A fascinating read and raises, for me, far more issues of interest than I could have imagined.
A lot of greens are suspicious of the greenbacks. If you’re doing it for the dosh, it must be wrong. It’s almost an act of faith among environmentalists, and you can see why. Because if money’s not the root of all evil, it’s certainly a vigorous fertilizer for our ferocious growth in consumption. And despite all the talk of eco-efficiency, of doing more with less, the truth is that the more we buy, by and large, the more we trash the planet.
Yet many people in Britain enjoy material comforts inconceivable to their grandparents, even their parents. And still we want more. Despite the numerous studies that show there is precisely zero correlation between being happy and being rich. (Most evidence, indeed, suggests something of an inverse link.) So isn’t it time that our consciences curbed our consumption?
The problem with that argument is the sort of people who voice it. Usually those sufficiently well-heeled not to wake up sweating over how to pay the gas bill, or whether they can afford to get the kids new shoes for the next term. So it spectacularly fails to engage with the vast majority of people who don’t think they’ve much to feel guilty about. And whose main problem with consumerism is the lack of cash, relatively speaking, with which to pursue it. It’s the chief reason why guilt-tripping campaigns to kill the consumer culture rarely reach beyond the guilt-edged.
And it’s an issue at the heart of this issue’s Exchange of Fire. This pits the Forum’s own Jonathon Porritt against Satish Kumar, who has spent 25 years at the helm of Resurgence magazine extolling the considerable virtues of voluntary simplicity and the spiritual path.
To imagine that an appetite for consumer durables is somehow confined to the affluent world is obtuse almost to the point of racism. I was lucky enough to spend some time a couple of years back in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, staying with tribal peoples far upriver in the Borneo rainforests. Their desperate struggle to keep their land and way of life, in the face of rampant logging and ridiculous dam projects, had ensured them star status among some environmental groups. Before I went, I was assured that they had a deep sense of respect and understanding for their forest environment, and unique ways of coaxing a living from it. And they clearly had. What they also had (at least the wealthier among them) was an impressive array of CD players, videos, electric guitars and wraparound shades. And almost every longhouse boasted a massive satellite dish. Their inhabitants were ferociously determined to resist the government’s bullying efforts to resettle them in bland communities far from their forest home. But they saw no contradiction between living lightly on the earth, and enjoying the fruits and the comforts of global culture.
It’s a trick that maybe we all need to learn.