The climate challenge and decision point for everyday citizens
Ecologists note that growth in commerce and the economy are primarily based on consumption, which is linear and limited because resources are finite. Growth in nature, however, is cyclical and unlimited because the decay of organisms produces materials that are recycled. Mulching is a prime example.
Less considered but equally contributing to the slowing and diminishing severity of the changing climate is a shift in thinking from quantity to quality. Ecologists promote “qualitative growth” rather than quantative growth because it enhances the quality of life. According to systems theorist and ecologist Fritjof Capra “In living organisms, ecosystems, and societies, qualitative growth includes an increase of complexity, sophistication, and maturity. Unlimited quantitative growth on a finite planet is clearly unsustainable, but qualitative economic growth can be sustained if it involves a dynamic balance between growth, decline, and recycling, and if it also includes the inner growth of learning and maturity.”
Psychologists trace motivations and desires to a variety of physical, mental and emotional causes. Whatever they may be, everyday living is filled with choice-points. Growing up in a consumption-oriented culture, decisions relating to what we need and want come easily because so many products and services are on the shelf. Available. But as the above image attests, “everything has a price tag.” Our hesitation is often just affordability and priority.
Consumption proliferates in the bloodstream of American culture. The unwritten, unspoken but clearly understood and pervasive message is clear: Having things and having exciting experiences will make you happy. There’s even a well-trodden path to success in life, the American dream. Get your toys, books, desk, telephone, computer, car, college degree, apartment, job, spouse, house, children, stock portfolio, pension and retire in luxury. It brings to mind comedian George Carlin’s sketch A Place For My Stuff.
… And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up; wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.
When peoples’ homes, properties and material goods have been destroyed in a fire, flood or tornado they report, “At least we have each other.” Homes can be rebuilt. Goods can be replaced. Happiness is not attained through acquiring, owning or consuming, not even collecting a variety of interesting or exciting experiences. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with these. It’s just good to be aware of what we’re considering at decision-points, so consumption is based on real needs and prioritized wants, ideally taking social consequences and the environment into consideration.
Historically, because the modus operandi in science is measurement, money became the best way to assign value. Then, when movies and television came along they showed us that having more was sexy, fun and glamorous. Images of people having less were shown to be miserable. It’s a fallacy, of course. The tragic lives of many attest to the fact that extravagant wealth and high status are no guarantee of happiness. And many people around the world are happy despite their lack of luxury items and meager living conditions.
Ecologists recommend a shift in thinking, making life-decisions less about quantity and more about quality across the board—in material goods, services, relationships. Such decisions enhance the quality of life and at the same time lessen the ecological footprint and optimize sustainability.
The perpetual growth myth promotes the impossible idea that indiscriminate economic growth is the cure for all the world’s problems, while it is actually the disease that is at the root of our unsustainable global practices.
Brundtland, G.H., Author, Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act
I found it curious and on the mark that Dr. Capra cited “inner growth of learning and maturity” as contributing to sustained qualitative economic growth. For instance, it took a lot of maturing for me to realize that, in many instances, buying cheap is a false economy. It’s more economical to pay more for a high quality product that will last, than an inexpensive one that will need to be replaced.
A popular consumer attitude is summed up in the bumpersticker slogan, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Linda had a student who died unexpectedly in his freshman year of college while studying architecture. His dream was to design a great building. In high school, he’d built a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. After hearing that he’d passed, she said to her class: “What you do today could be the most important thing you’ll ever do.” Relative to our topic, it matters less how much we get done or how much we have, far more important is how well we do what we do. And the joy it brings. In light of this, I’d revise the bumpersticker to say “He wins, who dies having fulfilled his purpose in life.”
Ecological healing requires our society to look beneath its consumptive symptoms and reorient toward qualitative development. To do so requires significant reprogramming, since our guiding narratives, from economic to scientific, embody quantitative thinking.
Charles Eisenstein, Author, Climate—A New Story
As the purpose of this blog is to express appreciation, I am grateful for the many companies that advises their customers to “consume responsibly.” I appreciate those in leadership positions who are finding ways to conserve and recycle their goods and packaging materials. And I acknowledge the many restaurants and employees who are giving customers the option of taking less or no plastic.
Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.