At a moment of ecological and financial crisis, bestselling author and economist Juliet B. Schor presents a revolutionary strategy for transitioning toward a richer, more balanced life.
She offers a groundbreaking intellectual statement about the economics and sociology of ecological decline, suggesting a radical change in how we think about consumer goods, value, and ways to live.
Juliet Schor’s book Plenitude: The Emerging New Economy was published in 2010*. And now Alternative Radio has issued a podcast of her making her case in front of a live audience. I highly recommend the 57 minute program, dated 1/3/13. You can subscribe to the free AlternativeRadio.org podcast series also at iTunes (and elsewhere).
Here’s a taste. Ecological decline is staring us in the face. With ever finite resources and an ever voracious appetite for them, the stress on this “pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan called Earth is simply too much. Something has to give. The business as usual model is a prescription for widespread misery and destruction. The U.S., with much of its population pursuing what is called the good life of endless consumption, is the biggest culprit, but some other countries are not that far behind. To begin with, the attitude toward nature must radically change. The pattern of plundering and extraction is a dead end. Humankind should be in partnership with nature not in an adversarial relationship. People are figuring this out. There are many initiatives to turn things around and create a new economy rooted in common sense and environmental sustainability.
Humans are degrading the planet far faster than they are regenerating it. As we travel along this shutdown path, food, energy, transport, and consumer goods are becoming increasingly expensive. The economic downturn that has accompanied the ecological crisis has led to another type of scarcity: incomes, jobs, and credit are also in short supply. Our usual way back through a debt-financed consumer boom is no longer an option our households, or planet, can afford.
Responding to our current moment, Plenitude puts sustainability at its core, but it is not a paradigm of sacrifice. Instead, it’s an argument that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure. And as Schor observes, Plenitude is already emerging. In pockets around the country and the world, people are busy creating lifestyles that offer a way out of the work and spend cycle. These pioneers’ lives are scarce in conventional consumer goods and rich in the newly abundant resources of time, information, creativity, and community. Urban farmers, do-it-yourself renovators, Craigslist users — all are spreading their risk and establishing novel sources of income and outlets for procuring consumer goods. Taken together, these trends represent a movement away from the conventional market and offer a way toward an efficient, rewarding life in an era of high prices and traditional resource scarcity.
Based on recent developments in economic theory, social analysis, and ecological design as well as evidence from the cutting-edge people and places putting these ideas into practice, Plenitude is a road map for the next two decades. In encouraging us to value our gifts — nature, community, intelligence, and time — Schor offers the opportunity to participate in creating a world of wealth and well-being.
I’ve admired Juliet Schor’s earlier books too — The Overspent American (1999) and The Overworked American (1993).
* Just to see if we’re paying attention, the hardback, audio CD, MP3 and Audible versions are called Plenitude. The Kindle and paperback editions (2011), however, are entitled True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy.
Photo Credit: Gary Gilbert