As a long time advocate for living simply I often hear people say “that’s good for you, Chuck, but it won’t be enough – we need to change the system.” They’re not exactly being dismissive, but perhaps damning with faint praise. I heartily agree that changing systems – lots of them – are essential. Many of us in Simply Living have spoken up and protested in writing and on the streets to advocate for environmental and social justice. It is often a David and Goliath situation, as most of you reading this know. We speak our truth to power, but are frustrated by the resistance to change from institutions and the entrenched power of the status quo. It is understandable that many see the futility of individual lifestyle changes given the enormity of the climate crisis, extreme income inequality, proxy wars that feed the weapons industries, etc.
That said, I think many people underestimate the values that motivate decisions to embark on lifestyle changes. When we recycle, compost food waste, insulate our home to save energy, car share to work, etc. we do so because we are aware of the ecological consequences of not doing so. In other words, we are acting on our ecological values, the very ones we need to co-create an ecological culture. It’s precisely the new ecological culture that is emerging, admittedly at a painstakingly slow pace, with a vision to supplant the current throwaway culture that acts under the delusion that we humans are separate from nature.
To get a reading on where we are in the midst of the momentous Transition taking place, I decided to consult ChatGPT, the new oracle from OpenAI, to get an overview of thinking on this topic. Here is the response verbatim.
Living simply can address the root causes of climate change in several ways:
Reducing consumption: Living simply involves reducing our consumption of goods and services. This reduces the amount of energy and resources required to produce and transport these goods, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Using sustainable products: Living simply also involves using sustainable products, such as energy-efficient appliances, reusable bags and water bottles, and products made from eco-friendly materials. This reduces the amount of waste generated and minimizes the use of resources and energy.
Eating a plant-based diet: Eating a plant-based diet is a simple way to reduce our carbon footprint, as animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
Using alternative modes of transportation: Living simply involves reducing our dependence on personal vehicles and instead using alternative modes of transportation, such as walking, biking, or public transportation. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
Conserving energy: Living simply involves conserving energy in our daily lives, such as turning off lights and unplugging electronics when not in use. This reduces our overall energy consumption and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions.
In summary, living simply involves reducing our consumption, using sustainable products, eating a plant-based diet, using alternative modes of transportation, and conserving energy. These actions can help address the root causes of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing our impact on the environment.
I agree with all of the above, and admire ChatGTP’s ability to reply to my question in a matter of seconds! The actions taken by those of us making lifestyle changes – reducing consumption, using greener products, eating less meat, driving less and biking, walking, taking the bus, and car sharing can all reduce our ecological footprint and thereby take a bite out of the greenhouse gases that are warming our planet.
Can the Ecological Values of Living Simply Supplant Our Unsustainable Consumer Culture?
As Charles Eisenstein, Richard Heinberg, Frijtjof Capra, and other thought leaders point out, saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions do not address the root cause of climate change. The warming of the planet and changes in our climate are rather symptoms of our consumer culture and the values of the corporate monopolies of our global economy that runs on fossil fuels and exploits and damages the ecosystems that underlie and support all life on earth. We are seductive victims of our Old Story that humans are separate from the “environment” – i.e., Nature – and can therefore clear cut forests, mine the oceans, frack shale deposits, etc. without polluting our air, water, and depleting our soil.
We need a New Story that Eisenstein calls Interbeing, that recognizes that we are intimately related with each other and with the natural world. To lean into this new story involves everyone valuing what native Americans call “all our relations.” We are embedded in the ecological systems that, once recognized, shows the way out of the old story systems and values.
To Be Continued in Discussions Online and In Person
I believe that values are the secret sauce of whatever future emerges, but there are many of us engaged in strategies to empower a transition to a livable, regenerative future. To name a few examples: the Citizens Climate Lobby, the Poor People’s Campaign, the Public Banking Institute, Economic Democracy Advocates, the New Economy and Solidarity Initiatives, Move To Amend, and others are all working toward a future rooted in shared values. As we know, the stakes are high. Let’s keep the dialogue open and listen and support each others’ efforts to co-create a world that makes sense and taps into our full human potential, as individuals and in our eco-aware communities.