I get so much grief whenever I use the “S” word (sacrifice) in dialogue about how to begin mitigating climate change and transforming our consumer culture into a sustainable culture, that I seldom use this word anymore. Folks just don’t want to hear about cutting back, doing without, or austerity in any form. It is both un-American and bad political strategy. Their approach mandates that we must frame our approach to averting the worst consequences of climate change in economic terms. They want us to believe that the creation of a renewable energy economy will allow us to grow the general economy like it has grown historically. It seems that few people want to acknowledge that we passed the limits of one planet earth about 1984, and that all industrialized countries will need to use less if we are to avoid ecological collapse. Check out the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report at www.panda.org/news_facts/publications/living_planet_report/index.cfm for comprehensive reading on our ecological overshoot. Using less when we are habituated to using more means sacrifice for most of us who are just accustomed to more is better.
President Bush declared a War on Terrorism. We should be fighting the same war on climate change and environmental destruction. The last time we as a nation faced the probability of such catastrophic destruction was in World War II. At that time there was a human Holocaust against Jews, Poles and Gypsies. President Franklin Roosevelt called on all Americans to make sacrifices which our parents and grandparents were willing to embrace for the greater good of humanity. Today, do we not need to sacrifice to prevent a planet wide environmental holocaust from happening? Freedom requires sacrifice. It entails responsibility and obligation to the whole, to the commons. John F. Kennedy said it well with his admonition to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
We need a new personal sense of responsibility to the greater good. We won’t get the kind of leadership we need if each of us is unwilling to do our share. The story is often told about Gandhi. Once a woman walked for 2 days to see Gandhi with her son. When given the audience, she asked Gandhi to tell her son to stop eating sugar, as it was not good for him. Gandhi thought for a few moments, and then told her to come back in a month with the child. The woman was furious and left in a very angry frame of mind. She did return in a month however, and after Gandhi met with her and her son, and told him not to eat sugar, she asked why he couldn’t just have said that on her first visit. Gandhi replied, “I couldn’t ask your son to stop eating sugar while I still was eating sugar. Now I can.” Once we begin to change our personal habits of destructive violence to the planet and its life giving ecosystems, we will be able to find politicians who will be capable of leading our governmental and corporate institutions into a sustainable society. For an interesting essay on leadership and democracy check out an interview with Oron Lyons in Orion Magazine www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/94.