01.07.2008

A New Kind of Prosperous

So – climate change is happening, peak oil ishappening, water shortages are happening, even worldfood shortages are stalking abroad and pricing up thelocal counter, and the folk at international meetingsare saying, "let's do something": but don'tmention consumption too prominently. Why relegate sustainableconsumption? Because it's hard. Because the free marketcan't work out how to solve "the greatest marketfailure in history", climate change, except byletting those failing free markets have more of a goat selling more things – getting "carbontrading" happening, yes, but also encouraging usto keep buying, to keep the world economy afloat, andglobal business-as-usual on its supercruiser keel.

If there's anything to be done by governments in regulatingcompanies, to make them responsible behind the scenes,it's to cautiously suggest cleaner production, and gentlymention eco-efficiencies and, even more softly, fairtrade – and quietly, not too loudly, almost offhandedly,turn and encourage we consumers to consider buying green.An excellent start. But if some of the recent televisionads are anything to go by, there's the whiff of a riskof being "greenwashed" by a few recycled plasticbags here, a bogus label on a supermarket product there.Companies are getting the drift, but not the idea, andpeople's own hopes for a wholesale transformation ofvalues is being shortchanged.

To make consumption sustainable, a new kind of prosperousis needed. Something that does not feed fairy flossto the gnawing individual emptiness which drove thisrunaway consumption and collective greenhouse dependency.Something that won't rebadge the old. Something thatwill not need to link our national growth with out materialoutput. Such "delinkage" has happened alreadyin a few countries. If we can peer into a future beyondthe familiar, it might be an Australian economy thatmeets our basic material needs, which helps each ofus to find our inner riches, and meet and encouragesuch values in the other.

Yes, we will also need international, national, stateand local action; and we now need companies to taketheir corporate responsibility seriously, rather thangloss their business reports. But how can companiesand we each make this difficult inner shift into genuinesustainable consumption? How can we walk our talk, movefrom a few gestures to genuine concern and committedaction? As we ask for a new way individually, we seehow hard it is for the legal entities called companies.No question, it's difficult to escape the stickinessof the wasteful system we live in. It will take determinedeffort and openness of mind and heart to each other.

Sustainable consumption may involve a shift from whatwe buy to how we buy. Here are seven possible stepsthat may help each of us explore this.

1. Find our reverence for creation
How lucky we are to be on this planet! Have you countedthe stars...do you know which of them are in fact coyhidden galaxies that spin about us at night? Have youfelt awe at the beauty of dawn or felt the winter glowof sunset? Have you figured out what makes it rain?Have you watched a baby being born? Farewelled a friendinto the mystery of death? Have you loved a place forits beauty? Have you mourned a damaged place, and wonderedhow to heal it? Finding our humility and reverence forlife is an essential shift to sustainability. Once wecare about life on our rare blue planet, from the largestof whales to the smallest diatom, isn't it so much harderto be part of the mass extinction of species, and thethin topsoil turned barren? Reverence helps us experiencewhat's worth appreciating in the outer world.

2. Work on your Inner Self
Sure, there's fear, hatred and doubt out there –just don't let it be at home within you. Springcleaningour inner selves helps maintain our wellbeing. By sharpeningour thinking, finding compassion, developing courage,building our inner resolve, finding balance, we arestrengthened inwardly, to better assess the outer worldand its needs.

3. Make some silence so the good sense cancome in
Unsustainable systems seem to live in noise and trivialisepriorities; sustainability tends to grow out of a dynamicstillness. Allow processing time. Challenge the impertinentculture that insists we are must know now; that we arenobody without a glittering product, now. If you canmake a habit of moments of regular silence – meditation,prayer, reflection, a quiet walk – you are morelikely to be renewed and able to witness the inner callto do what is worthy.

4. Listen inwardly, but stay actively engagedin what's happening in the world
Some people devote their life to God, praying. I'm surethat we benefit from such devotion. But I'm also ledto believe that the spirit also needs arms and legsand, perhaps most of all, a courageous thinking heart,to achieve what needs to be done in this Earth Century.It's like breathing in, breathing out. We need stillness.We need action. We need stillness. We need action.

5. Dare to be dedicated and grateful
Consumerism fosters narcissism: "gotta have","be tempted", "you deserve it".Self love is vital, but too much could be what got usin this mess in the first place. Being grateful forwhat you already possess, dedicating your efforts tosomething beyond yourself, and finding gratitude forothers' inner wealth, too, is part of a mosaic reshapingmeaning and growth. With humility, inner listening,dedication, gratitude and engagement, we are now, finally,ready for the last steps to achieve sustainable consumption.

6. Discern Your Life's Purpose
Assume, for a moment, your unique gifts also bring withthem a unique task. Try and define this task. Listeninwardly, but seek active feedback from those in theworld you trust. Keep exploring this. Slowly your lifepurpose emerges. Steps 1-5 have been just preparationfor this process.

7. Accumulate to allocate resources on yourLife Purpose
Now you know what you are here for, your aim is notto save money, but to find ways to spend it to advanceyour life task. (See the brilliant classic, Your Moneyor Your Life). There is a spiritual mystery here, perhaps.If we each follow our life purpose, mindful of our serviceand reverence to others, the planet is more likely tobecome sustainable!
Sustainable consumption will be about eating organically,perhaps driving more hybrids on the road, and (finally!)building most of our houses to the northerly aspect.But the shift to sustainability values a new kind ofconsumption – consumption that is not so muchabout outer display, as inner service, consumption thatis not so much about narcissism, but outward service.Sustainable consumption will indeed be a new kind ofprosperous.

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