Thoreau’s way to deep green
September 16, 2006
Ace Lane, the “green” developer of El Jebel, was quoted recently promoting his greenness by saying he pumps biodiesel fuel into his Ford Expedition. I favor this kind of conscious consumer choice, but could he really say that with a straight face? Awareness of alternative fuels is laudable, but it means little if you burn excess quantities in an inefficient luxury vehicle. The inherent conflict is between intent and result, which describes almost everything we do in America – especially our foreign policy. Going deep green means more than fueling giant SUVs with biodiesel. It means tempering our appetites for the wasteful mobility most of us practice without thought. Use biodiesel, as Lane does, but use less of it … less of everything.Weaning ourselves from excessive material and technological luxuries is, however, antithetical to current American societal norms. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Old Snowmass knows this full well. Lovins reasons that advocating sweeping lifestyle changes in America is ineffective when addressing natural resources and environmental quality. The key is efficiency, says Lovins, not the “crimping of lifestyles.”Lovins’ efficiency efforts are gradually winning converts, which is hopeful, but something must be added to the efficiency prescription. If we ever are to evolve beyond bondage to base material values, then a little lifestyle crimping is just what we need.Frugality ought to be seen, not as a curse, but as a value that implies respect for material – any material. Frugality is a traditional frontier ethic that has a strong implication: Restraining ourselves in a bounteous land is a sign of character, humility, and grace.Consumer-based capitalism, which directs America’s resource decisions, is antithetical to frugality. Capitalism in America today fails to foster the acceptance of limits, and instead promotes an ever-expanding marketplace fueled by ever-increasing resource use. Growing the economy has long been a mandate for unbridled consumerism, where economic security is achieved by profiting on infinite supplies of services and products drawn from a cornucopia of resources.The traditional oil- and coal-based industries in America – the foundation of American capitalism – will not go gracefully into a new era of fossil fuel limits spurred by global climate change, energy independence, etc. They will have to be forced, kicking and screaming, to reduce consumption and emissions.Traditional capitalism has assumed the role of providing the ends rather than the means to human gratification. The emphasis should be reversed. The pleasure in our lives should not revolve around the stuff we accumulate, but rather around the emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual depth of non-material values.Capitalism should be subservient to those values in a healthy, sustainable manner rather than mastering humanity through gluttonous waste and exploitation. Capitalism can serve us best if it provides the requisites for comfortable living so that humanity has the wherewithal to celebrate life in a profoundly nonmaterial way.In order to appreciate the intangibles that provide happiness, security and peace, we should willingly reduce our shares of the global resource pie and take pride and fulfillment in our frugality. This requires defining our own limits, something we should be taught from childhood.Our most freeing experiences occur after liberating ourselves from the overbearing desires that control us. Today, material desire is the foremost obstacle blocking us from connection with soul, spirit and nature.That desire is promoted by overt commercialization and the manipulative creation of desire. Popular media is run by this doctrine of consumerism, and its pervasive application is killing us and the natural world on which we ultimately depend.”Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!” Thoreau said. His message needs heeding today if we truly aspire to coloring ourselves deep green.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.