The University of Arizona

Entering the era of limits and scarcity: the radical implications for social theory

Ted Trainer


The article argues that contemporary social theory has not recognized the significance of Limits to Growth. A global overshoot in resource consumption suggests we are at a dramatic turning point in human history, the end of the era of constant 'wealth' expansion and the beginning of an era of severe limits and scarcity. This has profound implications for critical social thought, and for addressing current social problems. Recognizing limits will influence the form that a sustainable and just society must take, and transitions to it. Radical and large scale 'de-growth' involves localized, cooperative, frugal, self-sufficient and self-governing lifestyles, settlements and systems. Key elements in the required 'Simpler Way' are discussed as workable and attractive. More importantly, the article argues that these transitions are non-negotiable; no alternative can resolve the predicament of limits. There are important implications for transition theory and practice. Social theory will pursue new directions in this context, with greater convergence around support for an Anarchist perspective on social goals and means.

Keywords: Limits to growth, social theory, transition, alternatives, The Simpler Way

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