Living in harmony with the Earth is a matter of simplicity
Fresno Bee, April 21, 2017
The recipe for living in harmony with the Earth is simple. We should reduce consumption and minimize our impact on the ecosystem. This is not easy to do in a culture of mass consumption.
We enjoy fast cars and air travel. We fill our large houses with manufactured goods. We have closets full of clothes, garages full of toys and an appetite for imported foods. We like comfort and pleasure.
Consumer culture is fun. Our economy is based upon the expectation of continued growth. New gadgets and gizmos create needs we didn’t know we had before. Marketing and promotion manufacture desires and leave us wanting more. It is hard to say no to consumption when everyone else is enjoying the goods of consumer society.
It is counter-cultural to talk about decreasing consumption. But simplicity has long been advocated by prophets and philosophers as a pathway to liberation. As an added bonus, a simple life is also good for the environment.
MARKETING AND PROMOTION MANUFACTURE DESIRES AND LEAVE US WANTING MORE.
IT IS HARD TO SAY NO TO CONSUMPTION
WHEN EVERYONE ELSE IS ENJOYING THE GOODS OF CONSUMER SOCIETY.
Thoreau and simplicity
In the American tradition, Henry David Thoreau is the great advocate of simplicity. Thoreau thought that enlightenment grew from simplification. He claimed that civilized people would “leave off eating animals.” He said, “water is the only drink for a wise man.” He thought that we often live like ants, our lives being “frittered away by details.” The solution is simplicity – a word that he repeated as a mantra in his book “Walden.”
It turns out that the vegetarian diet that Thoreau advocated is also environmentally friendly. Reduced meat consumption decreases the size of your carbon footprint. The same is true with regard to other exotic foods. Coffee, alcohol and imported foods have ecological costs.
Thoreau was not in favor of eating as a recreational activity. We eat more than we need to survive. Extravagant variety makes for delicious dining. But this is not healthy for us or for the planet. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are problems, as well as climate change.
The solution is to realize that what’s good for the body is also what’s good for the planet and for society. Simple foods – raw and local fruits and vegetables – are nutritious. Vegetarian cuisine can be delicious – and fun.
There is adventure in experimenting with the variety of meatless foods. Sharing with others can spice up our lives. Happy dining has less to do with what you eat than with who you eat it with.
Walking or biking
Another Earth-friendly step is to drive less. Driving is easier and often more convenient. But there is adventure in riding the bus, including an opportunity to have more intimate contact with people in your community.
A walk or bike ride is good for the heart and the mind. Walking and biking show you the the world from a different perspective and a different pace. Broaden your horizons by leaving your car at home.
We can also reduce our use of consumer goods. Big homes inspire us to fill them. Big-box stores encourage mass consumption. And big cars are perfectly constructed to carry all of that stuff back home.
A WALK OR BIKE RIDE IS GOOD FOR THE HEART AND THE MIND.
WALKING AND BIKING SHOW YOU THE THE WORLD FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE AND A DIFFERENT PACE. BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS BY LEAVING YOUR CAR AT HOME.
But there are activities other than shopping that can provide satisfaction. Have a picnic or visit a park. Join a sports league. Participate with a political group. Or visit a library. You’ll make new friends, learn new things and see the world in a different way. You will also save money.
Consumer capitalism provides pleasure. But it does not produce lasting happiness or a good life. Technological innovation makes some things easier. But there are diminishing returns. Cars are great. But traffic soon becomes a problem. Email is great, until we experience inbox overload. Easy access to delicious food is wonderful. But obesity and diabetes are dangerous. And so it goes.
Inner peace and spiritual growth cannot be generated by external means. This is the common teaching of the world’s philosophical and religious traditions. Simplicity was taught by ancient Greek philosophers, Asian sages and Christian ascetics.
Our consumer culture is not sustainable in the long run. There will be 8.5 billion people on Earth by 2030. We can’t all live as mass consumers. But we would be happier if we would reduce consumption. And the Earth would benefit if we would learn to find satisfaction in simple things.