5 Nov 2011

Want to Save the World? I’ll Tell You How


Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead.
Our planet isn’t in very good shape right now. The air is polluted. The ocean is becoming plastic soup. We’re in a financial crisis.
Things don’t seem to be looking too good, huh?
There are a lot of people, that have a lot of answers. Everyone thinks their answer is right. We need cleaner, natural sources for energy. We need biodegradable products that if dumped, will simply disintegrate within a few weeks. As far as the financial crisis goes, that’s a little trickier. Some people say we need more regulation. Others say we need more jobs. Others still say the cost of living is increasing too fast for our incomes to keep up.
Everyone has answers.
The problem is, none of these answers address the fundamental problem:
We don’t need to do anything about it.
No, I didn’t stutter.
The answer isn’t in better solutions, fixes and different angles. The answer is… we need to do less.
There’s a fundamental rule in physics that says, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred. I’m sure you’re familiar with this, we all learned it in school. And the same rule applies to everything in life, but I guess we didn’t listen very well.
See, the problem we’re in this big mess is really simple. It may seem like there’s so much we need to do, to make things right. And that’s the problem. We don’t need to do more. We don’t need to make more of an effort. We need to do less.
That’s why I don’t understand a lot of these “green enthusiasts.” They say we need greener products, with less of an environmental impact. They want to make our consumables more eco-friendly. I agree this is part of the answer, but the issue is really only a sliver of the type of things we consume. It’s how much we consume.
Consuming has caused the majority of our financial and environmental problems. We take more than we give. We know that we’ll need to repay our debt sooner or later, but we put it off. Interest accrues, financially and ecologically. It’s not until the problem gets so huge — and we can’t ignore it anymore — that we take action.
Just like energy cannot be created, or destroyed, we can’t magically make our financial or environmental debts disappear. The rubber band can only bend so far before it swings back.
So why do we avoid using less? Why are we so hungry to consume? Maybe it’s because we’re looking for the wrong things. Maybe what we really need is an internal revolution.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways we can use the power of less to restore balance.
  • Driving less, walking more. Not only will you be saving the environment, you’ll be saving your heart as well. Bonus!
  • Wanting less, appreciating more. Instead of wanting a big home you can’t afford, maybe you should settle for living in smaller home in a less expensive area. Enjoy your space more. By spending less money on mortgage, you’ll be saving more time. Time is life. Win/win.
  • Talking less, listening more. We spend most of our time listening formulating our response. You’d be amazed how much people never really hear each other at all. Think about how your life can be improved by understanding people better. You’ll probably avoid a lot of unnecessary drama do to misunderstandings. When I do this, my wife gets mad at me less for not listening. That’s always nice. =)
  • Buy things that are more expensive, but last longer. A double edged razor will last a lot longer than disposable razors. You’ll save money too. Use real dishes instead of plastic/paper. It may seem like a little more work to wash them, but it really isn’t. It takes more energy to mine that plastic, manufacture, package, distribute and purchase then it does to wash a dish. Rethink convenience.
  • Spend more time being mindful. The more mindful we are, the more we’ll save. We often waste a lot of time rushing around, trying to do too many things at once. We try to print a report, make coffee, and talk on the phone at the same time. Doing this we run the risk of printing the wrong pages, accidentally forgetting the coffee filter and saying the wrong thing. We spend more time correcting ourselves than we would save simply being mindful.
  • Less things. The more things we buy, the more we resources we take from the planet. The more we consume, the larger that debt becomes. Buying new clothes, appliances or phones isn’t really a bad thing. It’s our addiction to buy the newest and greatest each year or every few months that is dangerous. After all, that old thing has to go somewhere. And it’s probably in a landfill somewhere.
How can you use the power of less is to help save the planet? I would love to hear your ideas.
This article was written by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead of the Illuminated Mind blog. For more ways to do less (and get more), grab a subscription to Illuminated MInd.

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