Defining a Bright New Normal
Although Americans’ current lifestyle still seems like a good deal on the surface, it’s become crystal clear that the half-millennium-long Industrial Era, in which our culture grew, is running on empty.
The way we live has become very familiar; in some ways very cozy, but is it sustainable?
There’s not enough rich industrial ore, topsoil, or biological habitat left; not enough natural resilience to absorb our wastes; not enough climatic stability, psychological stamina, cheap energy, timber, or potable water for the same old hyper-consumption game to continue – especially as human population and expectations continue to swell.
It’s time for a different game, with different priorities. The overall goal in the new era will no longer be indiscriminate growth, but incremental, qualitative improvement — like a well-practiced concerto or a basketball team that keeps getting better (not bigger!).
If we get more value out of each electron and each cubic foot of soil; if we learn to meet our needs squarely for health, food, social connection, and shelter, we won’t need or want as much money – individually or collectively. Rather than enduring lives of debt, doubt, fear, and stress, we can create a lifestyle filled with the affluence of time and cultural abundance. But first we have to come out of denial, acknowledging that our excessive, wasteful way of life won’t and can’t continue.
Like participants in a 12-Step program, Americans need to confess that our way of life isn’t working. It’s not equitable, it leaves us feeling used up, and not least, it’s destroying the scaffold we are standing on. When we’ve admitted publicly that we have a major problem, we will begin to make the appropriate course corrections in policies, technologies, and everyday habits.
The big-picture choice is clear: we need to live within our means – biologically and geologically – or go bankrupt as a civilization.
David Wann is a writer, speaker, and filmmaker on the topic of sustainable design and sustainable lifestyles. His latest book is The New Normal: An Agenda for Responsible Living. To find out more, visit www.davewann.com