Moving towards the “Sustainable Abundance” Scenario

Warwick Rowell, Wednesday 01 March 2000

Many large organisations, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars and the best part of the last forty years on “strategic planning”, are now embracing “scenario planning” as a better way of anticipating and creating the future. Bernard Lietaer recently published a book that used scenarios to describe the social and environmental futures we might face. Early in October, Max Lindegger talked with Busselton LETS members and ecovillage and other Dunsborough residents about how they could move towards the “Sustainable Abundance” scenario.

The fundamental premise underlying scenario planning is that we are now aware enough and smart enough to actually look into the implications of what we do today. That with a bit of time and some serious skull sweat, we can make some reasonably accurate statements about what sort of future those actions will bring. If we look carefully, we can see how our actions cause second and third order effects which in turn have wider consequences.

Many would agree with the conclusion of Pierre Wack, the senior executive of Royal Dutch/Shell, who developed scenario planning there; presenting facts to people does not work. You have to change the mental maps that provide their framework, their logic. “They have to feel the scenarios in their guts.”

Scenarios are a framework on which we can each fill in the detail, and then use the completed picture to guide our day to day actions. The five scenarios Bernard Lietaer developed are: “Sustainable Abundance”, “More of the same”, “Corporate Millenium”, “Careful Communities”, and “Hell on Earth”.

A thumbnail sketch of each is worth elaborating:

  • “More of the Same”: A continuation of middle of the road governments, focussing on economic rationalism, and the continuing of a consumerist, media driven, pattern.
  • “Corporate Millenium”: A swamping of national governments by corporatist manipulation of markets, resources and labour over the whole planet, where marketing and media overwhelm us with images and we are increasingly constrained in what we can consume and do, with tightening economics of higher priced goods and lower wages for many. An increasing and rapid conversion of community activity into profit making businesses; security alarms instead of people walking around.
  • “Careful Communities”: The rising wealth of very few and the loss of middle class and educational routes to wealth leads to walled communities protecting themselves from the desperate hoards of the alienated have-nots.
  • “Hell on Earth”: A total break-down of the environmental fabric, that leads to social breakdown, and a new dark ages, with hardly any international trade, and millions dying of new viral diseases and malnutrition or starvation. Huge climate fluctuations, a new ice age, and the elimination of many species are all probable.

“Sustainable Abundance” is a negation of the scenarios above; it is about lower consumerism, about a more equitable sharing of wealth, about protecting our environment. It is about the realisation that quality of life is derived from what we do rather than what we own or consume. It is about consumer control of corporatist pressure through careful purchasing decisions; not watching the advertising, nor buying the products. Style over-rides fashion.

Max Lindegger, the designer of Crystal Waters Permaculture Village in Queensland, and coordinator of the Global Ecovillage Network for Asia and Oceania, outlined how we can move towards this “Sustainable Abundance” scenario. He talked about events that are already happening, and how all it takes is for more of us to do more, for the optimistic future to unfold. His examples ranged across the world, from Europe, to Africa, to Asia, to Crystal Waters, as he described a number of trials and demonstrations of what is and might be achieved.

The broad action guidelines he identified were:

  1. Self-help is the key, with any external assistance being under the control of people identifying and acting to solve their own problems.
  2. Learning from others’ mistakes is important – it reduces waste and saves time.
  3. Sharing our abundance while enriching ourselves is possible.
  4. Don’t feel or allow others to make you feel guilty about the fact that there is more to do; be cheerful about the fact that you are in transition.
  5. Keep designing for reduced energy use in three interlocking areas; housing, transport, and food production. Eco-villages help to clearly identify methods that are equally applicable in cities and suburbia.
  6. Focus more on getting your groups to use methods they already know about, rather than developing new methods. We know what we need to do.
  7. Focus your efforts at the small, local and even personal scale; broad gauge approaches lead to patronising, sloganeering, and/or monolithic solutions inappropriately applied.
  8. Use every purchase as an exercise in increased awareness and as an expression of political power, because that is what each one is.
  9. Let politicians know what you want as well; to get voted in they must follow.
  10. Learn with others and from nature; make the connection between your own life and the earth around you more explicit every day; grow things, and help others grow things.

What can we do with this scenario planning? We could localise the scenarios, and describe their local meaning in great detail, so that people in our community can see and feel the relevance of the possible end results. Another crucial question to ask is “What would be the signs along the way that one or other scenario is developing?”. We could also localise the 10 action steps; at our own homes, in our own neighbourhoods, or wards, or even through the Shire. But the crucial question is “What can I do, in each area, and who do I need to work with to achieve something in this area?”. Then we can communicate about our decisions and what we are doing to others around us, so that we can share the learning and the results of what we achieve more widely. As well we can share the positive influences that come from focussing on something worthwhile and moving towards it.