What if we changed the word “green” to the word “less”? What if the Green Movement was the Less Movement, if Green Building was Less Building, if the Green Economy were the Less Economy? What if, instead of recycle and reuse we only focused on that third “r” of the triumvirate . . . reduce? What if renewable energy got less attention than zero energy? Would we effect more or less change? Would the revolution be more or less green? And, perhaps most importantly, what would be the implications of success in the Less Revolution?
I have been amazed recently by the sheer quantity of “green” products I can buy. Virtually everything has an environmentally friendly version or a new, improved, greener formula. Commercials, labels and marketing campaigns give me a thousand ways to purchase a greener planet one product at a time. I need “green” cleaning supplies, CFL light bulbs, recycled dish towels, efficient wide-screen 3D TVs, mercury free MP3 players, bamboo drink coasters, solar powered path lights, organic t-shirts and a hybrid car. The more I buy, the greener I feel. This stuff is all the cleanest, greenest stuff money will get me. It is way better for the planet than the stuff I used to have and the things I used to buy, but my lord, there is an awful lot of it.
What if we just stopped instead? Sure this new stuff is better for the environment, but what if we each just bought a little less of it? It wouldn’t have to be a huge sacrifice really, just a small move toward less. One less gadget (but I want an iPad). One less day of driving. One less household accessory. In an economic system that is constantly pushing for more that small move on a large scale could be a big deal.
There of course is the problem. It really could be a big deal. While less is probably more green, it is a move in direct contradiction to the operation of our economic system. While the potential for planet saving is far higher if we are simply producing and consuming less of everything than if we make those things we produce and consume better, there are serious implications in a system based on continual growth and expansion. The question than becomes, can we consume less without pulling our economy down? Can we stop buying without stalling the march of capitalist born abundance from which we draw our comfortable lifestyles? And, if not, can we possibly count on capitalist consumer culture to save us from the looming environmental consequences of it’s own making?
In one of my favorite TED Talks, James H. Kunstler said we have to stop being consumers, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. We are people after all, capable of more complexity than simply acting as the purchasers of products. We need to accept broader responsibilities than simply choosing the right stuff to buy. However, I wonder at the implications of such a move. I am no economist, but it seems like a serious foray into less could be economically debilitating. It seems like it could turn into an actual revolution, and history tells us that real revolutions are pretty painful and unpleasant things.
So, since I quite honestly don’t know enough to be definitive, let’s talk about it. Is “less” potentially greener than “green”? Could simple reductions in consumption have a larger impact than all of our technological and market-driven solutions? If so, can the economy adapt to less? Can our current economic system survive a reversal of its near continuous expansion . . . a permanent reversal? And, if we want to take one step further down this philosophical path, can consumers survive the shedding of the consumptive role and all that goes with it? Can we find new ways to define ourselves other than through what we buy?
Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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