Last night I was watching House Hunters International and had to giggle because the show is actually a good example of a fairly profound difference between our two worlds.
Working in the field I work in and dealing with living a sustainable life and making this planet just a little bit better with what I do, it always strikes me when I watch the US version and there is a man and a woman with toddler and a baby on the way and they say “Well, 1900 square feet just isn’t big enough. We have outgrown this space.”
That’s 175 square meters. That’s a lot of square meters! In Europe that is COMPLETELY acceptable for a family of 4. My parents had a very large house that was probably 250, but then my dad made a decent amount of money and we had one bathroom and two bedroom we barely used and a sauna and so on and so forth, but you get my drift.
Always wanting more. Always bigger, always better. And then I watch House Hunters International and people in Italy or Amsterdam will buy an apartment and it’s maybe 1000 square feet and that’s plenty big.
Although I tend to be pretty good when it comes to cleaning out trash, I did clean out a lot of things when I moved this time again, reminding me that we all do own a lot of things we simply don’t need. Don’t get me wrong, while I am participating in No Impact Week (and you should too), I am not a “No Impact Woman”. I understand that we use things, buy things, use energy, travel, buy. I like nice things and I do shop. But I also believe that we all carry and inherent responsibility to do the best we can by our planet. So, I could afford a car, but I don’t owe one, because I don’t need one. I bought an apartment that’s as energy efficient as I could get for what I could afford, with all Energy Star appliances, great insulation, I shop the Farmer’s Market and Whole Food and Trader Joe’s when I can (but sometimes I don’t), I use smart light bulbs, I unplug appliances, I turn off lights when I don’t need them. I recycle, I reduce my trash as much as possible. I completely quit Diet Coke cans and even now buy rarely bottles. Used to live on that stuff, but I didn’t want to see the trash.
U.S. consumers and industry dispose of enough aluminum to rebuild the commercial air fleet every three months; enough iron and steel to continuously supply all automakers; enough glass to fill New York’s World Trade Center every two weeks. ~Environmental Defense Fund advertisement, Christian Science Monitor, 1990
We can all do little things. The great thing about America is that when this country sets it’s mind to something, it can do amazing things in a very short time. Right now, they are way behind when it comes to solar and wind energy and recycling. But I think we are approaching a time, where people start to “get it” that, doing something for the environment, doesn’t mean you have to pull out the Birkenstock and tie yourself to a tree. And once people get it, the innovation, the smarts and the money is here to make enormous strides and I am excited that I am part of this movement, due to my work and my life.
Capitalism is just fine, we all consume, but man, people just need to keep it in perspective. When you are a family of 2, you don’t need 2900 square feet of living space, that sucks energy out of your life. When I see that show and there are newlyweds in their early 20s and they say “We want 3-4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms”, I want to say “WOW, WHY?”….and “what’s next?” You have a baby and what, you need 5-6 bedroom for 3 people? Odd to me.
What do we really have when we die? What do we really want? Friendship. Love. Not stuff.
I leave you with two quotes I care about:
The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied… but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing. ~John Berger
And more importantly:
You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy. ~Eric Hoffer