Guest Editorials

These editorials come from the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD).  When you use/re-distribute them in any medium please notify inbalance@newdream.org

Editorials and Suggested Publication Times

December Finding Meaning in a Cup of Coffee by Rodney North
November The Right Amount by Alan AtKisson
October All That Glitters by Mary Pipher
September Whatever Happened to Green Consumers? by Joel Makower
August My Summer Vacation Wish - Real Vacations for All by Juliet Schnor
July Wealth, Well-Being, and the New American Dream by David G. Meyers
June The Challenge for the New Millennium by David T. Suzuki
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Column #7

Finding Meaning in a Cup of Coffee

by Rodney North

Imagine this. I'm a businessman. But I'm also an environmentalist. And I worry whether our suppliers in poor countries are paid enough. Is all that at odds? Can such a mix of values - profit, nature, fairness - really be reconciled? Or does progress in one area always mean falling short in another? Not necessarily. I know firsthand that companies can do this, and that mindful consumers help make it happen.

My example comes from the specialty coffee industry, a $3 billion sector that is taking small, but critical steps towards tackling entrenched social and ecological problems involved in coffee production.

Coffee is big business. Americans alone drink over 400,000,000 cups every day. 20 million people around the world make their living growing, harvesting and supplying the rest of us with all that coffee. Most of those people are laborers or farmers with small plots of land. Some are both. Normally it's a hard life, but these days it's even worse. Coffee prices for farmers are at an eight-year low, around 62 cents a pound.

Your coffee's the same. So is the farmer's work, but their 'paycheck' has been cut in half. Few farmers get even 62 cents. After the exporter, the processor and others take their cuts, a small farmer might not get 30 cents a pound.


Some farmers will give up, and look for work on the plantations or in the overcrowded cities. Others will try to hold on to their family's land and probably go into debt. They will hope for better prices at the next harvest, as they and their ancestors have done for generations.

Fortunately there's another option. It's called "fair trade." Think of it as a minimum wage safety net for small farmers. When coffee is fairly traded, importers like us buy directly from co-op's of small farmers, not the elites who normally control coffee exports. And the farmers will always get at least a fair price (currently $1.26 a pound), or the market price, whichever is higher.

But how can paying extra work as a profitable business? First, because we have different goals - and maximizing our profits isn't one of them. By accepting smaller profits, and recruiting investors who share our values, we have more money available to pay the farmers. Second, it works because consumers go for it. We have found that many people care where their shopping dollars go, and when they know they have an alternative like fair trade, at a fair price, they buy it - literally.


Coffee production and consumption also offer some important ecological choices. Since an area the size of Ohio is used to grow the world's coffee it matters how that land is farmed. Much of the worlds' crop is grown in what some call 'green deserts'. These are places where the native forest has been replaced with endless rows of short coffee trees, dependent upon a toxic cocktail of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Loss of wildlife habitat, contamination of streams, and pesticide poisonings are all common problems. However, most of the best coffee can grow well without chemicals, especially when planted in a mixed ecosystem that resembles the original forest. The yield per acre from such organic farming is lower, but so are the costs to the farmer. Meanwhile, the coffee trees live longer, soil erosion is less, and the farmer gets a better price thanks to the growing popularity of organic foods. That strong consumer demand in turn allows our company to be both profitable and gentle on the earth.


Organic coffee and fair trade coffee are just two examples of how commerce can be combined with a concern for the earth and for fairness. In Europe they have extended fair trade to cocoa, bananas, and sugar. Here at home Americans already buy over seven billions dollars of organic food annually.

In the end I choose to view business as a tool, and not just for the so- called fat cats and old style capitalists. All of us, whether as consumers, investors, or entrepreneurs, can help decide how this tool is used and to what end.

And while the old definition of success may have centered on money and status, a new definition of success can be where everyone - not just me - has enough, and where our work today leaves the earth undiminished for future generations.

Rodney North is the Answer Man for Equal Exchange, Canton, Mass. www.equalexchange.com. For additional information go to www.fairtradefederation.org or www.fairtrade.net.

This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's Syndicated Column Service. For more information about the Center, click on www.newdream.org, or call (877) 68-DREAM.
January/February 2001

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Column #6

The Right Amount

by Alan AtKisson

My friend from Sweden has two towels. Actually she has three, but the third she uses only for travel. When the bathroom towels are dirty, she washes them. When they wear out, she buys two more -- and very good ones, so they'll last a long time.

