You’ll find a bunch of different perspectives and voices on Dark Green Auckland. Each of us are, in our own way, exploring elements behind the phrase ‘living in an age of limits’. Some corners of the site contain confronting and discomforting reality-checks about the limits we face. Others stress these limits aren’t ‘problems’ we can fix; instead, that they’re here to stay and mark a new modern age.
For each of us, Dark Green Auckland gives space to pay attention to the things our minds pay attention to. For me, those things are - what does living look like in an age of limits, and how can we prepare ourselves for it?
The tamer and the tamed
We’ve spent much of human history trying to tame the world and each other in service of an unrelenting pursuit of more. We’re now at a point in our history where there are forces we cannot tame. Climate change is but one. We’re not in charge. Climate sets the rules of the game, and we either play by them or lose. We have no choice but to adapt to these forces which now, in effect, tame us.
This adaptation won’t involve just little tweaks here and there. We’re not going to recycle our way out of climate change. It’s also not going to be enough to overhaul or redirect our most powerful institutions. Even if the world’s governments and industries dedicated themselves to addressing the limits we face we can't continue living the way we do and still provide a viable, meaningful future for our kids.
In this grand taming of humanity, our fundamental, unrelenting pursuit of more must change.
Instead, in this grand taming of humanity our fundamental, unrelenting pursuit of more must change. That change won’t be an evolution - or even revolution - of technology, regulation or markets. It’s going to require a transformation of our shared human culture.
Eight billion everyday decisions
At a global level, we need to abandon the myth of perpetual growth. Other corners of Dark Green Auckland make the case more eloquently than I ever could that sustaining such growth in a finite planetary system is a fantasy.
But underpinning our desire for and engine of growth are the choices made by eight billion people each and every day to want just a little bit more. If we’re to rein in our addiction to growth then, individually, we also have to abandon the idea that we can consume as much as we want. Our culture of unrestrained consumption has pushed planetary limits to breaking point, and now the planet is pushing back - forcing limits on us.
What drives our individual and collective consumption? What drives yours? Mine? It’s comforting to point the finger at others - the designers and manufacturers who continue to offer us new and upgraded versions of what we already have, and the marketers who smother our screens and streets with ads tempting us to buy. But do any of them have a gun to our head? Of course not. We’re willing participants.
If at any point - perhaps even in the past 50 years - we’d collectively decided we had enough and would settle for having what we needed, we’d been in a very, very different state right now.
Willing, but barely conscious. We - and generations before us - have been driven by a seemingly insatiable desire to want more. Want. It’s the strong undertow tugging us to want more food, a faster phone, a bigger home, to travel more, to eat more, to own more. More than any other human trait, this Want - by billions of people - has led us on a centuries-long path towards unsustainability. If at any point - perhaps even in the past 50 years - we’d collectively decided we had enough and would settle for having what we needed, we’d been in a very, very different place right now.
Why we Want
Why do we Want? There’s human desire, of course - but that’s only part of the picture. Many human desires are tamed by social norms or regulated by laws. But not Want. Not only are we free to pursue it, in many ways it’s baked into our culture and social systems.
This culture has been shaped and moulded and defended and encouraged over hundreds of years by influential people who stood to benefit from us living it.
The shared consumerist culture most of us play a part in today feels like the default mode of human operation, a way of life we're destined to live. But the truth is that, while human desire may be at its core, this culture has been shaped and defended and encouraged over hundreds of years by people who stood to benefit from us living it. An edifice of carefully constructed laws, norms, prejudices, perceptions, and market forces protect, nurture, direct, and amplify our underlying Want.
If we are to shift from that consumerist culture, we need to peel off and examine its layers one by one to understand how it's made - in the process, unravelling the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into so we can start over with something different.
The Want Project
That is the starting point of this corner of Dark Green Auckland that I’m calling The Want Project. It’ll be a journey back in time, examining the layers of our consumerist culture to understand how we got here. Along the way we’ll meet a cast of characters who shaped our modern world. Philosophers, politicians, industrialists, organisers, labourers who did and said things over the past three hundred years that set the scene and wrote the rules by which we live our lives. All are long-dead. Some would be delighted with the world we inhabit today, some disgusted, some numb with acceptance of what they saw coming and failed to stop.
And the endpoint? Once the layers have been pulled back, how could that underlying Want be redirected to allow us to live in an age of limits? Not redirected to singular decisions like buying organic, vegetarian, free-range, or renewables; instead, an alternative cultural drive to replace our current operating mode.
The big secret is that, like Want, these alternatives already exist within us all. Many people already live their lives by them. Freed from the unrelenting pursuit of more, they’re living what might be considered far richer and more meaningful lives. It may be that living in an age of limits actually frees us from living limited lives.
It may be that living in an age of limits actually frees us from living limited lives.