask:
What would it take to leverage the possibility of abundance as swiftly as possible against the alternative impending doom?
Here, everyone can contribute — because we need to shift the entire economy to a regenerative model.
An economy where every product manufactured is from cradle to cradle. One where every need we have — for infrastructure, energy, roads, homes, medical care — is rethought. We redesign each so that it returns to the earth and to us a greater capacity for growth then was there before.
This means transforming traditional businesses to a regenerative model. It means creating and growing businesses in the regenerative model. Both of these need a shift in the flow of capital. But businesses are only organized groups of people. To succeed, it means empowering every individual to thrive. It means there is a role for all to play and an action to take right now.
Whatever your field, whatever your interest, ask yourself — what is your source material? What kinds of resources are used and from where do they come? What kind of things does it create and where do they go?
What would each step look like if it was creating a new capacity for the growth of people and ecosystems? Turn that image into action.
Now you are on the path to the vision we all would choose for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren.