Mindful Consumption

I have been fortunate to be part of the treaty development team for the Milennium Consumption Goal Initiative. Being part of this has helped me think more deeply about sustainability. The more I think about it, the more I realize that of all the good intentioned measures that are being developed to help people find consumer choices that have less impact, none of them address the most critical issue. We need to find ways to help people change their perspective about who they are.

Its true, that green packaging and more fuel efficiency helps slow the damage, but there is no indication that there is a good probability that we are anywhere near on track to actually becoming sustainable as a species. Individuals are adopting greener measures only up to the extent that it does not conflict with their comfort zone. I don’t mean their physical comfort, but their mental comfort. Again, I do not mean a that people aren’t willing to forgo happiness. I don’t mean this because happiness does not have to be sacrificed at all to become more sustainable. Rather, people aren’t willing or able to give up their sense of security in the familiar. Their identities are shaped by powers of perception created by media. We don’t see it as coercion, because we are born with these consumer concepts as part of our culture. Driving an electric SUV is somehow perceived as being sustainable because we can’t even begin to question whether it’s the consumption itself that is the problem. Rather we just assume it must only be the style fo consumption. In order to live sustainably (not just more sustainably, but actually sustainable along with 7 other billion people, many who don’t have their basic needs met), we need to live with compassion for all of these 7 billion other people and for the earth. We need to actually feel that compassion as part of our culture so we can be mindful in our consumer choices. Where else can the inspiration and power to exit our culture come from. People care, they give money, but again, they only give up to the point that it does not cause them to give up their cultural identity. Our culture includes giving, but caring is not central, its peripheral. Consumption is what is center in western countries and among the growing wealthy in other countries.

This is why I like the MCG process. It brings attention to this challenge. I think spiritual leaders are necessary. I do not know enough about international social processes to see how this can all fit together. Setting prices for carbon and other incentive based efforts are good, but they aren’t enough. We need people to become so in-tune with their shared role in this world that they have the powr to overcome their fear of being different in a western culture. We need people to set examples, yet, even I am finding it hard to walk the walk. I feel that it would be much easier to move to another country than to remain and make the hard choices. Living sustainably is much easier when living in a community of other people with the same values and lifestyles.

I am wondering whether more dire environmental and social impacts are inevitable. Perhaps the best we can do is set up the resources for people to turn to once the impacts become so devastating that they realize that enough is enough and their must be a different way. I don’t see the current field of environmental groups offering these in-depth paradigm shift perspectives on what it means to be human; on what it really means to be part of a community and find meaning, value, structure and happiness in life. In a way, the philosophies of Eastern Monasteries could sort of represent these fall back positions for people when they meet that critical deciding point. However, I would like to see a more prevalent presentation of Sustainable topics into these philosophies as they are presented to Westerners. I would also like to see an introduction of spiritual perspectives into western environmental movement organizations.

I don’t have any plans yet on how to further entertain and grow these ideas. But it’s a concept I am beginning to see all to clearly. Even with my economic, administrative and legal training, I can’t find any other approach that can deliver a plausible end solution when the entire global situation is recognized and taken into account.

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