visser_logo_small.gif (1783 bytes) II. The Reorientation of Today's Economies
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Chapter II, Section headings:

dot.gif (101 bytes) Reality has changed dot.gif (101 bytes) Implications of the new situation


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Reality has changed

Reflection on the state of the environment as experienced and reported today reveals two key changes in reality:

First, the world that was relatively empty has become one relatively full in terms of its capacity to absorb the consequences of human activity in the global economy as currently organized. Signs of this include: pollution of the air from the emission of carbon dioxide from motor cars and widespread burning of fossil fuels; huge (often increasing) population pressure on natural resources in various parts of the world; the exponential growth of mega-cities projected into the next century.

Second, the foundations of the earth as known and used for centuries, and once considered indestructible, are literally being destroyed. Signs of this include the hole in the ozone layer, continued soil erosion, acid rain, global warming, and threats to the existence of the rain forests and the diverse species they shelter.

These two fundamental shifts in reality limit the previous vision that societies can solve some basic economic problems, such as poverty and unemployment, by means of economic growth and expansion. They force recognition of a third basic reality: that the poverty endured by millions of people is itself in part a manifestation of the lack of sustainability due to misuse of the finite resources of the planet.

Implications of the new situation

A number of consequences flow from this new way of seeing the world and its economy. This new approach, often called a paradigm shift, implies a number of things:

  1. Recognition that culture has become embedded in the economy, and a conscious commitment to recapture a perspective on the economy as a sub-set of a larger whole are urgently required. Economic systems must be seen both as sub-systems of a wider planetary eco-system and in the context of an immense galaxy. Human arrogance is out of place. Awareness of the planet's vulnerability, consciousness of its fragility and, consequently, of humanity's place in the universe, is the great new fact of our time -- one that should induce a renewed sense of humility in facing the future.

  2. A new concept of "abundance" based not on growth but on sufficiency is required in the definition of the limits inherent in the new reality. It must recognize the value of elements such as love, caring, enjoyment of nature and of music, of meditation and of prayer in addition to material well-being. When Christ said he came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly, he was not speaking of economic growth.

  3. The lack of basic resources -- food, clean drinking water, shelter, energy -- from which millions of people suffer around the globe, such massive poverty must be seen as an integral part of the environmental problem.

  4. The rich industrialized countries in North America, Western Europe and parts of Asia (i.e., the "North") have a primary responsibility to take immediate steps to transform their economic systems so they are globally sustainable in the sense that their patterns of resource-use could be followed by the whole world without causing ecological catastrophe.

Transformation must begin with seeing the world in a new way, i.e., with the paradigm shift,  and studying the consequences that flow from this view. This is not easy. And what follows is even more difficult, as a whole set of ideas and questions need further pursuit. This agenda for debate and clarification draws on the considerable work already done by others. The issues below constitute a good starting point for people in the churches and elsewhere who wish to participate in the process of thinking through what needs to be done.

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