Steamboat Springs Correction: The time of the film screening was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. A potluck event is at 6 p.m., and the film screening will follow.
When David Gardner shows up Tuesday with his film about the ills of growth, there may be a few old locals nodding their heads and thinking back on the halcyon days of Steamboat when the town was smaller and people fewer.
But Gardner’s message in his documentary “Growthbusters: Hooked on Growth” isn’t about turning back the clock to the time when horses were free to enter saloons. He wants economies across the world to stop chasing what he calls the Holy Grail of economic growth.
“We need to be talking about economic health rather than economic growth,” Gardner said Friday by phone. “GDP is not a good measure of quality of life.”
Gardner’s crusade against growth began in his hometown of Colorado Springs and with his curiosity about why, in his mind, the town had so little to show for its 1990s boom.
“We give up quality of life, give up environmental quality, give up money in pursuit of this grow-or-die mentality. And yet the prosperity wasn’t materializing,” he said.
The film, which cuts between his experiences in Colorado Springs and a more macro view of growth, is Gardner’s way of starting a dialogue about what he sees as a serious addiction.
Gardner admits the wide scope of his film makes it somewhat of an overview for many topics he hopes to explore more thoroughly. One of these topics is water resources in the American West.
In Colorado, Gardner questions the state’s ability to maintain agriculture while diverting more water to growing population centers on the Front Range. The governor is courting businesses to come to Colorado but what he isn’t saying is what the costs of that growth are, Gardner said.
Gardner wants to “connect the cost with the behavior.”
He said there was once a time when growth was good — it brought infrastructure and resources to the West — but “we’ve reached the point now where growth has become uneconomic.”
“Cities can’t balance their budgets, partly because of growth subsidies but also because of all these growth related costs,” Gardner said, citing the costs of water resources, monitoring air quality and the construction of infrastructure.
He encourages towns and communities to level off and find a size that’s sustainable for them.
Gardner said if towns need to shrink, so be it. “Shrinking is the short-term pain. But that’s the reason not to be addicted to growth for one more minute. We’re going to shrink.”
It’s not news to Gardner that these are not easy ideas to sell — and he admits the audience for his film probably is self-selecting toward people already sympathetic to these views — but it’s all part of opening up a dialogue.
“It would be easier to make a film that says the pope is the antichrist than make a film that says growth is not the Holy Grail,” Gardner added.
A shortened version of the film will be screened at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library and follows a 6 p.m. potluck that is part of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council's Talking Green program series. Gardner will be in attendance.