The global paradox

Posted on August 21, 2011

The strange paradox of our times is that, although we do everything we possibly can for the purpose of being secure, comfortable and happy, it seems that we tend to reach the exact opposite of what we are looking for.

The figure on the right is an exponential curve – a curve representing a mode of growth which characterises almost everything in the new global world. It symbolises a phenomenon happening everywhere, in all areas of live and activity: an uncontrolled and extraordinary race forward toward what seems to be, from our current point of view, an impossibility.

Booming population, rising levels of consumption, of industrialisation, trade, innovation and urbanisation; explosion of knowledge, of technologies and communication means; pollution, global warming, resource depletion, ‘irreversible’ environmental damage, natural disasters, failures of leadership, inadequacy of obsolete educational systems, breakdown of values, increasing revenue gap between the rich and the poor, social unrest, fragmentation of families and communities, widespread human right abuse, life styles based on compulsive consumption, addictions, soaring levels of stress and psychosomatic diseases, all out competition and conflict looming at all levels of society, from nations to families up to the inner life of the individual, extremisms of all sorts and terrorism: all seem to be geared to follow the same trend of exponential, fast, unprecedented and obviously catastrophic growth. The list is endless and the figures are sticking.

Yet, as Marilyn Hempel executive director of Blue Planet United, a non-profit organization dedicated to integrated thinking, education and grassroots action on issues of environment, population, and sustainability, puts it, “We persist in our belief that more is better. Why? Is it because overconsumption is an addiction? An infection? A result of advertising? A byproduct of the profit and growth imperatives of capitalism? An indicator of weakened social bonds? Or is it because we’ve bought into the notion that consumption can fill all our needs? The basic human needs for material security and comfort are real and can be purchased. But beyond a certain point, consumption of more, better and different stuff tends to be substituted for the harder-won yet more enduring values.”

Consumerism has proved a very effective formula to produce more wealth than we have ever created at any other time in known history: enough to easily meet the needs of all. Shouldn’t we therefore be happier than we have ever been? Reality seems to tell a very different story.

A research conducted in the UK at the turn of the century showed that, although between 1950 and 2000, average earnings have multiplied 8 times, the number of people suffering from depression multiplied 4 times, family problems 20 times, street violence, 30 times and teenagers addiction 200 times.

Posted in: Environment, Trends