Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Economic Armageddon - Or Re-Birth?

Many people must view my stated aim to "promote a Post-Carbon World, where we are learning to consume less, while enjoying life more" as akin to promoting economic Armageddon. For those who believe that humanity should forever expect to produce and consume more it must seem heretical to propose that we need to consider ways to enjoy life by consuming less. It can seem particularly galling to people who are becoming unemployed during this economic slowdown.

The history of my anti-consumerist slant goes back decades. I first started to shy away from the "buy-buy-buy" mentality of Christmas during the early seventies as I finished university. A self-described "hippie" at the time, I turned to making gifts rather than buying them. At the same time I started my still held practice of shopping at thrift stores such as the Salvation Army for clothes and other items whenever possible. I took on the "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" mantra long before it was embraced by the corporate world.

I expect I was viewed as eccentric by many of my friends and family, but, the concept worked for me. It wasn't until much later, just over the past few years, that I began to fully grasp the extent to which humanity's promotion of a collectively wasteful lifestyle of over consumption was destroying our planet. I realized that we were, quite literally, consuming ourselves. Much more than fouling our nest, we were eating it whole, and burning the refuse without a thought to cleaning up after ourselves. Ever increasing growth in world wide consumption levels of goods and energy was not a sustainable option. In the words of Kenneth Boulding: Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

I saw the world as being on a drunken binge of over consumption fueled by the promotion of greed. Fueled by the greed of those who already owned and consumed far in excess of their fair share and told us that we too could dream of unending riches. The ultimate Ponzi scheme. As the American economy lurched toward recession a couple of years ago, George W. Bush urged Americans to go shopping.

Like sheep being herded to slaughter, Americans took the advice of their President, borrowed against their homes, and went ever deeper into debt.

This never was a situation that we could simply shop our way out of. It was the encouragement of irresponsible spending and taking of debt that exacerbated an already shaky world economy. As Dan Gardner at the Ottawa Citizen recently pointed out, "this is going to hurt and hurt some more." We aren't in Kansas anymore, and closing our eyes, clicking our heels together and wishing we were elsewhere will not get us out of this mess.

For my part, for several years now, I have endeavoured to rein in my over consumptive ways and expectations, in preparation for what I saw as the ultimate crash. I felt that it would be a necessary life lesson to be "learning to consume less, while enjoying life more. " (I guess I wanted to be ahead of the curve on at least one thing.) Seriously, though, believing in ever increasing material riches and consumption simply seemed such an empty pursuit. I have sought to replace it with an appreciation of the more intangible yet just as real riches that I am surrounded by. These include family, friends, and, fortunately, good health. I live in a part of the planet that is peaceful, where citizens enjoy freedom of conscience. Of course, there is always room for improvement, but, when I look around the world, I am very grateful for where I happen to live.

Unfortunately, it appears that restructuring is being forced upon us. It is very painful for so many people to have their dreams of undulating wealth into retirement smashed on the rocks of this current economic shipwreck. People have seen retirement investments vanish, and those dreams of unending travel and leisure vanish with them. What to do?

It may seem ephemeral, and of little solace during these very difficult times, but, I urge everyone to consider the possibility that forever pursuing material consumption really is a trap. It traps us not only financially, but spiritually. Humans, apparently, are the only creatures on the planet to excessively consume beyond their need. We readily allow ourselves to be manipulated into having our whimsical desires transformed into wants and then into needs. We need to step back, and take a breath, and appreciate.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to all. In the words of my good friend Paul, received in email earlier today,

Hug everyone who will let you!

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