As a minister, I believe in the power of spiritual practice. I practice voluntary simplicity because it changes me, not because I expect it to change the world. Indeed, if a mass voluntary simplicity movement actually succeeded in reducing demand for resources, their price would drop and less enlightened consumers and manufacturers would gladly snap them up.
50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth was published in 1989, the same year as The End of Nature. In the quarter-century since, if environmentally concerned Americans had spent as much time organizing and lobbying for an end to fossil fuels as they spent calculating their personal carbon footprint, researching the life-cycle costs of every product they purchased, studying the labels of consumer goods, and rinsing plastic food-storage bags for reuse, I suspect we’d have made a lot more progress against global warming.
No matter how much we exhort people to reduce, reuse, and recycle, not much will change until we get accurate price signals at the cash register and gas pump. And that requires political action. By placing the burden and responsibility on the individual, “Reduce, reuse, recycle” diverts attention from corporations and governments–which suits them just fine.
So I walk and bicycle and take the train whenever I can, but I also drive and fly when I need to. Every time I buy gas for my car, I note what I paid and send the same amount to 350.org. (It’s my personal carbon tax.) I’m using a computer to write these words even though I haven’t examined whether a handwritten letter might or might not use less energy.
I don’t feel guilty because I live in the society I do. I just work like hell to change it.
Changing a light bulb is good. Changing a senator is better.
A former folksinger and environmental lawyer, Rev. Fred Small is Senior Minister of First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Unitarian Universalist), and co-chair of Religious Witness for the Earth, a national interfaith environmental network. Follow Rev. Fred Small on Twitter at @RevFredSmall. Originally posted on Facebook, reprinted with permission.