"Why do I need more than two?" she says. "Det är lagom."

What she said in Swedish does not exactly translate to "This is enough."

The word "lagom" -- pronounced melodically, the "la" a falling tone, the "gom" (rhymes with "home") a shorter syllable that's right back up where the "la" started -- means something like, "exactly the right amount."

What a delight to learn this word! When it comes to thinking about responses to over-consumption and consumerism, we are stuck, in English, with far less pleasing words. "Enough" sounds to most American ears as though it had the word "barely" just in front of it. For some reason, "enough" never sounds like ... enough. "Balance" sounds difficult; I'm always losing mine. "Sufficiency" carries the whiff of technical economic jargon. Even "simplicity," the current fad-word-of-the-moment in some marketing circles, tends to appeal only to those folks with either a moral commitment or a serious case of overwhelm.

We need a concept for thinking about how much, in terms of stuff, is the right amount -- and the Swedes have given us a word for it.

The concept of "lagom" can be applied to everything from cake to carbon dioxide emissions. What is "lagom" for chocolate cake? For me, it's usually a little bit more than "enough." But what's "lagom" for CO2?

Only as much as the ecosystems of the Earth can reabsorb, and no more.

"Lagom" allows for more than enough -- but it still sets limits.

What if our society were organized around the concept of "lagom"? Not that Sweden is organized that way; although my friend is hardly an extremist, she is a more enthusiastic "lagom"-ist than many of her fellow Swedes. (Imagine the Vikings taking only "lagom" when they plundered!)

And most Americans would have trouble just pronouncing it. But I have developed a small fascination with this word, because it has an attractive quality that "enough," "sufficient," and even "simple" often lack.

Most people in the world do not want enough. They want more. They certainly want more than the bare minimum, and research suggests they want more than those around them. This desire for more seems to be deeply wired in the human organism. We developed over millennia in hostile environments, both natural and social. To have more than we need has always been our first defense against the vagaries of an uncertain future.

Hoarding is the first act of those who believe themselves to be in the path of a storm (or a marauding army of plundering Vikings, for that matter).

So while there will always be those of us who love the idea of "enough- ness" and "voluntary simplicity," it seems likely that such concepts will never quite be ... well ... enough to transform the masses of humanity (or the marauding army of corporations vying to fill their houses with stuff, in a kind of reverse-plunder operation).

But it does seem possible to promote a sensible Swedish sense of "lagom" worldwide -- if we can find other good words for it -- because it speaks more to what people actually want. Let's admit that it's very nice to have good shoes. No one can be faulted for wanting them. But does a person really need fifteen pairs? No. But is one pair enough? Perhaps not. "Lagom" acknowledges that people have varying needs and desires at different times.

They want nice things, and comfort, and security. They want more than the bare minimum, and they might even need it. If their desire for more than enough is accepted, even supported, perhaps they would be more willing to consider how much is too much.

Clearly, here in America, we are far beyond the limits of "lagom." Once in a while I make a point of wandering into a Costco or a Sam's Club -- huge retail warehouses full of consumer goods, on sale cheap. The spaces are large enough to house a submarine assembly plant. You can buy everything from taco shells to trampolines to model wooden boats, by the crate. The shopping carts are as big as a small car.

Walking around the aisles of one of these stores allows me to indulge in several radically different feelings: raw consumer lust, great moral outrage, and aching environmental angst.

But when I took my same Swedish friend to see one of these places, her response was more practical. "I suppose people can save quite a lot of money here," she noted. "And it's better to buy some things in larger quantities." (Not towels.) "But perhaps it's just very tempting to take too much in such a place."

Nobody really needs too much, and in fact, most people don't really want it. But nobody wants too little. Perhaps our vision for a sustainable world should include not just enough for all, but "lagom" for all, with fewer temptations to take too much.

And while I could write a great deal more about this lovely new addition to my vocabulary, perhaps this page, too, is "lagom."


Alan AtKisson is the author of Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World. He is president of AtKisson and Associates, Inc., a consulting firm focused on accelerating sustainable development. He is also a Senior Fellow with the independent policy institute Redefining Progress, and formerly its program and executive director. Mr. AtKisson is a member of the board of directors of the Center for a New American Dream.

