Lately I have spent a good amount of time pondering the ways that social class and environmental action are related. Is it that tackling climate change will consequently help us curb issues of worldwide poverty? Or is it only by fighting poverty that climate issues can begin to level? Whichever of these is the answer (and I know it’s not that cut and dry), I think the facts are clear:
1. These are two important, interconnected issues.
2. Any action dedicated toward either cause would be beneficial.
While issues of global climate and the discrepancy between classes can give anyone a headache in a hurry, the two things are surprisingly tied into my and your lives.
This summer, before my more environmentally-friendly adventures begin, I work at environmental catastrophe of a workplace: a members-only golf course/country club in Minneapolis. Although it’s hard to hate a place that’s so beautiful, my working there is similar to Al Gore becoming the spokesperson for Dasani. Or something like that.
Anyway, during my hours there, I constantly notice extreme examples of affluence and, sadly, ignorance. While extensive criticism of it would be hypocritical because I support the place by giving them my time and skills, I have gleaned some interesting perspective from my time there.
While I sit in my lifeguard chair and pretend to judge the members for their ignorance, I find myself coveting the designer clothing, the luxury cars, the accessories, and the seemingly carefree attitudes. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the jewelry!
But then, I go home, and take a look in my closet and see this and I wonder, why and HOW can I possibly want more? (P.S. this is only HALF of my closet!)
As I began to wrap my mind (again) around my hypocrisy, I came across some interesting insights in some past schoolwork.
In a (*depressing, but) great book my classmates and I read by Mark Hertsgaard last fall, called Earth Odyssey, the author travels the world in order to explore the connectedness between social class and the environment.
One powerful quote still stands out in my mind:
“‘We have a saying in China,’ said one journalist … ‘Is your stomach too full?’ In other words, are you so well off you can afford to complain about nothing?
This phrase is used for Americans … while there are still many [people] who don’t have enough food to eat” (180).
What a valuable perspective to apply to my desires for designer clothing and fancy restaurants! That said, I think this perspective can be applied to a comfortable, yet sustainable, life. I am a strong believer in buying high-quality goods. For example, if a pair of jeans from WalMart cost you $20 and last one year, and a pair of jeans from Macy’s cost you $120 and last you six, you’ve spent the same amount of money per year and used 1/6 of the goods.
While it’s easy to get carried well away from only buying 1 pair of jeans in Macy’s and no one is as guilty of wanting more, and more, and more like me, I think this is an important consideration when shopping (or wanting), even though the ability to drop $120 on jeans is unheard of to many families globally (including the US). My point is that no matter how small, taking the time to actually think about the impacts of mundane activities (like shopping or dining), can give valuable perspective.
But as author George Monbiot calls “the failure of good intentions,” scary statistics always ruin my shopping trips and carefree consumption. Although I constantly look for helpful tips that can be applied to make myself more “green,” I am nonetheless haunted by this:
“A baby born in the United States creates thirteen times as much environmental damage over the course of its life as a baby born in Brazil and thirty-five times as much as an Indian baby… Americans are 5% of the world’s population but consume 26% of the worlds energy.”
So, it is first the American ideology about wants/needs that must change to “less is more” before large-scale environmental change or closing the income gap can follow. Though I believe this to be true, it is hard to imagine this happening because I do take the time to think about my actions and I certainly do not lead a less is more lifestyle! Yikes.
Anyway, this summer I am learning that a PhD isn’t required to brainstorm ways to change this ideology because American ideology includes ME and YOU.
So, while I know those large ideological changes are in a pretty distant future, my personal efforts toward a sustainable lifestyle are not.
It will now be my goal, when I shop and when I want, to broaden my considerations to include the less fortunate and the overly wasteful and try to ask myself where I fit in, where I want to fit in, and sadly, how I contribute to the gap between the two.
I hope you join me!
Sustainability: “living in material comfort and peacefully with each other within the means of nature.”