The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions

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A Future That Works for All

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Jim Merkel

This film reveals a little know secret:  That a future that works for all is not only possible but actually quite simple and democratic. But the journey to discovering this future requires we crack open three of the most personal and private decisions that any of us make:  How much will I consume, earn or take from the planet’s commons?  How many children will I have? And, How will I share with others? When one in seven struggle on less than $1 per day, clearly some take too much while others need more of what Earth provides.

The filmmakers will gingerly explore two of humanities sacred cows “be fruitful and multiply” and “he or she who dies with the most toys wins.” Together they lead the stampede to wreck the planet and underlie most environmental and social woes.  The viewers are treated to an insider’s glimpse of societies that exhibit sustainable practices, that is, have small families, small ecological footprints and healthy, educated people. 

In 2015 Pope Francis addressed these themes discussing “responsible parenting” and for a “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits” ending an “economy of exclusion” and tweeted “Inequality is the root of social evil.” At the same time Naomi Klein’s bestseller This Changes Everything corners capitalism for its war against life on earth and our climate.

Time is ripe for Jim Merkel to travel with Community Solution’s director Susan Jennings to Kerala, India, Cuba, and Eastern Europe, swinging by China and Vietnam, to glean insights into defusing the population bomb, ending poverty and taking the heat off our planet. In Budapest they will film the 5th International Degrowth Conference and travel to Slovenia to experience family policies that have led to the lowest at-risk-children and gender-pay-gap levels in Europe while having the highest female employment.

Filming their own backyards in the US, they’ll interview those who’ve chosen a low-impact lifestyle having tasted all that modernity has to offer.  Meet a young educated female organic farmer in Maine who left a life of too much to play fiddle and grow vegetables albeit low-income and rural. Next meet a car-free urbanite shopping at thrift stores and farmers markets. 

How do women feel and think about their fertility choices and family size?  What support did they have or wish they had as a young mother? We will learn about their education, views on contraception and family planning and how society adapted to smaller families. What material and spiritual aspirations do they have? What brings meaning and happiness to their lives? What challenges do they face?  Progress in the places we will visit accompanies challenges such as high unemployment, high suicide rates, embargoes, foreign hostilities and domestic lack of democracy.  

The stakes have never been higher for life on earth as-we-know-it. Critical planetary boundaries are being exceeded leading to climate disruption, the beginning of the 6th great extinction, the collapse of fisheries and the expansion of wars.  Most world leaders have no other plan but to grow the economy, stimulate consumer spending, and stimulate couples to have more children--the very things that drive this crisis.

Interviews with the Global Footprint Network highlight how, with seven billion people, up from one billion in 1804, humanity now utilized the planet’s entire annual natural capacity by August 13, 2015, World Overshoot Day.  Currently 1.5 planets are needed to meet humanity’s demands.  Demographers estimate the population will reach 11 billion by 2100 requiring 2.4 planets excluding the needs of the estimated 25 million other species. However, if families shifted toward single-child averages for 100 years, population would retract to between one and two billion.  This scenario with current ecological footprint levels, simply better distributed, 80 percent of the biosphere could again be available for other species – a plan with no losers.  Billions of people have adopted small families. This film’s hope is to provide encouragement for these changes to continue.

Worldwatch Institute estimates that $190 billion annually, just one third of the US military budget and one sixth of the world’s military budget, could tackle poverty and ease environmental destruction. This would provide universal healthcare, education, family planning, preschool assistance, school lunches and support to pregnant women in the 44 poorest countries, AND protect and restore topsoil, crop land, fisheries, fresh water, biodiversity and address climate change. Isn’t it ironic that the security sought by wealthy nations through military expenditures could actually be spent on securing a Future that Works For All?

This unlikely mid-course adjustment has been tested in several countries with impressive results and has a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop.  Most poor nations have lowered fertility levels, however, the extra-poor within those countries continue to have large families as a survival strategy related to grinding poverty. The film will show how the poorest win by exiting poverty and gaining education and access to contraception. This compassionate path to lowering global populations will spare massive suffering and ecological destruction while leaving family size as a personal choice.  Those with “too much” win by realizing that happiness is not linked to consumerism and that a Future That Works For All is an ethical and practical path forward -- that by taking less, a desirable common future is possible.