Following one of my favorite design blogs, I was encouraged by this visionary mission:
Can we transform ideas of status so they’re about reduced impact on the world, sensible consumption, and thoughtfulness?
The New York Times reports that recycling is in an unprecedented slump. Recyclable materials are piling up by the thousands of tons. Some towns and cities are scrapping their programs; here in New York City we’re currently lucky enough to be paid $10 a ton for paper that is being recycled, but that is down from $50 a ton just two months ago.
The article points out that recycling programs have largely succeeded because there was a lot of money to be made. Now the situation is so bad that in some places, even “poachers” people who ferry off high ticket items from trash have stopped thieving – there’s no money in it.
I was struck by a comment from Jim WIlcox, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Before, you could be green by being greedy,” he said. “Now you’ve really got to rely more on your notions of civic participation.”
What he said reminded me of a really wonderful bit of reportage, a hopeful article published earlier this year in The New Yorker. Written by Elizabeth Kolbert, The Island in the Wind is free to read on-line. Here’s a brief excerpt from the introduction:
For the past decade or so, Samsø has been the site of an unlikely social movement. When it began, in the late nineteen-nineties, the island’s forty-three hundred inhabitants had what might be described as a conventional attitude toward energy: as long as it continued to arrive, they weren’t much interested in it. Most Samsingers heated their houses with oil, which was brought in on tankers. They used electricity imported from the mainland via cable, much of which was generated by burning coal. As a result, each Samsinger put into the atmosphere, on average, nearly eleven tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Then, quite deliberately, the residents of the island set about changing this. They formed energy coöperatives and organized seminars on wind power. They removed their furnaces and replaced them with heat pumps. By 2001, fossil-fuel use on Samsø had been cut in half. By 2003, instead of importing electricity, the island was exporting it, and by 2005 it was producing from renewable sources more energy than it was using.
The residents of Samsø that I spoke to were clearly proud of their accomplishment. All the same, they insisted on their ordinariness. They were, they noted, not wealthy, nor were they especially well educated or idealistic. They weren’t even terribly adventuresome. “We are a conservative farming community” is how one Samsinger put it. “We are only normal people,” Tranberg told me. “We are not some special people.”
A friend of mine reported visiting his relatives. He told me they throw away more trash in one day than he does in a month. “I was horrified,” he said. “They each all of this packaged food – everything comes in a box, in shrink wrap, in something they have to throw away every time they eat!” After a moment of reflection he added, “I just keep imagining all of those millions of households…”
With reality hitting the economy, the idea of just plain using less is about to acquire some major cachet. Imagine all of us pulling together like this Danish community, competing to see who could spend less on energy while living better, and even creating revenue for their town.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.