We Must Step Toward Sustainability

Americans Need to Reform Their Behavior to Better Adapt a Sustainable Model for the Future

Jaime Chong/Illustration

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No other country in the world consumes like America does. Living for five months in West Africa has shown me this stark truth - Americans simply buy more disposable goods than does everyone else. And for the health of our global environment, we have to do the most scaling down, by-far. Right now, we need a renaissance - out with the new, and in with the old.

How do we acquire all of these things and what do they say about our people, our culture? We buy and buy and buy. And if we don't have the money to buy it, we borrow and borrow and borrow. But what does it mean to cut so much buying and borrowing out of our lives, and how does this behavior benefit our world?

The United States of America prides itself on being a world leader. But is it really such a great thing to be a world leader in consumption per person?

According to www.thestoryofstuff.com, the U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population but consumes 30 percent of the world's resources and creates 30 percent of the world's waste.

The U.S. is just one of 195 countries in our world. But if everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need another two to four planets. I didn't know it was that bad, and I decided to change some personal habits to cut down on "stuff."

Now, I don't go scouring for bargains so much. Not that bargains aren't great; but by buying fewer things of better quality and wear-ability, I am consuming less. After all, for every one garbage can of waste I put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make all that junk. So considering that in six months, 90 percent of what we buy is disposed of, that's a whole lot of garbage.

Cutting consumption isn't the only thing we can do. What our planet needs is for Americans to cut back on fossil fuels.

That means driving less, and walking and commuting more. It also means making some demands. I recently plugged my hometown, Fairfield, Calif., into a walk-ability indicator - walkscore.com - and was quite dismayed at the results.

Basically, my city has a long way to go before it is set-up to facilitate being able to safely walk or bike to the places that its inhabitatnts need to go.

This is not rare. Many cities in the United States favor cars over bikes and pedestrians. In fact, as a teen I was nailed by a car while riding my bicycle to the library.

We must demand city planners and those in government who represent our interests to set up our cities in such a way that we are not car-reliant and we feel safe traveling across town.

What does all of this buying say about us? Have we forgotten how to be self-reliant and do things on our own? Sadly, yes. Without big-box stores, most people would have no idea how to procure the food and clothing that they and their families need.

But what about all of the things we used to do? We used to keep chickens and a garden. More of us were farmers. We used to spend more time cooking and a greater percentage of income on food. We used to be creative in our practicalities, taking pride in the things we did.

Unfortunately, we have lost touch with the processes involved in bringing us the food we eat and the clothes we wear. And we've lost a lot of our culture in the process.

I am calling for a village renaissance here. Let's live simply. By consuming less, we can free up our money to invest in green technologies, creating jobs and living in sync with our environment. Our nation can stop taking out trillions of dollars in loans and invest the money we do have in creating clean, green jobs with which to ensure sustainable, economic growth.

By relying on ourselves more for creating some of our own clothing and producing some of our own food, we will feel the satisfaction of self-sufficiency.

We will regain our culture, which can only be expressed not by building strip malls but by renewing community social structures. We will be closer to nature as well, and plant and animal diversity will make some gains.

By not buying as much, we'll force producers who use dirty, chemically-intensive methods to not produce so much. This will cut down on chemical releases and pollutants and result in public health gains.

By not releasing so many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and by advocating for clean, renewable energies, we will reduce the impact of global warming.

We, as American consumers, have the power to say that we've had enough. We can demand a more egalitarian world with a healthy environment.

Taking one personal step in curbing your own consumption will help a lot, especially if all Americans help to do their parts. But we must take these steps now, throwing opulence to the wind and taking up more uncomplicated and healthy ways of living.


Shelby Stofle is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to [email protected]

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