There is hope if people will begin to awaken the spiritual part of themselves, that heartfelt knowledge that we are caretakers of this planet.
–Brooke Medicine Eagle
We live today in a world of pluralistic and relative values. That’s the external reality. And who could expect anything else? With seven billion people on the planet we’re bound to have a variety of priorities, value systems, and ideas about what’s good and right and true.
Yet wise men and women throughout history and across spiritual views have encouraged people to find common ground and build on that to create community, overlooking all but the most pronounced differences in values. People with open hearts and minds take this seriously, helping to build bridges between cultures and viewpoints.
Finding common ground
Yet it’s easy to get into sticky territory when we try to talk about what is “good” to do. One person’s notion of the good life might clash dramatically with another person’s. Further, if you define what’s good based on limited information, you might not even realize that what you thought was good was only half the story.
That’s what I find when I point to energy as the key element of the good life in America. For most people, this elicits a furrowed brow and a big, “Huh?”
Sure, people see that energy helps them get around in cars and planes. They might even see that it keeps the house warm or cool, lets them refrigerate or cook food, and even brings entertainment. But beyond that, for most folks, energy disappears into the circuitry of life, like blood through our veins or air in our lungs. We don’t think about it.
For that reason, the line between enough energy and energy excess disappears, too. Energy just becomes a “given.” And it’s hard to come to a values-based position, or an idea of what’s “good” to do when something is just a given.
But when it comes to energy use, we must come to a much clearer cultural position, a stronger values perspective, about how we can bring “goodness” into our use of energy.
This is so hard. Again, because what’s good for me might not be good for you. At least at first.
Basics of the good life
The best thing in that case is to begin with the basics on which we can all agree. We probably all want to be able to get around, use lights at night, keep warm in the winter, store and cook our food, have clean water and enjoy the tools of communication such as computers and phones. These are the basics of industrial society.
When we go beyond these basics, the most important thing is to recognize how anything above the basics is like cake.
Going to the mall because you want but don’t need new shoes, redecorating a room on a whim, playing football on a Friday night at the high school under blasting lights or golf on a heavily-watered course, seeing a movie at the local cineplex, blasting the AC—all these things are fun, cool, neat! But none of them are necessary for most of us. We choose to do them even though they’re not necessary because we want to do them.
What I would encourage you is to consider just how much energy goes into these activities, and just what kind of impact is made on the finite resources of the earth when you do them. Now multiply that by 100 million. That’s about how many others are doing your chosen activity at any given moment. Minimum.
The impact of that is huge!
We’re in it together
When I talk about goodness I’m not trying to judge others. I live in this society and culture too. I’m not off living in a straw bale hut on solar energy while scavenging around the forest for nuts, roots and mushrooms. Far from it. I live in a small American city in a pretty mainstream kind of way, all things considered.
But I do know that oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuel energy forms, besides being dirty, polluting, and disease-causing, are also essentially running out. They’re finite resources that industrial culture has burned through in about 150 years time. And when those sources go, if we haven’t prepared, even the basics like clean water and healthy food will be a luxury for the uber rich, beyond the reach of most folks.
That’s why conservation now is an act of profound goodness.
Consciousness around energy use is the key intellectual (and emotional and spiritual and cultural) jump that people today need to make in order to create the world we want to live in now and into the future. Energy conservation is an enormous act of goodness for our children and grandchildren because it positions future generations to enjoy the basic high standards of living that we’ve come to enjoy as listed above, while allowing new forms of “cake” to be born.
The simple, good life
Perhaps the “cake” of the future will be live music in the town square. Football on Saturday afternoon in the sunshine. Golf on a xeriscaped range. And a less relentless need to get something new to wear because self worth will be less externally determined. Maybe the cake will be a lazy day drinking coffee with friends and telling stories. Or cooking up a batch of marinara to jar for the winter. Or knitting cozy woolen sweaters for holiday gifts.
The bottom line is that if we don’t negotiate the values we want in terms of our real resource use, it will be determined for us wholly independent of our input. And at that point it wont be pretty.
Conservation is a monumental act of goodness. It allows you to live the high-minded value that what matters is “people not possessions.” None of it means that life can’t be beautiful, compelling, and engaging. Not only can it, but it can be more so than the mindless consumption and relentless competition of today’s world. But only if we elevate the value of conservation to its rightful place at the core of our priorities.
As Martha Stewart would say, “that’s a good thing.”
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List