Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Living simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor

The above phrase jumped out at me a while back from something Jean Vanier wrote, and today it's back in my mind, as my husband sent me an article from the Globe and Mail entitled "Wikileaks reveals imminent Saudi Oil Peak."

Good old Wikileaks! (That with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Honestly, who ever heard of it before last April?) Actually, I am sickened by the way Wikileaks put information out there without considering the safety of anyone connected to the countries involved in its reports. Even rogue media outlets need to care about peoples' lives! At the same time, I can't help feeling that we need some alternative media that will put out the stories that our mainstream media avoid discussing in depth. A lot of big news outlets have to appease big advertizers that don't have humanity's best interests at heart, so they gloss over the serious issues that our world is facing when they should be challenging the world to deeper thinking.

Peak oil is one of those issues. If, as Wikileaks suggests, we are already well past the point where we are starting to run out of oil, humanity is soon going to have to make a huge shift in its thinking, a shift that we probably should have made fifty years ago (but everyone was so in love with our rising standard of living after World War II that to suggest something like voluntary simplicity was akin to being a communist).

So here we are, having reached peak oil, and instead of jumping deeper into consumerism and taking last minute trips to the Caribbean before we can't afford it, we need to hit reverse and do as Jean Vanier suggests in the reading that stuck in my mind (I've since found the same phrase in several social justice documents that Jean probably read, too). It's well past time to live justly. North Americans make up a large portion of the wealthy 12 percent of the world population who are using up 80% of the world's resources. If everyone lived like we do, the planet would never recover.

So what if we 12% stopped stuffing our lives with that 80% and started living simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the other 88% who are living with 20% of the earth's resources? What if we reduced our consumption to our 12% or maybe even a bit less? What would that look like? And could we be happy with less than 12%?

Of course we could, but like shifting our thinking around the Peak Oil issue, shifting our thinking around choosing to live more simply is a huge challenge for many of us. First of all, we would have to get our brains around the idea that markets and economies cannot grow endlessly because things that grow endlessly are often carcinogenic. We would need to learn the meaning of the word "sufficient" and practice living it, aware that too much of anything good is still too much. We would have to eradicate the "Joneses" from our thinking entirely, and be satisfied with what we have, rather than continue clearing out our closets, tossing our technologies and renovating our homes in order to "keep up." Maybe we would turn off the TV or the internet and find better uses for our time, get more exercise, grow more of our own food, cook more from scratch, have more conversations, make more music, meet more neighbours and have more face time with family and friends.

I've gotten carried away... but I'm just thinking about a book I once found at the library, the name of which escapes me. It was a book of pictures of people from all over the world, and what they owned. There was a picture of a large family from a developing country in Africa, sitting in front of a mud hut on a blanket with dishes and pots, bags of rice and beans, a small pile of clothing, and huge smiles all around. There was also a picture of a small family from North America with a large home and tons of belongings spilled along their driveway, but they didn't look as happy as the family from Africa. And then there was a picture of a family from Saudi Arabia that had to be taken from such a great distance to fit in their mansion and limousines and stuff that you couldn't see their faces at all. I wish I could remember the name of that book. It was a good one. I'll find it again.

Personally, I think living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters all over the world is the only way to go, and it's probably more fun, if you really think about it. If we've reached peak oil, perhaps we'll all rediscover the joys of living simply sooner than later. At least, I hope it can work out that way.

(P.S. That book is called Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Mendel (1994, Sierra Club Books, ISBN 9780871564375)

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