A funny thing happened last week on the way to Best Buy. I was listening to NPR and an interview with Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff. If you know the book, then nothing more need be said but if you don’t, the sub-title is “How our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health – and a Vision for Change.” Annie, along with some enlightened economists, believe that our current model of capitalism is not sustainable. And there is increasing evidence to support that position. Regardless of your values and beliefs about what might or might not be “sustainable” consider this quote from Gus Speth in his book, The Bridge at the End of the World: “Inherent in the dynamics of capitalism is a powerful drive to earn profits, invest them, innovate, and thus grow the economy, typically at exponential rates….My conclusion, after much searching and considerable reluctance, is that most environmental deterioration is a result of systemic failures of the capitalism that we have today, and that long-term solutions must seek transformative change in the key features of this contemporary capitalism.”
So I walk into Best Buy in a state of conflict and resolve it by going ahead and purchasing a 40″ wide screen TV which we rationalized by saying it’s our Christmas present to each other. And ever since I continue to wonder about a lot of different things including the impact of so many new televisions, computers, phones, pads, pods and other electronic devices purportedly designed, manufactured and distributed in order to make our lives easier, better, happier, more fulfilled? We already had five other TV’s, three smaller ones in our house on wheels and two 23″ models in our permanent residence. Overkill, perhaps? At least we gave away one of the smaller ones! And these thoughts and musings took me back to an earlier piece I had revised last August called Economic Imperatives: http://leadsandserves.blogspot.com/2012/08/economic-imperatives_20.html. That brief essay reflects over 40 years and more about my personal experience and conflicts with materialism and over consumption, not necessarily consumerism since we’re all consumers, all the time.
I reached a point some years ago where I believed we are not asking the right question. Think about how much is invested in advertising which is designed mostly to make us think we need something better, bigger, newer or maybe even that we haven’t acquired yet. We already have too much stuff and it really is time to start some serious downsizing. My promise to myself, at least privately, and perhaps to others, will not be a mere resolution for a new year. I would rather make a life resolution to see what difference I can make personally and perhaps with others as well in terms of lessening our carbon footprint, of walking more lightly upon the earth, the only life source that we and future generations have. It is indeed a fragile planet and Annie Leonard quotes Joseph Guth, a lawyer, biochemist and legal director of the Science and Environmental Health Network: “Nothing is more important to human beings than an ecologically functioning, life sustaining biosphere on the Earth. It is the only habitable place we know of in a forbidding universe. We all depend on it to live and we are compelled to share it; it is our only home. The Earth’s biosphere seems almost magically suited to human beings and indeed it is, for we evolved through eons of intimate immersion within it. We cannot live long or well without a functioning biosphere, and so it is worth everything we have.”
The question is whether each of us is doing something that contributes or whether what we are doing is taking away from the earth and its resources on which we depend totally.
We have some land next door, 6 acres to be exact. It sits there waiting for what we will do there, perhaps in partnership with others and the place itself. A conversation this morning about aquaponics was encouraging, even exciting to contemplate. Maybe this would be the better Christmas gift, a commitment based on gratitude for what we already have and ignore the stuff in the stores and online. If we can help figure out a way to help people to feed themselves and others, wouldn’t that be a most wonderful gift. Yes, it may take a little “stuff” to make it happen but that sounds like stuff worth investing in for the future return on the investment – for people and for the planet itself.