Change begins with each and every one of us, or so we are told, but what does that mean with respect to working towards sustainability? What is it that we can do, and what will it cost us?
The second part of that question is critical if any effort is to be successful. This point was made clear from our first individual Ecological Footprint calculation exercise carried out by staff here at the Museum.
Issues began to be apparent even before the calculations were completed. Questions arose regarding the fairness of the assessment, especially in light of the real constraints faced living in the Sea to Sky Corridor.
For example, there is no public transit to Britannia Beach, so with the exception of a few of us, driving is the only way to work. This caused a few staff members to claim the measure is unfair, as they don’t have an alternative.
Another example is food choices. Questions of fairness were once again raised, claiming that ‘fair’ food choices were unreasonably penalized.
Then the question of ‘Is the calculator trying to shape behaviour?’ came up. The answer, of course, is that it is trying to shape behaviour. If we are to achieve a goal of living on less, then there needs to be a change in how we live.
The issue however, that this exercise demonstrated, is that our social norms cut so counter to the idea of reduced resource usage that a common feeling that emanated from the exercise was one of the need to ‘give up’ things.
How are we to achieve change, if the change we seek is seen primarily as asking people to ‘give up’ things. If our mindset is to consume, then it becomes a potentially burdensome choice to not have something. This is especially true if what we are giving up are things we draw our identity or status from.
Is ‘living with less’ doomed to a fringe movement? If we are to face the reality of a globally growing population drawing from a shrinking pool of finite resources, the answer is it can’t be.
So if change is to come, it is not only coming from the individual. The change has to be systemic. We need to change our social norms such that ‘not having’ is not viewed as a negative (for things beyond those that provide for our basic needs).
The question is how can it be done? Especially in consumerist societies that have magnified the relation between goods and measures of success and status.
The challenge seems daunting, yet, as Tim Jackson points out in ‘Prosperity Without Growth’, this level of change must occur if a shift to sustainability is to be achieved.
Simply put, we need to shift from seeing ‘having less’ as a personal sacrifice to a personal gain.
Can people in the developed world truly embrace the idea that less is more? Can we overcome the hurdle seen in the Museum’s calculation exercise of people asking ‘why me?’
It may take some work to get there. In the meantime, we at least can take some of the smaller steps in that direction. Just knowing where we stand is the beginning. The surprise many of our staff had in discovering how much land is needed to sustain them has led to some immediate changes. For example, more people are now carpooling to work.
It is good to see some of the choices that do not take much of a change to be so readily adopted, and leads to people changing the question from ‘Why me?’ to ‘Why not me?’ (For those interested, the average number of hectares required to sustain the staff members that participated is 14.93.)
Image Credit: Robert Jack / Wikicommons
The views expressed by the author(s) of Rethink are not necessarily reflective of the organization and are provided as ideas for consideration in context of a changing world view.