This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's Syndicated Column Service. For more information about the Center, click on www.newdream.org, or call (877) 68-DREAM.
November/December 2000

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Column #5

All That Glitters

by Mary Pipher

I am in the middle of writing a book on the refugees and immigrants in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's an amazing experience, befriending people from Vietnam, Mexico, Ethiopia, Iraq and Bosnia. It's a way to travel the world while sleeping in my own bed each night. Also, it is a way to learn how families from other cultures function, something most tourists don't learn.

I have found much to admire in these new Americans-- their courage, emotional resilience, good humor and general resourcefulness. But I am also aware of how vulnerable new arrivals are. Many arrive without money, English, work or families. They are far from what they know, eagerly searching for new identities in our land of opportunity. They are on a search for what is good and beautiful. They look to America for ideas about who they should become.

Many immigrants and refugees learn what to love and value in our country from advertisers. In America, it's a rule of thumb that what is least necessary is what is advertised most. But immigrants and refugees don't know this. They are at the mercy of their main teacher, the television.

Consequently they may make bad choices about purchases, buying expensive junky toys before they buy toothbrushes, sugar instead of fresh produce and cigarettes and alcohol instead of shoes.

Recently I visited friends from Northern Iraq to celebrate their daughter Fatima's tenth birthday. Zena, the mother, led us into the living room where a small television blared cartoons. Fatima carried her stuffed dog, Toto, and her two younger brothers wore Spiderman t-shirts. I called these three kids Snap, Crackle and Pop, because their favorite food is American breakfast cereal--the more sugary the better.

The room was dark and bare with no curtains on the small windows, no pictures on the walls and only one saggy couch. Toys were scattered everywhere--video games, Star Wars and Pokemon figures and plastic motorcycles. I noted a pack of Marlboros and an ashtray, new since my last visit. While we talked, the boys banged action figures into each other and zoomed their motorcycles around us.

We watched an animated version of The Wizard of Oz. Zena said the kids had all memorized the five cartoon videos they owned. As if to prove this, when the video reached the scene where Dorothy clicked her ruby slippers together, Fatima jumped up, clicked her heels and recited Dorothy's speech.

When the video finished, I offered to read a story to the kids and they gathered around eagerly. As I read, Zena prepared our dining area. Clearly she had spent all day and most of her food budget fixing us a beautiful meal. She carried out Cokes and bags of generic chips. She proudly presented a plate piled high with homemade flatbread still warm from the griddle, a large tray of roast chicken, and another with chopped vegetables. We sat on the floor, passing dishes and eating with our fingers. The children preferred the potato chips and Cokes. I wished I could turn the television off.

I was touched by Zena's kindness to me. She had so little and yet whatever she had was offered with grace. But I was also struck by the limited information the family was receiving about our culture. They had come from a rural area and had never had consumer goods. Now they had no antidotes to our consumer society. They bought some of the worst junk America had to offer-- cigarettes and soda pop, violent video games and cartoons, plastic weapons and Barbies.

Television, their main educator, told them lies-- that happiness comes from buying consumer goods and unhealthy foods, that most Americans are rich, and that expensive cars and clothes are important. There were no ads for the joy of quiet time, calmness, walks, gardening, looking at sunsets, visiting with neighbors or reading to children. I wished this family had a cultural broker, someone who would help them with shopping and our library system and who could teach Zena how to read. They were in a magical country bright and shiny with possibilities, but they needed someone to teach them that all that glittered was not gold and that children need toothbrushes and beds more than action heroes.

Zena's family's dilemma is that of many refugees and immigrants who arrive here with no money or education, traumatized and naive about the Western World. They are in search of identity and, in America, ads suggest that products define us. The right clothes will make us cool. The right toys will make kids happy and smart.

Of course, new arrivals learn quickly, but the tricky thing is what do they learn? Do they learn to be intentional shoppers who make wise choices or do they learn to buy what is advertised on their televisions? Are they learning how to function from well-meaning neighbors or from Madison Avenue? We have a responsibility to teach our new Americans to make good choices and to help them separate reality from hype. Otherwise, for our new arrivals, our magical country very quickly turns into a barren landscape.


Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is the New York Times best-selling author of four books, including Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and Another Country: The Emotional Terrain of Our Elders. Her next project is a book on refugees and immigrants. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for a New American Dream.

