As I observe people around me, I’ve been noticing a trend –most everybody, in theory, wants to save the Earth. The problem, however, is that far too few people are willing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ensure a livable future. The appeal of constant financial progress, of fast food and perfectly temperature-controlled rooms is too great. The ease of processed foods, disposable diapers, and commuting by car to work is too alluring. The abundance of cheap clothes, out-of-season foods, electronics, and toxic beauty products is too pervasive to pass by. We have become perpetual children – looking to others to easily assuage our hunger, temperature, and state of mood. We expect governmental regulations or some technological breakthrough to fix global warming and the ecosystem issues we fear. We are unwilling to take the risk that moving toward a new way of living requires.
We fear that we will not have enough; we fear that we will miss out on our elusive definition of “success”; we worry that it will be hard, that we will be uncomfortable, and that we won’t know where to begin.
But as Derrick Jensen is known to explain, your grandchildren aren’t going to care if you recycled, if you thought a lot about the destruction of ecosystems, if you voted for a progressive candidate, if you bought “green” products. They’re going to care if they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care if the Earth is still a place that supports life.
People often cry out, “but what can I do?”
The answer is not in any single action. The answer is going to be everything.
The truth is that in the coming decades, we will need to redefine success, what constitutes a “normal” lifestyle, and how much we need. We will be re-evaluating the choices we make at every point throughout our day.
But this doesn’t have to be a scary or negative thing. Despite our attachment to continually accumulating more and more, a future of less stuff is actually much brighter. There are some interesting changes that come with a simpler lifestyle…
We’ll start to get healthier. As we consider the massive amounts of resources we consume and where they come from, we realize that many of them are directly contributing to the poor health of modern humans (mostly in the form of improper diet, inactivity, and exposure to toxins). We’ll begin walking and biking more as we use cars less. We’ll be eating fresher, seasonal foods that eliminate a dependency on fast food and processed items that are related to our abundance of chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. If we start buying and growing foods from reputable sources, we’ll be less likely to introduce dangerous GMO foods into our bodies along with the related pesticides. We’ll eliminate toxic cleaning and beauty products from our lives. In general, we will be exercising more, eating healthier, and reducing our exposure to substances that can harm our bodies. We’ll become healthier.
We’ll be happier. When we start growing our own food and getting outside more often, the benefits to our psychological health quickly become apparent. Breathing fresh air, having our hands in the dirt, and living seasonally bring a sense of fullness to life that is missing when we are confined to buildings and desks day after day. It also makes us happier because we feel more self-sufficient, we are spending less money, and we can alleviate some of the concern that we felt when we realized how our previous lifestyle was poisoning other people, animals, and the environment. Through this new lifestyle, we will also need to embrace community again (not just Facebook) and have support, or even just conversation, with those around us in ways that are often lacking in our current paradigm.
The solutions to the environmental and economic issues that we currently face begin with us, despite how tempting it may be to assume that others will solve these problems for us. We make choices every day that can either contribute to a new way of living in harmony with the Earth and other creatures, or that perpetuates the destructive path we’re on. This means waking up to realize that our consumer-driven, constantly growing, and perpetually needy lifestyles are inherently unsustainable and are also making us sick.
We must recognize our collective power to influence the Earth and to live as an example so that others see the benefits of transitioning to a more sustainable way of living. We must begin to grow food for our families again (or at least know who did!), to learn ways of preventative and traditional healthcare, to feel our feet upon the Earth, to stop buying products that are toxic to our bodies and our land, to know where our resources come from and that there can be no such thing as “waste” when we are through with them.
Perhaps most importantly, we must break our addiction to this notion that success is the constant accumulation of things, whether they are titles earned in a job, the number of items accumulated in a home, or the number of cars in a garage. Success must instead be about creating a future that is livable, enjoyable, equitable, and which fosters true prosperity for all beings.
This change toward a sustainable culture will take time, but it is entirely possible. Eventually, we will see it lead to greater health and happiness. We will be satisfied knowing that the activities of our days directly contribute to the health of our own bodies, our families, and the planet. We will enjoy the entertainment found in nature again – in her stars, sunsets, and breezes – and in community, simple pleasures, and meaningful work. We will remember the happiness that comes from freedom, fresh foods, and following our heart’s passions.
This change begins with all of us. We can succeed in creating a sustainable future.