“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”
-Ellen Goodman, American journalist (1941 – )
A couple weeks ago, I watched Bill Moyers interview a “climate change communication expert” (who knew there was such a thing?) who pointed out that, according to surveys, there are “six different Americas” out there when it comes to opinions on climate change. This expert, Anthony Lieserowitz, basically broke us down like this:
1. The Alarmed -16% (*It’s real, it’s serious, and we should be doing something, but what?)
2. The Concerned – 29% (*It’s real, it’s serious, but only in some distant future or location)
3. The Cautious – 25% (*I dunno, is it real or not?)
4. The Disengaged – 8% (*Who cares?)
5. The Doubtful – 13% (*Might be real, but it’s not our fault so there’s nothing we can do)
6. The Dismissive – 8% (*It’s an evil hoax perpetrated by Al Gore, greedy scientists and/or the UN.)
*My paraphrased summation of each group’s attitude based on the discussion in the interview. Mr. Lieserowitz described these much more eloquently than I.
What I find most interesting about any and all discussions of climate change is that it’s always treated as a separate “job” to be tackled, sort of like taking out the garbage is different from doing the laundry. Let’s see, we have the issues of jobs and the economy, health care, immigration reform, blah, blah, blah and oh yeah, there’s climate change, down there at the bottom of our “To Do” list.
Hmmm. I see climate change a little differently. I think it’s something we all can begin to tackle right now, without even trying. (Yes, you read that right.) But we have to get our priorities straight first. And our priority should be this: working to create a serene life of abundance.
When I look behind the labels of each of those six groups I only see two groups:
1. Millions of people who are, according to statistics, still in debt up their eyeballs: total U.S. revolving debt (98 percent of which is made up of credit card debt) stood at $793.1 billion, and total U.S. consumer debt was $2.43 trillion, both as of May 2011. These same millions of people still believe that buying lots and lots of “stuff” will someday make them deliriously happy. They also expect someday to be “rich”, but in the meantime, it’s essential that everyone else think they’re rich (aka, keeping up with the Joneses) right now. The sad irony is, though they would have you believe otherwise, the folks in this group are really poor* people. Jacob, of the excellent Early Retirement Extreme blog describes this group well:
“Here’s the exact problem with middle-class consumers. As a group it’s net-negative productive. It takes more than it gives. Despite how hard it works, it consumes more than it produces. It spends more than it earns. It lives above its means. This is possible because banks and credit cards have enabled this behavior through cheap credit.”
2. The rest of us (still a minority, apparently) who have figured out what “rich” really means and who live lives of abundance without debt and the excess it buys.
So for the millions in the first group, the economy is THE issue because how can you get “rich” and keep up with the Joneses if you don’t have a good job to make minimum credit card payments while you endlessly chase all the bright shiny trappings of faux wealth? I mean, who’s got time to “go green” and become a tree-hugger when you have so many more important things to pursue?
The Magic Triangle – Health, Wealth, Environment
The answer is that, if we’re going to “save the planet”, we’re gonna have to focus on saving ourselves first. Because the undeniable fact is, climate change – along with a good many other problems we face – is a symptom of human over-consumption and over-consumption is why so many folks are sitting in – or have recently been evicted from – a big house full of stuff, poor and broke.
Fortunately, the cure is simple – but it does take some time. The cure for most of what ails us can be found in what has been referred to as the Green Triangle. I, however, call it the Magic Triangle (MT), because if you understand and use it, it’ll magically change your life, as it did mine. The Magic Triangle is based on the little noticed fact that anything you do that saves you money, generally, is also automatically good for your health and the environment.
Conversely, activities that make and keep you broke (and poor) will also have a negative impact on your health and the planet. What this means is, you’re not going to shop your way to sustainability. Any suggestion by retailers that you can “go green” by buying more stuff is simply green-washing. Remember that. It’s a scam.
The Magic Triangle will get you out of debt, improve your health, and even let you retire from your job early if that’s what you want. Call me crazy, but I would think those things would have almost universal appeal regardless of your opinion on climate change.
A classic example of the MT in action is commuting by bicycle. If you can find a way to do it – and yes, it’s hard in many areas of these United States – but if you can, it will save you a ton of money in gas; the exercise is good for your health; and it’s great for the environment because after a bike is manufactured, there are no emissions or pollutants of any kind related to its use.
Conversely, commuting by car will cost you money in gas, wear and tear, and all the other associated expenses of car ownership; it’s bad for your health because you get no exercise while your stress levels are elevated as you deal with the crazy drivers around you; and your tailpipe is constantly spewing emissions that aren’t doing you, your fellow humans, or the planet any favors.
But even if you still own a vehicle (as I do), there are plenty of other MT things you can do to start to make the sort of changes in your own life that will have a ripple effect in so many ways. I’ll talk about some of these in my next post.
*Note: There are two reasons for being poor:
1. Lack of financial resources that make it impossible to cover basic needs.
2. Adequate or even abundant financial resources that are squandered, eventually making it very difficult or impossible to cover basic needs.