I talk so much about waste of resources here on this blog, but what's really important is not waste of resources but waste of life.
We'll waste a lot of life if we keep wasting so many planetary resources--climate change, oceans fished out, lakes dead from acid rain, children with asthma.
And there is waste of life that accompanies the waste of resources. Spending four work months a year paying for or driving alone in our cars strikes me as a waste of life and of resources. Spending time paying off credit card debt for Christmas presents instead of time with the kids strikes me as a waste of life and of resources.
But there is also the waste of life that comes from not having enough resources. Not having enough food or water is a waste of human life. Having to struggle to get by, without being able to pursue some of life's higher goals, is a waste of life.
Not having time or energy or health enough to sing is a waste of life.
So there is a balance to be struck, right? What is the balance that ensures we don't waste life through either overuse or underuse of resources?
Building another coal power station in the United States so we can crank up our ACs a little more or get 600 instead of 500 channels of TV is a waste of life through overuse of resources.
But strangely, not building the same coal power plant in a developing country where kids can't learn to read at night because of not having electric light is a waste of life through underuse of resources.
Because for all our talk of energy efficiency and renewable energy, don't we need to figure out what it is we're using all this energy for? When we're indulging and when we're helping?
As much as anything that will save us, I think, is the need to redefine the good life. It's not more stuff and endless energy. That's one thing.
But maybe even more importantly, if it's wasting life rather than wasting resources that we're worrying about, we need to figure out how to deliver that redefined good life to everyone.
Otherwise sustainability is nothing more than the luxuriant ideal of the elite.
I'm riffing. I'm at the beach in Greenport, NY at the beginning of my carless vacation and tomorrow I hand the draft of my book in.
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.