October 13, 2011
Concern is rising that the economy will never revert to a pattern resembling the past, but enter a New Reality. It’s trying to re-inflate, but only huffs and puffs financial bubbles instead. Looking at the world as physical systems rather than financial ones offers clues. Limits are pushing us toward a zero sum situation rather than limitless growth. The end point is recognizing that the economy is finite, as it would be on a spaceship.
Intellectually, a finite planet like Spaceship Earth is easy to understand. Emotionally, actually living on finite resources is hard to imagine. Winning is instinctively motivational even when contests are inane. Status systems presume prevailing over a harsh nature or rival people. Sharing and collaboration may be regarded as wimpish – or downright traitorous.
In addition, in transactional societies money is as pervasive as background radiation. Our financial formulas assume endless growth (ROI, compound interest). But these are rules that we live by daily, guiding companies, economies, and individuals. Learning how to live as inhabitants confined to Spaceship Earth would be a leap bigger than the Copernican Revolution. This emerging revolution will turn the rules for living upside down for daily living, unlike that of Copernicus, which mostly rattled the power elite.
Just imagining such a turn transports the mind into a different place. On any small spacecraft life is not only confined, it depends on the life support systems of the craft. If a craft cannot be re-supplied from earth, it is on its own to use radiation (as from the sun) to power its life support needs indefinitely. Today, anything like managing a complete eco-system for life support is far beyond us both technically and emotionally. If nothing else, this scenario opens caverns of ignorance big enough to swallow human egos.
Energy management would be central. Too little radiation, and every erg used to maximum effect might still not keep everyone alive. Too much, and everything on board would either fry or hopelessly mutate. The balance of everything, including population would have to be self-controlling. No super computer could handle it.
Since earth is a craft too large to see as a single picture except from space, this concept remains more abstract than concrete. But when it sinks in, it prompts deep fundamental questions, beginning with that philosophical punching bag: What’s the purpose of life? Then operational questions begin: What is work? Efficiency? Property? Money? Education? Public security? ….
Real earth seems only decades from an economy like Spaceship Earth. Infinite economic growth is impossible on a finite planet. The present system will yield to some New Reality. By either zoom or doom, it will simplify the tangled global problems resulting from addiction to consumption and growth. The question is what quality of life will prevail on your corner of Spaceship Earth afterward?
Problems may be global, affecting the entire Spaceship, but action to offset them is local. What the Compression Institute calls Compression Thinking is the mindset and techniques to become highly effective while consuming much less. High effectivity may take more entrepreneurial imagination than resource conservation. We think that the mission statement reflects what we aspire to do.
The Compression Institute creates and supports action learning groups to transform work organizations and communities using Compression Thinking.