This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's Syndicated Column Service. For more information about the Center, click on www.newdream.org, or call (877) 68-DREAM.
September/October 2000

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Column #4

Whatever Happened to Green Consumers?

by Joel Makower

Here's a pop quiz: Two products are sitting next to each other in a store.  They're practically identical, but one is environmentally better -- let's say it's recycled, recyclable, biodegradable, less toxic, or contains less packaging. Both are priced about the same.

Which would you buy?

For those with even a scintilla of eco-consciousness, the answer is a no- brainer: the "greener" one is preferable.

So, given that public-opinion surveys report that roughly three Americans in four call themselves "environmentalists," and that marketing studies tell us that roughly 7 in 10 consumers would gladly choose the greener product over its less-green counterpart, why has green consumerism remained a largely marginal aspect of shopping?

The chasm between green concern and green consumerism is, for me, one of the more curious and frustrating aspects of the environmental movement.

For all the activism and consciousness-raising, for all the thinking locally and acting globally, the overwhelming majority of consumers haven't exactly demanded greener products. Only a relative handful of consumers regularly go out of their way to make environmentally preferable buying choices.

It seems the so-called green consumer movement was one of those well- intended passing fancies, a testimony to Americans' never-ending quest for simple, quick, and efficient solutions to complex problems.

What happened? Here are five reasons why the environment has failed to become a mainstream market force:

1. There's no mandate. Though polls tell us that most consumers prefer greener products, the polls are misleading: they fail to ask the right questions. If you pose a question as a green-versus-ungreen choice, as I did at the beginning of this column, the answer is obvious: everyone prefers the greener choice. But if you probe deeper into consumer attitudes, the real answer is that consumers will choose the greener product -- IF it

That's a high hurdle for any product. No wonder mainstream consumers turned off to environmentally conscious shopping.

2. The public is dazed and confused. Shopping with Mother Earth in mind is no mean feat, even for the most savvy of shoppers. After all, understanding the environmental implications of something as simple as paper versus plastic shopping bags requires digesting a fair amount of science, some of which is inconclusive, contradictory, or simply arguable.

Both, after all, come from limited, declining resources, can be made from recycled material, and can be recycled. Which is better? Even the scientists don't agree. (Of course, the greenest bag is the reusable organic cotton or hemp bag you use thousands of times before it must be turned into compost, but that notion rarely gets considered at the end of a checkout line.)

3. People lack perspective. Similarly, most people don't have a clue about the relative environmental impacts of the things they do every day. For example, a good many self-described green consumers don't seem to find irony in jumping into their poorly tuned, gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles with a cold engine and underinflated tires to drive a couple miles out of their way in bumper-to-bumper traffic in order to purchase their favorite brand of recycled paper towels. Will buying the right laundry detergent or ice cream make the world safe for gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws? You make the call.

The whole notion of green consumerism unwittingly contributes to this lack of perspective. It implies that greener purchases can help "save the earth." The dirty little secret of green consumerism is that we're not likely to shop our way to environmental health.

4. Companies making greener products are afraid to speak up. With good reason. Those early purveyors of "degradable trash bags" and "ozone- friendly aerosols" got their wrists slapped, so marketers are understandably gun-shy on making environmental claims, particularly those that are scientifically debatable. And most companies aren't environmentally pure, so to call attention to one's green goods risks calling attention to one's ecological skeletons. Better to keep one's corporate mouth shut, right?

5. Green benefits aren't always evident. As the Levi's example demonstrates, many environmental initiatives companies take don't show up on product labels. For example, Anheuser-Busch saves millions of pounds of aluminum a year by shaving 1/8" off the diameter of its beer cans, though they don't put eco-labels on cans of Busch and Bud. Nonetheless, they're having a significant impact when you consider the energy and resource inputs of aluminum, and the energy savings from trucking lighter-weight cans. It's certainly a greater environmental contribution than that of consumers pondering "paper versus plastic."

For now, it seems green consumerism is destined to be limited to the roughly 10% to 12% of the marketplace that pollsters tell us are willing to regularly seek out and buy green products, regardless of how much more they cost or what lengths one must go to find them. Despite its frustrations, green consumerism remains a powerful, largely untapped tool for environmental change. The fact is, as I pointed out a decade ago, every time we open our wallets, we cast a vote, for or against the environment. And the marketplace isn't a democracy: It doesn't take 51% voting in one direction to effect change. A relatively small number of consumers can be a potent force. The model works. We just need to make it work harder.

