Robin Page: Nature exposes the myth of endless growth

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I AM fed up with hearing those who rule us, influence us and lecture us use the words ‘growth’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘community’.

According to our politicians and economists the answer to all our problems is growth; growth apparently means more jobs, more money, more taxes and higher wages. The only problem is that even in good times everybody still apparently wants growth, when we in Britain already live at a level that is way beyond the aspirations of huge areas of the world.

Fortunately I am not a politician, or an economist, but as a countryman I can see that there are limits to growth. Trees do not grow for ever; if they did they would become unstable and topple over. Populations of birds and animals fluctuate; they rise and fall. If they become too numerous the community or colony becomes unsustainable; like a tall tree, it can collapse.

Surely it is the same with us. We can only call ourselves, our towns and our villages sustainable if they are producing the food, energy and employment for their populations locally. Anything else is unsustainable. A planner I was talking to recently said that if you remove the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘community’ from most planning documents and replace them with the word ‘rhubarb’, the actual meaning is not changed. In other words, even the planners know that the way in which ‘sustainable’ and ‘community’ are being used today is simply nonsense.

There is more nonsense. My sister-in-law recently gave me a very attractive woollen scarf. I like it. I wear it a lot. But then I looked at the label – ‘Made in China’. Why are we importing simple things that we should be making here? How is it now ‘sustainable’ to import scarves from China? Of course it is not ‘sustainable’. Pull the other one, it has a cliché on it.

My wife Lulu bought me a present last week after I dropped and smashed my hand-made teapot. She gave me a new teapot. It makes excellent tea. But I looked underneath and that too was imported from China. Why? Can’t we make teapots ourselves? On greenhouse gas production alone it was unsustainable; and what about British jobs?

Technology now gives us electronic contraptions to free people from work, but our politicians and economists still think in terms of employment and unemployment. Either you work full time or you haven’t got a job – why?

With technology’s huge advances why aren’t we thinking in terms of job sharing and less work? In an ideal world it seems to me that there would be large-scale enterprises creating large amounts of money for a social wage, which would allow job sharing. Of course the only problem with this wonderful idea is that all the great businesses that could and should have been creating this enabling wealth have been privatised and so that money is not available. Governments have sold Britain’s family silver and spent the money.

Several years ago there was an old boy in the village who talked at length about job sharing, social credit and freedom from work. After years of mulling over his philosophy and seeing the way of the world, I think he was right. I recently heard an affluent director of a tourism quango enthusing about the wonders of the proposed high speed railway. “It will create jobs,” he said. “What jobs will it create?” I asked. “Unfulfilling jobs like warehousing or washing up in a coffee house or jobs like the ones you’ve got?” The question left him speechless.

A few years ago I was asked to take part in a radio programme. I was rather offended; just because I was standing for Parliament as an independent they insulted me by calling me a politician. They asked me if I had a solution for creating long-term economic stability. I replied that we needed long-term economic and environmental stability. You cannot separate the two, and they can only be achieved by lowering our standard of living, being less greedy, work sharing and focusing on local communities. “But nobody would vote for that,” the interviewer said – and they didn’t. That’s the problem.

• Robin Page is the author of Messages from a Disappearing Countryside, published by Bird’s Farm Books priced £14.99.