Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Did you ever watch someone drinking a bottle of Fiji water and think how ridiculous it is have water shipped half way around the world? We live and work frantically for these types of privileges. It's time that we slowed down, worked less, consumed less and enjoyed our lives more.
Modern consumptions habits border on the insane while the earth is being pushed to its limits to sustain this tremendous amount of variety. As consumer oriented middle classes emerge in China and India, are we going to reach a tipping point? Most people see the amount we consume, and the amount we waste and intuitively realize something is wrong. But where to begin? How can we turn around a society that is addicted to buying?
The first and most important thing we must do as a culture is change our relationship to consumer goods. We must make an effort, almost a propaganda movement, against unnecessary consumption. We need to create a new core value for our planet, a new esthetic, based on simplicity and sustainability.
Since at the moment there is no real international governing body, our current national governments must work quickly and efficiently. For example, putting a very high tax on any disposable container would be an interesting place to start. All liquid containers, water, milk, beer, juices, wine etc. should be purchased in our own containers. Everyone would have set of containers at home, with a sterilization system, and those containers would be brought to markets and filled. Imagine how much we would save. By legislating prohibitive taxes on “throw away” containers, and banning plastic bags, we could make very quick advances and at the same time begin the make people conscious of the damage we are doing to our planet and the limited amount of resources we have for ourselves and future generations.
Another excellent place to apply this sort of tax would be on automobiles. A cylinder tax on anything over 4 cylinders, and eventually on anything that is not a hybrid. These types of actions can be taken very quickly and we would see very big benefits for the environment. Now that the Kindle seems to be taking off, there should be a 100% tax on paper versions of all newspapers and magazines, books and printer paper. All of this revenue can be allocated to R&D on new, clean sources of energy as well as cleaning up what has already been damaged.
New cities need to be built based on clean energy, public transportation and walking. The train station needs to once again become a key hub for cities, towns and villages. Model towns should be built, without roads for cars, only bikes and trains for travel. We must move away from the idea that a family of four needs two cars and house. Let’s move to a model where the ideal family of four lives in an apartment, has no car, and has consumption levels an eighth of what they are now.
The cultural aspect is probably the most difficult to change. How do we convince people that less consumption does not mean that we not progressing, on the contrary, less consumption should be considered more sophisticated. We must equate consumption with childish needs, and less consumption with people who are more intelligent and advanced. We need to make a cultural shift. We must equate longevity and durability with quality. We need to buy homes and furniture for several generations. The idea of going to IKEA and buying new furniture every five years must end. Locally produced food must become the norm.
It is time that we regain a rhythm of life, local vegetables and fruits in season. This is not a bad thing; it gives rhythm to life, a time for foods when they are ready, fresh and in season. Clothes that are made locally, and made to last a lifetime. Again, we need to promote this by taxing foods and beverages that are shipped long distances.
We need to make a fundamental shift in how we live and think. We need to live more slowly, more deliberately, and more humanly. It’s no coincidence that our consumer based society is also media obsessed and quite lonely. Lonely people, watching too much television, constantly bombarded with advertising, who, out of despair, eat and buy too much.
We can create cities and towns that focus on social events, live cultural events and sporting venues. We should focus our energy on creating the highest possible quality of life, not on the maximum consumption. Why do Americans work more and get paid less if they are more productive than ever? Americans work harder, produce more wealth, but are up to their necks in debt from so much consumption. It is time that all people, from all countries, realized that we must live for ourselves, to improve the quality of life for the vast majority of people. That means working less, commuting less, consuming less, and living more relaxed and enjoyable lives.
The positive side of the environmental and energy crisis that will soon be upon us is that we can begin to live more peaceful, less frantic lives. We need to go from a motorboat society to a sailboat society. Many surveys have shown that having bigger and better doesn’t make people happier. Once the novelty is over, people are just as happy with less as with more. Let us work less, and spend more time with our families and friends in cafes and bars and cultural events, playing sports, and less time frantically working.
If the cultural shift is made towards more leisure, and less consumption, people will accept it. But the first step towards this is political. A new global political philosophy must take root throughout the world and begin to change the way we live. There are a growing number of people who are thinking globally and avoiding patriotic fervor in favor of a peaceful, sustainable, inclusively prosperous world. The first step is to begin the world party, and that must happen soon.
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