Starting back in mid December I was bummed to discover that I am in a tribe with college educated and relatively competent folk for whom their consumption is more compelling than their compassion. I am referring to Laura Ingraham‘s elaboration on a comment by former Governor George Allen that the entire climate change conversation is a global conspiracy to lower the living standard, or ‘lifestyle’ of the United States.
Beyond the stunningly false dichotomy that underlies her statement, is the ignorance. While there are plenty of good arguments about what to do about climate, none of them actually demand that the United States lower its standard of living. Thanks to initiatives taken in some jurisdictions 35 years ago, we have multiple examples that show how to have a modern western excessive lifestyle without increasing energy use per capita. In fact in California, where the per capita energy use hasn’t gone up in 30 years, the economy was grown faster than in the rest of the United States, where per capita usage went up 50%. In Sweden, hardly a third world standard of living, energy usage has been lowered over that same period. Forty percent of the carbon emission reduction can be achieved, according to a McKinsey study published in 2007, would be net positive to the economy. The resistance is more than just Ms. Ingraham or the rest of us being attached to long showers and thick steaks. As for the concern that energy will be more expensive, nothing except an extended global recession will keep energy prices down.
The notion of changing our behaviors to use less, or live and drive more efficiently creates new challenges to living with one another. As reported in the NY Times today, therapists report that conflicts about differing priorities and responses among couples and families. Gender distinctions exist as well, as in women are more oriented to the home and personal behaviors, with men more focused on larger policy impacts. A Santa Barbara based family and marriage therapist said “Food is such an emotional issue,”
Today’s holiday is celebration of the person who most embodied social change in the last century. For all those who wish to see our society different than it is today, the principal lesson to be taken from Martin Luther King is to have a dream- especially a dream that resonates across human ideals for a better life for individuals as well as collectively. Certainly the dream that our skin color would be no more important than our eye color was not original or unique to King, but his personal journey of leadership was.
The dream not being articulated today within the issue of climate is that through living well we can enable millions of others to live better too. While there is a threat that catastrophic suffering may result if the harsher possibilities of climate change take place, the opportunity to transform our society from alienating consumption to conscious commerce.
If we can figure out how to support the millions in the Southwestern US desert with the limited supply there, we can probably deliver water to the billion who currently do not have access to clean water. We have been capable of feeding all of the humans on earth since the late middle 20th century, although we have lacked the will to do it. Not only are these admirable goals for moralizing environmentalists, it promises increased national security, as well as opportunities for prosperity. None of which has been articulated for the likes of George Allen or Laura Ingraham, much less the millions of American voters who profess the environment as a priority but are clearly more concerned with their personal circumstances.
So good night friends. Dream tonight of living well, and having it mean others- millions of others- will live better thanks to your conscious intelligent and self serving consumption.