A lot of people will tell you that we are making progress with all this talk of sustainable futures and alternative energy and, oh, let's save the environment.. and we are making progress. I've written here before about the difference that even ten or fifteen years can make - the increase in recycling efforts, environmental awareness, and energy saving mentalities is truly heartwarming and an affirmation that us humans maybe can recognize our mistakes and take measures to fix them. For example, see the latest news on Solar plants
Two photovoltaic solar power plants will be built in San Luis Obispo County in California, covering 12.5 square miles, that together will generate about 800 megawatts of power..
.. The power will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, which is under a state mandate to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010.
You can be a pessimist all you want, but 20% solar power in California probably looked not unlikely ten years ago, but down right improbable.
But one area of sustainable
that we don't hear about quite as much is us
. Our lives, our mental well-being. I came across this cute little comic
, which I will quote for you here:
To be considered a "success", you must slave to simultaneously meet or exceed the expectations of everybody you ever meet throughout your entire life, and then constantly maintain an upward trajectory until the day you die. To be considered a failure, you must do the opposite (i.e. nothing). Guess which is more fun...
And this brings me to the point of this post: the western socioeconomic culture is patently unsustainable
over the long-term. It wears you out, all this go go go, buy buy buy.
With the longest average weekly working hours in the world and among the lowest vacation time, we're just driving ourselves mad to success. But success doesn't always work that way. We can't afford to maintain this narrow view of life, because it is a model of what is already broken: the real economy - measured now, and almost exclusively, by the almighty GDP. It is the dollar signs that are important, not true innovation, or growth, or - gosh, I'll say it - well-being.Our phony economy
, over at Harper's, speaks to this us
economy - that which is immmeasurable in real dollar terms. What is America's GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness)? You don't want to know the answer.
That term “the economy”: what it means, in practice, is the Gross Domestic Product–a big statistical pot that includes all the money spent in a given period of time. If the pot is bigger than it was the previous quarter, or year, then you cheer. If it isn’t bigger, or bigger enough, then you call Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke up here and ask him to do some explaining. The what of the economy makes no difference in these councils. It never seems to come up. The money in the big pot could be going to cancer treatments or casinos, violent video games or usurious credit-card rates. It could go toward the $9 billion or so that Americans spend on gas they burn while they sit in traffic, or the billion plus that goes to such drugs as Ritalin and Prozac that schools are stuffing into kids to keep them quiet in class. The money could be the $20 billion or so that Americans spend on divorce lawyers each year, or the $41 billion on pets, or the $5 billion on identity theft, or the billions more spent to repair property damage caused by environmental pollution. The money in the pot could betoken social and environmental breakdown–misery and distress of all kinds. It makes no difference. You don’t ask. All you want to know is the total amount, which is the GDP. So long as it is growing then everything is fine.
But do we ever stop to find out what is growing and what the effects are? No.
The failure to do this is insane. It is an insanity that is embedded in the political debate and in media reportage, and it leads to fallacy in many directions. We hear, for example, that efforts to address climate change will hurt “the economy.” Does that mean that if we clean up the air we will spend less money treating asthma in young kids? The atmosphere is part of the economy, too–the real economy, that is, though not the artificial construct portrayed in the GDP. It does real work, as we would discover quickly if it were to collapse. Yet the GDP does not include this work. If we burn more gas, the expenditure gets added to the GDP. But there is no corresponding subtraction for the toll this burning takes on the thermostatic and buffering functions that the atmosphere provides. (Nor is there a subtraction for the oil we take out of the ground.) Yet if we burn less gas, and thus maintain the crucial functions of the atmosphere, we say “the economy” has suffered, even though the real economy has been enhanced.
Ignoring this aspect of the economy might be the biggest threat of all right now - this idea of long-term planning. What might happen to our GDP economy if we applied the same thinking there? What if we spent within our means? What if we all got money-smart
? Even if the initial change would cause short term economic woes,
eventually, some good things could happen. Among them:
- As our savings rate crept up, our nation wouldn't be so dependent on foreign investors.
- The typical retirement age would probably drop, increasing demand for workers and perhaps boosting wages.
- Homes, on average, would stay more affordable.
- The bankruptcy rate would probably drop.
- The economy might be less prone to financial crises -- although that, interestingly enough, might depend on consumers' willingness to bend some of the rules above.
And before I even read it, I knew what was coming next:
One of the first victims of America's new frugality would be payday lenders, who currently have more outlets (22,000) than McDonald's and Burger King combined. With no one willing to pay triple-digit interest rates on short-term loans, the payday lenders would have to close their doors or stick with simple check-cashing services.
And that certainly wouldn't be a bad thing.
But please, don't stop on my account. Continue living in debt, exploiting the environment, and accumulating things. Stuff makes you happy. Being exploited by the rich to make them richer makes you happy, too, I'm sure. Keep buying the plastic dream they be sellin'. Oh happy day.