The Ecopsychology Issue

What Does It Mean to Be Free?

The question that world wars are made of.
Photo by Juan Medina - Reuters

Photo by Juan Medina - Reuters

The post-World War II American dream was a strange, fleeting moment in global history – an opulent and optimistic 50 years when the world was our oyster and individual freedom reigned supreme. Now we’re beginning to realize that this dazzling celebration of individual autonomy begat some very dark consequences. It gave birth to entire generations of hyper-individuals plagued by a bottomless hunger for MORE. Despite footprints five times larger than they should be, they still want MORE. And when they don’t have the money, they turn their backs on reality, max out their cards and get what they want anyway.

Over the space of only 50 years, consumption in America went up by 300 percent and the American dream devolved into an insatiable colony of hungry ghosts. If you scratch just beneath the surface of our ecological and economic crises, you’ll find a crisis at the core of consciousness — a diseased way of life and sense of self — a cultural crisis of freedom-without-responsibility run amok.

Now with the world’s natural capital largely consumed and the climatic tipping point approaching fast, we’re in for a massive reappraisal of what individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness are really all about. Is every person on the planet entitled to glide around in a ton of metal — air conditioning blasting, gasoline burning? Does every human being on Earth have the right to a fridge, a flush toilet, hot running water and a car?

ONE STANDARD FOR ALL

Here’s the $64-billion apocalypse-now question that Copenhagen failed to answer: Should the right to emit greenhouse gases be shared equally by all people on Earth? Known in diplomatic circles as the “per capita principle,” this universal, one-standard-for-all principle has long been insisted upon by China, India, Brazil and most other developing nations. Applying this principle would allow each of the planet’s seven billion people an annual emissions quota of 2.7 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s harsh news for Americans and Canadians, who currently emit 20 tons per person, Europeans who emit 9 tons, Australians who emit 18 tons and Japanese who emit 9 tons.

So will we, the rich and powerful nations, abide by this principle? Do we have the self-discipline and spiritual fortitude to radically shrink our footprints? Will Al Gore move into a hut … will Bill and Melinda Gates move out of their 70,000-square-foot mansion and learn to live frugally? Will a new set of cultural heroes emerge to lead us? Or, as the pain and sacrifice mount, will we suddenly throw down the gauntlet and fight to keep what we have?

That’s the stuff that world wars are made of.

For the Wild, Kalle

38 comments on the article “What Does It Mean to Be Free?”

Displaying 21 - 30 of 38

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ken vallario

we always wanted more....it's just that because of industrialization, we got it!

i agree very strongly with the notion that we ought to nurture a disdain for excess wealth...that although the gates are doing a lot of good, that a reasonable size home is well...reasonable...

inequity is at the heart of the greed cycle

ken vallario

we always wanted more....it's just that because of industrialization, we got it!

i agree very strongly with the notion that we ought to nurture a disdain for excess wealth...that although the gates are doing a lot of good, that a reasonable size home is well...reasonable...

inequity is at the heart of the greed cycle

Anonymous

Anyone who agrees with this article should read George Monbiot's "Heat". He's the first I've read who is painfully aware of global warming but has actually come up with a viable solution to it--a solution that greedy humans could invest in. That is the minimum change of lifestyle, for the maximum reduction in carbon.

Check it out, well written, a little depressing (you probably love that), but uplifting and hopeful too.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/11/07/heat/

Anonymous

Anyone who agrees with this article should read George Monbiot's "Heat". He's the first I've read who is painfully aware of global warming but has actually come up with a viable solution to it--a solution that greedy humans could invest in. That is the minimum change of lifestyle, for the maximum reduction in carbon.

Check it out, well written, a little depressing (you probably love that), but uplifting and hopeful too.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/11/07/heat/

Anonymous

People on one side are afraid of losing their wealth, their property, their livelihoods, and because of this they resist social and economic change. People on the other side are afraid of losing their connection to nature. They fear the wealthy, they fear the status quo, they want change and they want it now. But the constant in all of this is fear, fear of death, fear of other people, fear of the future. Why do we fear these things? Why do we try to fix other people and change institutions when we should be working on our own fear, because that's where it begins and that's where it ends. The world is a mess. It has always been a mess. It will always be a mess. You're not going to change that. But you can change yourself. Real change doesn't involve protests or politics or economics; real change is psychological. Wise people know this.

Anonymous

People on one side are afraid of losing their wealth, their property, their livelihoods, and because of this they resist social and economic change. People on the other side are afraid of losing their connection to nature. They fear the wealthy, they fear the status quo, they want change and they want it now. But the constant in all of this is fear, fear of death, fear of other people, fear of the future. Why do we fear these things? Why do we try to fix other people and change institutions when we should be working on our own fear, because that's where it begins and that's where it ends. The world is a mess. It has always been a mess. It will always be a mess. You're not going to change that. But you can change yourself. Real change doesn't involve protests or politics or economics; real change is psychological. Wise people know this.

ken vallario

real change starts with the psychological, if i may make a minor amendment to your idea.
but, what does the buddha do once enlightened...if he/she be a bodhisattva he/she returns to the life of concerns and attempts to liberate others of their fears...this might be through an infinite variety of means, and sometimes those means might be political, or economic...but they are always motivated by a desire to give, to be generous...because freedom from fear opens one up to love, and that love makes it impossible to remain satisfied merely with one's own liberation...

ken vallario

real change starts with the psychological, if i may make a minor amendment to your idea.
but, what does the buddha do once enlightened...if he/she be a bodhisattva he/she returns to the life of concerns and attempts to liberate others of their fears...this might be through an infinite variety of means, and sometimes those means might be political, or economic...but they are always motivated by a desire to give, to be generous...because freedom from fear opens one up to love, and that love makes it impossible to remain satisfied merely with one's own liberation...

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