Sustainable Thinking… Pass It On!

By Dave Gardner

Pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes, and multi-level marketing: all of these rely on the power of exponential growth. If I recruit ten people into a multi-level marketing organization, and each of those folks recruits ten who are each responsible for bringing in another ten recruits, in no time I have 1,000 people earning me commissions selling whatever the organization markets. Add one more level and it’s 10,000. The level after that will be 100,000. You can see why people get excited about that.

People and organizations that profit from a growing market have long been fans of the biggest pyramid scheme in history. The past century’s rapid increase in global population has been providing them with a growing pool of cheap labor (more job-seekers than jobs keeps wages low) and an ever-increasing supply of customers.

These growth profiteers have the power and money to vigorously defend the status quo in a number of ways: they print newspapers and run news networks, and those who don’t own mass media have the money to run ads in the media. Two recent examples:

1. Economy

More and more people are beginning to question the effectiveness of our current economic system. Even some well-respected advisors have been raising the possibility that the era of robust economic growth is over. To keep the natives from getting restless and insisting on moving on to a more sustainable and equitable system, the defenders of the status quo have started running commentaries from their in-house economists that tell us everything is okay; we are not at the end of growth. Just last month Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal ran an article titled The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out,  by Matt Ridley.

2. Fracking

Oil companies in the U.S. have pooled their money to occupy our media with advertisements extolling the virtues of extracting natural gas (jobs, economic growth, energy independence, cheap energy) to quash an uprising of resistance to drilling in our neighborhoods (and all the pollution that involves).

Those of us working to move our civilization in a sustainable direction, whether it’s weaning us from population and economic growth or from fossil fuels, don’t own major newspapers. We don’t have deep pockets to buy ads on major TV networks. But we do have the ability to put our own pyramid scheme to work. We can attract a growing number of people, disenchanted with the status quo, to explore sustainable thinking and living, through effective multi-level marketing of our own.

Our job is to take every brilliant pro-sustainability message that comes to us, and recommend it to our friends and colleagues. When I get this issue of SHIFT, I will post it to my facebook wall and tweet it to my followers. I do the same with Richard Heinberg’s Museletter.  You, no doubt, have your own favorite sources. I see good material all the time from Post Carbon Institute,  New Economics Foundation,  Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy,  and Transition Network.

When my GrowthBusters project puts out a new video, we can’t afford to buy airtime to run it on CNN. We count on our supporters around the world to be multi-level marketers and pass it on to their networks. If we create an inspired video and our pyramid scheme works, it can go viral. Annie Leonard didn’t have the resources to buy airtime or run ads alerting the public to her Story of Stuff video. People loved it enough to pass it on. It’s now been translated into 15 languages and seen by over 12 million people.

Of course it’s essential that we are all adjusting our own lifestyles and pushing policymakers in order to accomplish the “shift” we seek, but we also have phenomenal power to multiply our efforts. Don’t just read this magazine and use it for personal inspiration. Pass it on. Don’t just watch GrowthBusters or Story of Stuff. Pass it on. Don’t just read Daly, Jensen, Chomsky or Hopkins and learn from them. Pass them on!

You can see Dave’s latest potentially “viral” video, Spaceship Earth Passenger Safety Briefing, on YouTube.

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