Monday, June 4, 2012

On The Limits to Growth

We are just back from our daughter's graduation, and as I was wandering through the pictures, posting them to Facebook (at her request; she's still on the road, driving her car back across the country with her father and an Australian friend) I found this one, taken across the pond at the beginning of our time together.

This building houses the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, an expensive and very green new addition to the college. I'm posting it here because one of the students I met over the course of the weekend complained that he was very unimpressed with the current president, who has been praised for getting this conference center built. As a result of her expansion efforts and this building in particular, apparently tuition (already high) has risen significantly.  "Why do we always have to keep growing?" he asked; "why can't we use our money to keep tuition down and maintain the buildings we already have?"

I don't know the actual story behind this, but it does make me think of a conversation I had this morning about the expectations we tend to have in this country around growth and attachment: (1) that there should always be more, and (2) that I should be able to keep what I already have.  The problem comes, I think, when one person or organization's need to grow impinges on another person or organization's need to grow -- or at least to keep what they have; in this case, the college's need to grow impinges on the ability of its students to continue to afford an education. 

There's probably some theorem about this, but it's easy to see that where those two things intersect is would generate a certain amount of greed and fear (greed for more, fear of losing what you have) and thus create difficulties.  We know this holds true at the international level (wars tend to ensue when one entity wants what another entity has).  But I'm thinking it creates difficulties at the personal level as well: if A, for example, wants to spend more time with B, then B must in turn give up some time previously spent on other stuff.  Unless there's a conscious negotiation about this, assumptions made could easily trigger some significant battles.

In the 1972 classic, The Limits to Growth, by Donella and Dennis Meadows et al., the authors explored the interaction between exponential growth and finite resources and concluded that without some significant changes we could predict economic and societal collapse by the mid- to late- 21st century.  Their work has been challenged by a number of critics as doomsday material, but it seems important to note that they did arrive at one possible scenario which could actually stabilize growth and NOT result in collapse.

Given that my husband and I have somehow managed to stay together for close to 30 years, I can't help but believe that stabilization is also possible in relationships. So I find myself feeling a little curious about the Meadows' stable scenario, and I'm wondering if and how it might translate into a more personal context.  Hmmm.

... just something  to wonder about on a cold and cloudy Monday...

1 comment:

Joyce Wycoff said...

One of my favorite hard-to-read books is George Land's "Grow or Die." Things, people, relationships have to grow ... that doesn't mean they have to get bigger, which, unfortunately is our most handy measuring device for growth.

I feel a post coming on ... ;-)