Joel Makower is a well-respected journalist and best-selling author, and a leading voice on business and the environment. A writer and lecturer, he is also editor of "The Green Business Letter," a monthly newsletter on corporate environmental responsibility. Makower serves as president of Green Business Network, producers of GreenBiz.com, a comprehensive web portal on business and the environment.


This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's Syndicated Column Service. For more information about the Center, click on www.newdream.org, or call (877) 68-DREAM.
July/August 2000

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Column #3

My Summer Vacation Wish - Real Vacations for All

by Juliet Schnor

As this first summer of the new millennium approaches, I can't help but wax nostalgic about my two years as a professor in the Netherlands. There, as a civil servant on a twelve month schedule, I was entitled to about nine weeks of paid vacation. It seemed that few professors took all that time, but three to four weeks was virtually obligatory. Late spring was the time of year the lunchroom conversation turned to holiday destinations, perhaps because this was when the vacation allocation arrived in the paycheck-a fat 8% bonus added to one's salary. It was the government's way of making sure every Dutch worker had money to take a proper holiday. Of course, it wasn't really a bonus, but an intelligent "forced savings" program in which a bit of one's pay was held aside each month.

Back in the USA, vacation practices seem downright archaic. Unlike most of Western Europe, where paid vacations are typically four to six weeks for all regular workers, the US has no official vacation policy. Employers are not required to provide them, and the starting norm in good jobs remains a paltry two weeks. Millions of the hard-working poor, without steady employment, have no paid vacation at all. And millions of the hard-working well-to-do have nice allotments which exist only on paper-the excessive demands of their positions make planning and taking significant time off almost impossible. Furthermore, Americans are much more likely to keep working while they do go away. (I'll never forget that long afternoon in the Hamptons during the B.C. (before cellular) era-when the stock broker and I nearly came to blows over the only pay phone at the motel...)

The failure to increase vacation time in the US is especially scandalous these days, given how much harder most Americans are working. According to the National Survey of the Changing Workforce, US employees in 1997 were working 3.5 more hours a week than they did twenty years earlier. They are working more hours than they are scheduled to work, they do more overtime, bring more work home, and take more business trips. And sixty percent still report that they don't have enough time at work to finish "everything that needs to get done." This, despite the fact that 68% report having to work "very fast" and 88% reporting having to work "very hard." American corporations seem downright ungracious about vacations when viewed in this light. Or when we consider that they give their European employees the same month to six weeks that European companies do.

The Western Europeans have come to understand that being a good hard- working employee requires an annual period of serious relaxation. Not just a three day jet to the Bahamas, but a genuine unwinding, not only from work, but also from the hectic pace of daily consumer life. In the U.S., we tend to use vacations as opportunities for consuming, whether it's expensive hotel stays, outlet shopping, or exotic luxury destinations.

This is part of our larger pattern of work and spend, using economic progress to consume more, rather than give ourselves more time off. By contrast, Europeans treat their vacations less as spending sprees. They're more likely to go camping, or hiking, or stay in the country, where they can live more simply, enjoy the pleasures of nature, and reflect on their daily lives. The vacation bonus ensures that everyone can afford to do this, even the lowest paid service workers. In Western Europe, vacations have become a basic human right. in the us, they feel more like an endangered species.

Almost ten years ago I wrote a book called The Overworked American. Now, my personal sure-fire signal that summer is approaching is the flurry of calls I get from reporters assigned to the annual hand-wringing piece about how and why Americans don't have enough time off. This year I decided to write my own. Let's hope it's a short-lived tradition.

Juliet Schor is a member of the board of the Center for a New American  Dream and author, most recently, of Do Americans Shop Too Much? (Beacon Press). She teaches at Harvard University. This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's Syndicated Column Service.

For more information about the Center, click on www.newdream.org, or call 1-877-68-DREAM.
May/June 2000

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Column #2

Wealth, Well-Being, and the New American Dream

by David G. Myers

Does money buy happiness? Not! Ah, but would a little more money make us a little happier? Many of us smirk and nod. There is, we believe, some connection between fiscal fitness and feeling fantastic. Most of us tell Gallup that, yes, we would like to be rich. Three in four entering American collegians - nearly double the 1970 proportion - now consider it "very important" or "essential" that they become "very well off financially." Money matters.

