Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rethinking the Land of Plenty

It’s the Fourth of July. Quite an apropos time to pause and ponder just what it means to live here in the land of plenty. The moniker itself brings on glorious visions of a bottomless pot of proverbial gold; resources to last a lifetime; a to-hell-with-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mentality. Do you remember that bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins?” (Insert overt gagging sound effect here.)

What function does consumption – both our own and society’s collective – have to do with living a more sustainable lifestyle? If we do chose to buy more, does buying "green" make it any better? What impact does the stuff we buy have on the environment? What is a better means to a greener end – personal purchase decisions or broader policy or legislative initiatives (that just can’t seem to get much momentum)?

That’s the premise of a great article that recently appeared in the New York Times online edition. "Buying Into the Green Movement" gives a somewhat humorous at times, thought-provoking presentation of how far being eco-chic can get us. Not very far is the general conclusion.

To an extent, I agree. Think about it. From a socio-economic point of view, the reality is that most of us –whether here in Sakonnet or globally for that matter – just can’t afford to travel down the road of $250 organic jeans, pricey hybrid vehicles, or that $1000 reclaimed shipyard wood coffee table from the Sundance catalog to lessen our environmental footprint. Just no way, no how.

Lessening unnecessary consumption is a topic that could easily go beyond the scope of this blog. But at its core, there is merit to it. Let’s face it, we’ve become a society that equates quantity of stuff with quality of life – no matter the financial or environmental cost. Few people stop to think about all the resources (materials, energy, transportation) that go into making "X" or "Y". We’re desensitized to the true cost of things. Sooner or later, that’s going to come back to bite us.

Call it old fashioned, but it makes me yearn for yesteryear where a community pooled its resources and shared it amongst it citizens. Maybe it’s commune-like thinking, but why couldn’t we pull together a Community Free-cycle center, where instead of throwing that old chair away, we could try to give it a new lease of life. (Envision a local Free Market RI.) Or a Community Tool Center? Come on, do we all need six different shovels, two sizes of hedge trimmers, and I’m-only going-to-use-it-once-but-I-need-buy-it specialized tool that only the contractors have use for?

That’s my take. What’s yours? Is lessening consumption the yellow brick road we need to take to get to the new eco-emerald city? How could we foster that here in Sakonnet?

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