Posts Tagged 'economy'

Seeking A Diamond-Cut Life

I’m back after a break! Pulitzer prize winner Jared Diamond points out in the New York Times today that we in the U.S. are consuming 32 times more than the citizens of developing countries, and that that has to change because the earth’s resources are running out.

A little more surprisingly, he also says something I have been maintaining for years: our quality of life is not directly tied to our consumption. In other words, as research by Juliet Schor and others has shown, more stuff doesn’t make us happier. Much of the time, it’s just waste that doesn’t add value — although it hurts the planet.

All of us want to be happy. And probably we’d like to ‘do the right things’ in the process if we can. So, if you and I are average U.S. citizens, what’s the best route to consuming less? If happiness can be symbolized by a diamond that gets cut from surrounding rock, which things cut from our lives can best craft the diamond?

Here are my Top Five high-impact suggestions.

  1. Put ourselves on air-travel diets. Flying represents enormous fossil-fuel consumption. Buying carbon offsets for it, while not as good, at least brings us closer to paying the real cost of flying.
  2. Downsize our living space and make better use of what we’ve got. This doesn’t just apply to moving; we can shut off little-used rooms in winter and conserve heating fuel.
  3. Get a smaller vehicle or get rid of one vehicle altogether. Naturally this is only a viable option when public transit or carshare programs are available.
  4. Get a housemate (not necessarily a lover). Single-person households are a new fad in human history, and very resource-consumptive. This is also the best way for many single people to start saving for retirement.
  5. Put ourselves on car-mileage diets. Before grabbing the keys, think: How much is this trip really adding to our well-being?

I plan to write again on the diamond-cut life later this week. FYI, the best website I know of with good practical advice on consuming less is Wa$ted!.


Simplicity and its Implications

In the late 80’s I led a workshop on simple living at a conference on peace and social justice. This was at a Quaker church in my hometown of Whittier, California and two of my workshop attendees were an older couple with kind and careworn faces. As we all spoke of our experiences it became clear to me that this couple had been living lives of simplicity and conviction about three times longer than my own years on the planet. The woman said something that has stayed with me ever since: 

“I know full well that if everyone lived the way I do – never setting foot in a department store, for example – the entire economy would grind to a halt.” 

I believe with all my heart that we in the U.S. need to consume considerably less to live sustainably on this planet. I’m aware that I’m also talking about people’s jobs being at stake. Equally true is that millions of jobs have been permanently destroyed in recent decades precisely by the engines of economic growth, particularly downsizing and mergers. What we need is jobs —  no, make that work – that is sustainable and resilient in the face of the climate changes that are already well underway.

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