It's the old American dream: life, liberty, and the purchase of happiness. "Of course money buys happiness," writes Andrew Tobias. Wouldn't anyone be happier with the indulgences promised by the magazine sweepstakes: a 40 foot yacht, deluxe motor home, private housekeeper? Anyone who has seen Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous knows as much. "Whoever said money can't buy happiness isn't spending it right," proclaimed a Lexus ad.

Well, are rich people happier? Researchers have found that in poor countries, such as Bangladesh, being relatively well off does make for greater well-being. We need food, rest, shelter, social contact.

But a surprising fact of life is that in countries where nearly everyone can afford life's necessities, increasing affluence matters surprisingly little. The correlation between income and happiness is "surprisingly weak," observed University of Michigan researcher Ronald Inglehart in one 16-nation study of 170,000 people. Once comfortable, more money provides diminishing returns. The second piece of pie, or the second $100,000, never tastes as good as the first.

Even lottery winners and the Forbes' 100 wealthiest Americans (when surveyed by University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener) have expressed only slightly greater happiness than the average American. Making it big brings temporary joy. But in the long run wealth is like health: Its utter absence can breed misery, but having it doesn't guarantee happiness. Happiness seems less a matter of getting what we want than of wanting what we have.

Has our happiness, however, floated upward with the rising economic tide? In 1957, when economist John Galbraith was about to describe the United States as the Affluent Society, Americans' per person income, expressed in today's dollars, was $8700. Today it is $20,000. Compared to 1957, we are now "the doubly affluent society" - with double what money buys. We have twice as many cars per person. We eat out two and a half times as often. In the late 1950s, few Americans had dishwashers, clothes dryers, or air conditioning; today, most do.

So, believing that a little more money would make us a little happier and that it's very important to be very well off, are we indeed now - after four decades of rising affluence - happier?

We are not. Since 1957, the number of Americans who say they are "very happy" has declined from 35 to 32 percent. Meanwhile, the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has nearly tripled, the violent crime rate has nearly quadrupled (even after the recent decline), and more people than ever (especially teens and young adults) are depressed.

I call this soaring wealth and shrinking spirit "the American paradox." More than ever, we have big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, secured rights and diminished civility. We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.

These facts of life explode a bombshell underneath our society's materialism: Economic growth has provided no boost to human morale. When it comes to psychological well-being, it is not the economy, stupid.

We know it, sort of. Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow reports that 89 percent of people say "our society is much too materialistic." Other people are too materialistic, that is. For 84 percent also wished they had more money, and 78 percent said is was "very or fairly important" to have "a beautiful home, a new car and other nice things."

One has to wonder, what's the point? "Why," wondered the prophet Isaiah, "do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" What's the point of accumulating stacks of unplayed CD's, closets full of seldom worn clothes, garages with luxury cars-all purchased in a vain quest for an elusive joy? And what's the point of leaving significant inherited wealth to one's heirs, as if it could buy them happiness, when that wealth could do so much good in a hurting world?

As we enter the new millennium more and more people are asking such questions. A new American dream is taking shape. Having secured our human rights and achieved affluence, we now long for connection and purpose. We seek better balance between our needs for independence and attachment, liberty and civility, me-thinking and we-thinking. Such transformation in consciousness has happened before, and can happen again.


David G. Myers is a psychology professor at Michigan's Hope College. Excerpts from his latest book, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University Press, 2000), can be read at www.davidmyers.org. In April, he will facilitate the Center for a New American Dream's quarterly listserv conversation. For more information on how to take part, see www.newdream.org/.


This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's bi-monthly Syndicated Column Service which explores the connections between consumption, quality of life, environment, and values. To subscribe your organization or publication send an email to eric@newdream.org . For more information about the Center, check out its popular website at www.newdream.org, email newdream@newdream.org or call 1-877-68-DREAM.

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March 2000

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Article #1

The Challenge for the New Millennium

by David T. Suzuki

As we reflect upon the recent dawning of a new millennium and the important challenges our species faces at this unique point in time, it might be worthwhile to examine what progress, or rather lack of progress, was made last century in terms of our relationship with the earth.

Ten years ago the Worldwatch Institute designated the 1990s the "Turnaround Decade" to emphasize the fact that it was urgent that we abandon our ecologically destructive ways within ten years if we were to avoid a catastrophic collision with the planet's life support systems. As if to punctuate that pronouncement, the largest gathering of heads of state ever to assemble in human history, converged for the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 to sign Agenda 21, a massive plan to turn humanity onto the road to sustainability.

