Vision Statement for the Simpler Way Project
We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming more resources. According to the ecological footprint analysis, we would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing global economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.
At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming. The humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is likely to increase the burden on an already overburdened ecosystem.
Meanwhile, the global population is set to hit 11 billion this century.
Despite all this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit.
Consumer lifestyles are widely celebrated as the peak of civilisation, but consumerism clearly has a time limit and that time limit is fast running out.
Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth and consumerism in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.
The very lifestyles that were once considered the definition of success are now proving to be our greatest failure. Attempting to universalise affluence would be catastrophic. There is absolutely no way that today’s 7.2 billion people could live the Western way of life, let alone the 11 billion expected in the future.
As the world tries unsuccessfully to ‘green’ capitalism, we see the face of Gaia vanishing.
Genuine progress now lies beyond growth and consumerism. Tinkering around the edges of capitalism will not cut it. Technology cannot save us.
We need an alternative – a ‘simpler way’.
Enough, for Everyone, Forever
When one first hears calls for a simpler way, it is easy to think that this new vision must be about hardship and deprivation; that it means going back to the Stone Age, resigning ourselves to a stagnant culture, or being anti-progress. Not so.
Voluntary simplicity liberates us from the burden of pursuing material excess. We simply don’t need so much stuff – certainly not if it comes at the cost of planetary health, social justice, and personal well-being.
Consumerism is a gross failure of imagination, a debilitating addiction that degrades nature and doesn’t even satisfy the universal human craving for meaning.
By contrast, voluntary simplicity refers to a way of life based on very modest material and energy needs but which is nevertheless rich in other dimensions – a life of frugal abundance. It is about creating an economy based on sufficiency, knowing how much is enough to live well, and discovering that enough is plenty.
The lifestyle implications of one planet living are far more radical than the ‘light green’ forms of sustainable consumption that are widely discussed today. Turning off the lights, taking shorter showers, and recycling are all necessary parts of what sustainability will require of us, but these measures are far from enough.
But this does not mean we must live a life of painful sacrifice. Most of our basic needs can be met in quite simple and low-impact ways, while maintaining a high quality of life.
Only by striving for and achieving material sufficiency can there ever be ‘enough, for everyone, forever.’
The Simpler Way Project
It is all very well to theorise about what a just and sustainable world would look like, but nothing persuades more than a ‘real world’ example. As Theodore Roszak once wrote:
There is one way forward: The creation of flesh and blood examples of low-consumption, high-quality alternatives to the mainstream pattern of life. This we can see happening already on the counter cultural fringes. And nothing – no amount of argument or research – will take the place of such living proof. What people must see is that ecologically sane, socially responsible living is good living; that simplicity, thrift, and reciprocity make for an existence that is free…
This provides an apt summary of the motivation behind this Simpler Way Project: to demonstrate, as far as possible, a high-quality way of life that consumes a small fraction of the energy and resources demanded by the typical ‘Western’ lifestyle. Most ecological footprint analyses suggest that we need to reduce the impact of the US / Australian way of life by at least 80%. What would such a life look like?
The challenge is to go well beyond mainstream conceptions of sustainability in the hope of approaching, and perhaps attaining, something close to ‘one planet’ living. This won’t be easy, and it may not be possible, but it is a noble and necessary undertaking. (How exactly to evaluate the success or failure of this exploration of one planet living is a complex question we can discuss in due course.)
The world will never achieve sustainability if we don’t know what it looks like. You have been courageous enough to put your hands up to explore this question. Even if you do not succeed in answering it, which is a possibility, then we might still learn from the failures and obstacles.
One way to conceptualise the challenge is these terms: The Findhorn Ecovillage – one of the longest lasting and most successful intentional communities in the world – has a per capita ecological footprint more than 1.5 times what could be universalised. In other words, this means that if the whole world came to look like Findhorn, we’d still be using 1.5 planets worth of resources. It follows that true sustainability is more radical; that true sustainability must take on a deeper shade of green.
But after more than 50 years of the modern environmental movement, we still don’t know what this might look like.
I hope that you find the challenge of ‘one planet living’ enriching. I hope that it provides an opportunity for you to all flourish and develop in ways unimagined. But I also think that this project shouldn’t just be conceived of as something from which you can benefit. While acknowledging the risks of exaggeration, this project could be of civilisational importance, providing an opportunity to explore and document the defining challenge of our age: how to live well on a ‘fair share’ ecological footprint.
May this be a life-changing experience for us all. There will be trials and tribulations, no doubt, laughter and conflict. But I hope we can come away from the experience richer, wiser, and better able to understand the challenges of one planet living. Our lives have already been interwoven, so there is a sense in which I feel the project has already succeeded.
May the property be enriched as we enrich ourselves. Whatever happens in the future, one of the aims is for the property to form the basis of a ‘simpler way’ demonstration site, an education centre, an activist hub, and perhaps a more permanent intentional community (of which you may want to be a part). Your efforts over the year will be contributing to this larger vision.
May the documentary provoke a broad social conversation about the challenges and benefits of exploring one planet living. May it document your adventures and projects in the hope of ‘envisioning’ a deeper green shade of sustainability, and leave viewers inspired, challenged, empowered, and motivated to be changer-makers themselves. In this way, the Simpler Way Project is attempting to ‘transform’ the system and its culture of consumption, rather than merely ‘escape’ it.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead