In 1992, at the very first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), better known as simply the Earth Summit, United States President George H.W. Bush, infamously, forcefully declared that “The American way of life is not negotiable.” It was his response to the crowd of world leaders, environmental activists, and social change agents, assembled before him in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who had come upon the collective realization that the earth’s ecology – and by extension our own survival – was in peril as a direct result of human patterns of habitation and consumption.
Now, some twenty years later, as another group of world leaders, environmental activists and social change agents prepare once again to descend on Rio De Janeiro, this time for the renamed United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, tens of millions of Americans have decided that the American way of life is indeed negotiable.
…the greatest resource we have, and a fundamental component of the green economy, is community.
The first draft of this essay was written in a notebook made not from freshly chopped down trees, but from 80% sugarcane waste pulp. It was purchased not at some hippie retailer focused on sustainability but rather from a big box office store. Its existence was not mandated by any law, but rather by ordinary people for sustainable alternatives. Millions of Americans are quietly, but determinedly, taking steps to drastically alter a lifestyle that has, for half a century, been defined by excess. They are replacing a paradigm that was based on how much you could consume, how much you could waste, and by proxy, how much you can destroy by an alternative – some say radical – way of thinking, of being, and yes, of consuming, based on living within limits, following natural rhythms, and becoming far savvier consumers that many have begun to call the green economy.
What is the green economy?
The green economy is putting solar panels on skyscrapers, weatherizing homes so they need less energy to heat or cool, eschewing chemical cleaners for plant based ones. In agriculture, the green economy is substituting chemical based monoculture, or growing a single crop across acres of identical fields, and harvesting by machine, for agriculture based on principles in keeping with scientific principles of ecological health, and choosing to intercrop (or plant many crops together) and harvest by hand. It’s buying small houses instead of large ones that may never appear on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but have their own unique beauty and meet our needs while also enabling us to tread far lighter on the planet. The green economy is my friend looking at the sheer scale of our fabric waste and vowing to purchase only second hand clothing and wearing them until they wear out.
It’s buying small houses instead of large ones that may never appear on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but have their own unique beauty…
The green economy is not only about what we’re choosing to consume – or not consume- however, but a fundamental recognition that what we call the real economy is deeply flawed causing a schism not only between humanity and our larger environment, but also, among humanity itself. We have become deeply mistrustful of each other. So endemic within the green economy is the concept of connectivity, of relationship, of community. It’s buying food from a farmer’s market, not just because the food is sustainable, but because we clamor for a relationship with the people who produce our food. Around the world Freecycle, a network to promote waste reduction by connecting people looking for an item with people who are looking to toss that item away, does more than reduce waste, it serves as a reminder that the greatest resource we have, and a fundamental component of the green economy, is community.