November 28, 2012

Small Is Still Beautiful

The phrase 'small is beautiful' was popularized by economist E.F. Schumacher with his 1973 book by the same name. The idea for the title of his book came from a phrase used by one of Schumacher's teachers, Leopold Kohr.

'Small is beautiful' was meant to challenge popular ideas like 'bigger is better' and 'growth is good', and to slow the relentless march toward increased complexity and waste. The philosophy promotes smaller, appropriate technological solutions that empower people more, and respect nature's laws.

Schumacher thought that our "aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." He could see in the 1970s already, that western economies and lifestyles were unsustainable.

Since Schumacher's influential book was published the world has become even bigger and more complex as a result of the push for constant growth. In spite of this, small is still beautiful. Small is the way to go, now more than ever. It is inevitable.

So get ready for a smaller, more efficient world - it is the only way out that we have.

Gail Tverberg, is a commentator on peak oil and is the author of the blog, Our Finite World. About a future smaller world she says:

"I think that the direction in years ahead will be toward reduced trade of all sorts. By definition, every country will become 'more independent,' including more 'energy independent'. Whether or not current lifestyles are supportable with lower trade is another question."

Small space living
Smaller amounts of trade means increased independence and an emphasis on self-reliance. In this and other ways, our world is about to get smaller. Current lifestyles won't last, and our expectations will need to shrink along with our support networks.

We have been led off on a tangent and are far from the ways of moderation. Schumacher knew how we could get back on the right path.

"Modern economics considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity," he says. "Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful."

Living simply with a reduced ecological footprint is the lifestyle that best matches the smaller world that we will be living in soon. It will be a world of tiny homes, staycations, home cooking, walking, biking, and public transportation. A smaller world of local economies and the building of things that people actually need over the wasteful production of frivolous luxuries.

We should not look at this transition to tiny as a bad thing full of painful sacrifice. Rather, we should embrace the return to a more human scale and pace of life that is better for us and everything around us.

The book Small Is Beautiful highlighted the benefits of adopting a saner, smaller approach, including some of the personal payoffs.

"The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity."

That sounds right to me, and much better than a life of endless toil and conspicuous consumption.

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