Saving the Planet by Ending Our Fixation with Economic Growth

Normal is Over 1.1: Solutions to Reverse Global Ecological Decline

Directed by Renee Scheltema (2019)

Film Review

What intrigued me most about this documentary, is that it validates claims the economic downturn preceded the WHO declaration of the COVID 19 pandemic in March 2020. I also like the way Scheltema expands on the present ecological crisis to include mass species extinction, the global economic crisis and increasing inequality, as well as catastrophic climate change.

The film uses the 1973 Club of Rome report Limits to Growth as her point of departure. The latter employed MIT mathematical modeling to predict that resource depletion would force global economic growth to end some time between 2000 and 2010. Just as they predicated it ended (everywhere but China) with the 2008 global financial crash. the latter unleashed an epidemic of unemployment, homelessness and poverty (especially among young people and minorities) from which the developed world never fully recovered.

Scheltema follows this introduction with a very elegant explanation by economist Charles Eisenstein linking the present growth imperative to our debt-based monetary system. At present nearly all our money is created by private banks as loans. Because we currently have no other way for money to come into existence, businesses and individuals must continually seek new products and services (including their own labor) to sell to repay ever increasing public and private debt levels. This frenzied drive to produce, in turn, drives ever heavier resource extraction.

The solution? Scheltema uses the bulk of the film to highlight the efforts of high profile sustainability champions:

  • Vandana Shiva – fighting to restore lower cost, less polluting natural organic farming through the Navdanya Institute she founded in India)
  • Beth Terry – founder of My Plastic Free Life)
  • Reverend Billy – founder of the Church of Stop Shopping
  • The “Lord of the Flies” – one of numerous scientists pioneering the use of fly larvae for organic waste treatment
  • African activists fighting to reverse desertification in the sub-Sahara through tree planting
  • Michael Baumgart, co-founder of the Cradle to Cradle upcycling movement
  • Kate Raeworth -British economist campaigning for a new distributive and regenerative economy *
  • Lester Brown – US environmental analyst who calls for 80% reduction in CO2 by 2030
  • Bernard Lietaer – Complementary (local) currency champion

*Raeworth refers to her new economic model as the Donut Economy. See Kate Raworth: A New Economic Model Based on Planetary Boundaries Rather than Continual Growth

Public library members can view the film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

How the Amish Preserve Community by Resisting Technology

The Amish: A People of Preservation

Directed by John L Ruth (2000)

Film Review

 Like social justice activists everywhere, many of us us openly mourn the destruction of community and increased social isolation under advanced industrial capitalism. As Charles Eisenstein describes in Sacred Economics,* many of us have become conditioned to rely on technology, rather than each other, to meet basic survival needs. The problem is clearly aggravated by the growing up take of social media (especially among young people) in preference to face-to-face contact.

Industrialized society has recognized too late that human beings have a powerful biological need for social interaction and interdependence. Watching this documentary, I was intrigued to learn that North American Amish communities are wary of technology, not because it’s sinful, but because they recognize its disruptive potential for their communities.

Skyrocketing land prices have forced many Amish communities to employ mechanization (combines, harvesters, milking machines, etc) to maintain the economic viability of their family farms. However most are careful to ensure that new technology doesn’t alter the collective character of farm work or preclude the continuing engagement of older family members. For example, using technology to process harvests is permissible, but not to propel farm vehicles. For this horses must be used.

Likewise nearly all Amish use pay phones for business reasons, but land lines and cellphones aren’t allowed within the home (they disrupt family life). Also the Amish are allowed to accept rides in neighbors’ cars – they’re just forbidden to own vehicles themselves.

Here the filmmakers agree with Eisenstein – collective work has always been one of the most enjoyable ways for human beings to interact. Engaging in collective farm work, such as harvesting, is a form of recreation for the Amish. Likewise when 30 or more men gather to build a house or barn, the Amish refer to it as a “frolic.”

According to the film, in 2000 there were approximately 200,000 Amish in North America in two dozen states and Ontario. Their religion originated from a Swiss Anabaptist sect formed in 1670 that subsequently split into Amish and Mennonites (who tend to be less conservative). Due to religious persecution, both groups migrated to Pennsylvania and Ohio in the 18th and 19th century. Amish parents raise their children to speak English and a Swiss dialect of German (commonly known as Pennsylvania Dutch).


*See Sacred Economics: Life After Capitalism

Anyone with a public library card can view this documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

 

How Private Banks Create Money

dollars

Money and Life

Katie Teague (2013)

Film Review

I highly recommend this film for its clear explanation of the mechanism by which private banks (not government) create money out of thin air by initiating loans. Because the bank doesn’t create the compound interest they charge on new money, the borrower must find it elsewhere in the economy – when other new debt is created. The only way to sustain this exponential growth in public and private debt is through a frantic obsession with economic growth – leading to rapid depletion of all the earth’s natural resources, while simultaneously poisoning our air, water, and food with toxic waste.

The film features interviews with world famous antiglobalization and sustainability activists, including Vendana Shiva, David Korten, Ellen Brown, Charles Eisenstein, Bernard Lietaer and Vicki Robin.

For me, a highpoint of the film was the discussion of the role of artificially created consumer demand in this frantic drive to “liquidate” the earth’s resources. I also really enjoyed the section on the psychological factors driving billionaires to constantly acquire more money – and the replacement of “trickle down” with “suction up” economics.

A Cancer on the National Economy

My favorite part, however, was the section describing American’s finance sector as a “cancer” on the nation’s economy. As investment banking has morphed into casino capitalism, only 5% of Wall Street transactions relate to the production of real goods and services. This is in contrast to a healthy economy, where the finance sector functions like a utility and consumes only 10% of a nation’s wealth.

The trillions of dollars investment banks like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Bank of America speculate on derivatives is little different from betting on horses or roulette. The only difference, according to one economist, is that Las Vegas won’t let you gamble with money you don’t have. With some derivatives purchases, traders commit their banks to positions that are 30-40 times greater than their entire holdings.

Solutions Disappointing

The solutions offered by the filmmakers were a little disappointing. The need to end the role of private banks in money creation, by handing this role over to federal and state banks, is a no-brainer. The film calls for viewers to join grassroots groups (such as the US and UK Green Party) organizing to demand this type of reform.

The suggestion for people to opt out of the corporate money system by joining local groups using barter and local currencies is another extremely practical suggestion.

The third suggestion is to find concrete ways to value relationships more than money. Examples include socially responsible investing and extreme charitable giving (in the example, one family gives away 60% of their income). While the life histories of these individuals is extremely inspiring, I suspect they’re unlikely to resonate with the vast majority of Americans. They’re too busy working three jobs to put food on the table – or borrowing on their credit cards to buy shoes for their kids.

Enjoy

photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ via photopin cc