Reassessing growth key to sustainable future

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OPINION

If you walked into a primary school classroom nowadays, it wouldn’t be uncommon to find colourful posters displayed around the walls, challenging pupils to have a ‘Growth Mindset’.

The posters would say things like “Failure is an opportunity to grow”, “I made a mistake, what can I learn from that?” and “This isn’t working, what have I missed?”.

Essentially, for our pupils, a growth mindset is about developing the willingness to learn, to change, to be open to new ideas.

Unfortunately as a society we’ve adopted a very different type of growth mindset. Our whole economy depends on growth and discontentment.

As individuals, how often do we find ourselves obsessing over the growth of our bank accounts, our possessions, our investments, and our opportunities, choices and freedoms? Growth has become the irrational norm.

As environmental challenges mount, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this type of growth obsession and discontentment is leading us on a path of global catastrophe, but it’s only increasingly clear if we engage honestly with what we’re experiencing, with global news, and with the what the science community is telling us.

But there’s no denying – it is very easy to enjoy a sunny day in Central Otago and assume the earth is doing just fine. Yet the repeated and devastating storm events and droughts, rapidly rising extinction rates, collapse of the polar regions, and the radically warming ocean, to name just a few symptoms, scream of something dire going on.

It is increasingly accepted that green technology, renewable energies, and a zero carbon economy are essential elements of a positive future on earth.

But to rely solely on technological advancements and political processes would be naively optimistic. Communities like ours must undergo nothing less than transformations, beginning with our individual mindsets.

Do we honestly listen to the warning signs the earth is giving us and allow ourselves to say ‘This isn’t working, what have we missed?’

We might be wise to draw from the wisdom of the AA Twelve Steps programme and carry out “fearless and searching inventories” of ourselves and our cultural norms.

It is our planet that feeds us, that provides us the air we breath, the water we drink, and a beautiful home to enjoy alongside other species.

Yet science is showing that these fundamental building blocks of life on earth are being put at risk and can no longer be taken for granted. Without an awakening, we will continue to do more and more of what doesn’t work.

New Zealand NGO Actions Stations has proposed we need to “secure a clean, green future with jobs and career pathways for people currently working in polluting industries”.

Here lies the greatest challenge. Probably all of us either work in polluting industries, or rely on polluting industries – think food production, transport, and consumer goods.

The enormity and urgency of this change is unprecedented, the challenges unfathomable. Yet this also presents humanity, and our community, with a wonderful opportunity, an opportunity to be more connected, empathetic, generous, co-operative and holistically healthy.

It is a huge task ahead, but a collaborative and co-operative one. Whether we choose it or not, humanity is going to journey through some enormous changes, and none of us will be immune from the difficulties.

Neither, though, will we be excluded from the possibilities, if we choose to take part in an awakening and enter into an entirely new type of growth mindset.

– Alexandra primary school teacher Ollie Yeoman