For years, I’ve been wondering what a sustainable lifestyle is and how I can go about embedding myself in one of those, or vice versa, whichever way it goes.
One way of looking at sustainable lifestyle that resonates with me is the notion of resilience. The only riddle is what that actually means.
Someone like Mark Boyle is a great inspiration, the Irish economist transformed into Moneyless Man and spent a full year without spending money or being the cause of money being spent. He gave up his Bristol life for living in a caravan he got for free on farmland at a farm where he volunteered, cycling or hitchhiking for transportation and bartering for the rest.
The German Heidemarie Schwermer gave up living with money in her mid-fifties and has, in this writing moment, lived 16 years without handling money. Whilst she allows herself to accept presents or say, a train ticket, she goes through life travelling around, bartering and volunteering her labour for board and accommodation or what else she needs in life. Schwermer didn’t begin Living without money until after she had brought up her children, but I dare say that this highly creative woman would have managed that challenge, too.
Both Schwermer and Boyle insist that they are much happier and balanced as human beings ever since they stopped their reliance on money. Whilst these two examples are operating very much on an individual level, the association to the economist Tim Jackson isn’t far. He wrote a whitepaper when he was advising the UK government titled “Prosperity without Growth?” When Jackson, also a professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Guildford, published this on his own back, he dared removing the questionmark. In “Prosperity without Growth”, Jackson shortly argues that economy is a system, that can learn much from natural systems, where it is obvious that there can be not such thing as constant growth –not to mention exponential growth. However, the societies and welfare states that we have created in the West are dependant on exactly that: Exponential growth. Basically, Jackson summarises, the politicians are voted in with a social mandate, but need growth to finance it. Businesses, by enlarge, make business my utilising and often exploiting natural resources. Thus having tied in the three dimensions of sustainability and the triple bottomline, it becomes apparent that when one is finite, the system has a flaw built in when expecting exponential growth from one of the others to deliver the third. It takes little imagination to see that Tim Jackson was not surprised when the financial markets crashed, and he also argues that there is little or no correlation between growth and prosperity –and human happiness.
Another factor in a sustainable lifestyle is the awareness of the footprint we leave on this planet. The Norwegian author Erlend Loe in his novel “Naiv. Super” lets his protagonist think that he isn’t so sure any of us is able to leave this world knowing that we were contributing factors to the world being a better place than when we entered it. But if he can know on his deathbed that he didn’t do any harm or make anything worse, then he’d be quite satisfied.
Someone who has taken this up is the American author and blogger Colin Beavan. Though I don’t believe that he has read Loe’s novel, he became concerned about the footprint that we all were leaving on the planet and very impatient with governments’ lengthy processes. Simultaneously, he felt that the sustainability agenda the sustainability agenda needed to be sexed up massively, that the saving of our planet needed a superhero, if it should stand any chance. So he took on that challenged and proclaimed himself the “No Impact Man” and set out to, within one year, to transform his young family, double career, one child, takeout dinner & coffee NYC lifestyle into one where the footprint of him and his family would be zero or positive. This was in 2007, and similar to the above, did he experience that after one year “unplugged from the electrical grid, producing no trash, travelling exclusively by foot or bike, and buying nothing except food (all of it locally grown). (..) They discovered something surprising: Living simply wasn’t just good for the environment; it made them healthier, happier and richer in ways they’d never expected.”
That was 2007, now its five years down the line and Colin is running for congress in Brooklyn for the green party.