What with Al Gore coming out with his $300 million plan to convince politicians to take climate change seriously, and people like the New York Times' Andrew Revkin writing about the big problem in solving global warming being the "technology gap," I've been feeling like my little lifestyle experiment No Impact Man and my message of reduced resource consumption is small fry and beside the point.
Maybe what we need to do is carpet the entire planet with solar panels--problem solved. Maybe ideas about finding ways that will both create a happier planet and happier people through win/win lifestyle and cultural changes that both conserve energy and improve quality of life are irrelevant. Maybe ideas like, for example, building public-transportation-connected villages designed to make people happy instead of lonely suburbs designed to let cars drive fast are just not on the agenda.
At the same time, I can't help thinking, that for all the talk of the "technology gap," why is it that we aren't adopting the sorts of cultural and societal changes that can help right now? Like more villages instead of more suburbs. Or a materials economy based on things that last instead of things designed to be thrown away.
Why is it that we aren't moving forward with weatherizing every building in all the cities? We aren't we investing in rapid transit busing? These things could improve our situation right now. RIGHT NOW. It doesn't make sense.
Perhaps it is because the powers that be don't want to accept that our emergency is dire enough to consider lifestyle change. Which is too bad, because it is within the cultural lifestyle changes that the climate crisis offers real opportunities for human improvement.
All of which is by way of saying why I appreciated what Adil Najam, a professor of public policy at Boston University and a lead author of the I.P.C.C. report on policy options, said on Andrew Revkin's blog today:
"My worry about the some of these arguments is that they are still looking only for technology fixes … These will be necessary, but not sufficient. Ultimately it WILL require lifestyle changes too. Not just WHAT we drive but how far we drive. Not just what appliances are in our house but WHERE our house is. That, I think, is an even bigger challenge than technology."
A few people have commented lately that they wish I would talk more about my day to day trying to live a lower impact lifestyle. That's a compliment in a way, I suppose. But this blog continues to be about my day to day experience, even if that's moved a little beyond figuring out how to not make garbage.
When I wrote about the Solar Electric Light Fund yesterday, it was because the No Impact project led me to believe that I have a responsibility to tithe some of my income. SELF is one of the organizations I gave money to.
But also, I've been turning to thinking and writing about some of the "big issues"--particularly the areas of our culture that make sustainable living difficult for so many people. The fact that, for example, some people simple couldn't live without driving 200 miles a week.
The human race is not going to accomplish what it needs to accomplish if it can't find a way for these people to drive less. And they can't do it alone. They'll need help. They'll need a lot of discussion of the "big ideas" until we all agree that it makes sense both for resource use reasons and happiness reasons to make changes.
I figure I can use this blog to teach people how to swim against the cultural current, or I can try to help change the cultural current and make it easier for everyone. My judgment is that the later is of better service, though the former is important, too (and indeed, in the future months, when my book is done and I can give the blog more attention, I plan to open forums for discussion of individual lifestyle changes and other issues).
But for now, all I have time to write about is what's on my mind and what I think is important. My hope is that some of my readers will join in and put their shoulders to changing the cultural current, too.
About lifestyle change, happiness and sustainability:
This morning my feet were cold and I was digging through the closet for my slippers and there was just more junk to dig through than our little apartment can hold. On top of the pile lay Isabella's scooter and trike which we bought second-hand for her on her recent birthday.
And I got to thinking. Why does every three-year-old need their own trike and scooter? Why can't we share? That reminded me that some places have toy libraries where parents can go to borrow toys for their kids and return them when their kids get bored of them.
Think of it. Less crap in your closets. A lot less money spent on toys that the kids get sick of. And a lot fewer of the earth's resources for stuff that is sitting in our closets for all but about an hour or two out of every 168 hours in a week.
And the thing about sharing is that it brings people together. You get more friends. Happier planet, in other words, happier people.
PS I'd love to hear of a toy library in Manhattan if anyone knows one.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.