Now as we embark upon a New Year, century and millennium, it is important to recognize that our 1990's consumption patterns actually accelerated the degradation of the planet's life support systems. If we look at the loss of topsoil, forests, fish and ozone, alteration of the atmosphere, water pollution and the ubiquitous spread of toxic pollutants, the state of the world is far more perilous now than it was in 1990.

In the past 100 years, the world has been transformed by improvements in health, transportation and material convenience and wealth. Most people alive today were born after 1950, so their entire lives have been during this period of spectacular growth and change that is without precedent in the entire history of our species. As a result, most people today only know that change is a constant and predictable part of their lives. Indeed, we are hooked on change - we expect and demand it. But those changes come at a cost - that have impacted on and altered the nature of traditional families, communities, businesses and ecosystems and substituted an outpouring of consumer goods.

I grew up in southern Ontario in a town called London that had a population of 70,000 when we moved there in 1949. My teen years were spent fishing for food in the Thames River, watching foxes and skunks on my grandparents' farm at the edge of the city and experiencing magic moments in a beloved swamp near our house. Today London boasts a population of 300,000 that is still growing steadily and supports a strong economy. The Thames is now so polluted no one would think of fishing in it, let alone eating a fish that lives in it. My grandparents' farm only grows high rise apartment buildings while my enchanted swamp is now covered with a huge shopping plaza and parking lot. Today's youth must find their pleasure and inspiration in shopping malls, video games and the Internet.

I am perplexed and humiliated by the fact that in the past forty years, the average size of a Canadian family has decreased by 50% while in that same period, the average size of a Canadian home has doubled. So each occupant of a house today has four times as much space. In Texas, entire subdivisions are devoted to houses with 4 to 6 car garages! Apparently we need all of this space to fill it with stuff, all of which is coming from the Earth.

The global economy since 1950 has expanded six fold, but are we six times more fulfilled or happy? If we were dying of old age and reflecting back on the joys of our lifetime, would we think about all of the stuff we owned like big houses, cars and TV sets? I doubt it. Surely we would revel in family, friends, and community and the meaningful activities and interactions we shared with them.

And what of our sense of place, of belonging in a larger community of life? I travel a lot to different parts of the world and wherever I go, I try to meet elders so I can ask them what it was like when they were young. And everywhere the answer begins the same way - "It used to be so different...." They go on to describe the fish, insects, birds or trees that were once abundant and no longer are. But there isn't empty space waiting for displaced species of plants and animals to occupy and fill up. Earth is fully occupied and fully developed. If plants and animals are no longer found in an area, chances are, they're gone. Rachel Carson warned in her prescient classic, "Silent Spring", those other species that are our companions and genetic kin, share the air, the soil and the water with us. Somehow that web of biodiversity cleanses and replenishes the very things that sustain us. If the source of our survival and livelihood is disappearing, why do we not pay attention and realize that we too will be affected?

The challenge for the new millennium cannot be to increase consumption or material wealth in the industrialized world. The president of the World Bank recently informed us that 1.3 billion human beings today live on less than a dollar a day while 3 billion live on less than three! We in the rich countries suffer from the consequences of hyperconsumption - obesity, diabetes, alienation, violence, family and community breakdown, etc. Our challenge is to find ways of living more meaningfully as social and spiritual animals, to rediscover communities and caring, sharing and cooperating in ways that bind us together. We must reconnect with our biological roots that will teach us that without clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and a diverse mix of species around us, our lives will be fundamentally impoverished if not imperiled.


David T. Suzuki, PhD, an Advisory Board member of the Center for a New American Dream, has been Professor of Zoology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver since 1969 and is an Associate with the Sustainable Development Research Institute. Dr. Suzuki is the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "The Nature of Things" and "A Planet for the Taking"; a past recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for Science, the United Nations Environmental medal and UNEP's Global 500; as well as co-author of The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature (1998) and Wisdom of the Elders: Honoring Sacred Native Visions of Nature (1992).


This article is distributed courtesy the Center for a New American Dream's bi-monthly syndicated column which explores the connections between consumption, quality of life, environment, and values. For more information about the Center, check out its popular website at www.newdream.org, email newdream@newdream.org or call 1-877-68-DREAM. To subscribe your organization or publication to the Center's syndicated column send an email to inbalance@newdream.org.
January 2000

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