All Lost in the Supermarket

Parenting in the Time of Climate Change

by Julie at ProgressiveKid

Picture by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004

After decades of capitalist indoctrination by the pervasive persuasions of our modern media, we Americans have almost come to believe that we are what they say we are—consumers. We slog through the workweek and then seek community at the mall or superstore, where, instead of communing with others or with nature, we are confronted with only one option: to spend. So we spend the weekend spending, hoping to appease that hollow feeling with more stuff. Buying, our modern substitute for the gathering our ancestors did, provides a rush that resembles satisfaction. Yet that near-good feeling often drains away later, at home, away from the marketplace and unfulfilled promise of community—the connection to others that we were actually, if unconsciously, looking for.

What does this have to do with climate change? Everything! As long as we persist in accepting what our hearts tell us is false—that we are consumers and that our purpose in life is to acquire more things and that human progress is defined by limitless economic growth and that bigger and more are always better—we will not succeed at saving our lovely planet and its wondrous life from our big bad mess. Einstein put it well when he said that “technological change is like an axe in the hand of a pathological killer.” Our moral development hasn’t caught up with our inventiveness. Our wisdom and humility have been marginalized in the name of economic progress.

But anyone with wisdom, humility, and the courage not to flinch from the truth can plainly see that we as a species need to replace our models for happiness, success, and progress with new ones that don’t involve taking more than our share of Earth’s bounty, that don’t negate the value and rightful place of other life forms, and that don’t turn us into overfed, stupid, depressed consuming fiends. Think that depiction of contemporary humanity is too harsh? Go visit a mall.

The laws of nature tell us that unbridled consumption is insupportable. And our souls tell us it is meaningless. There is a fixed, inalterable amount of energy in the universe. We are not meant only to take. Fundamentally life is about exchanging energy—consuming and being consumed, living and dying, giving and taking. Some of the greatest satisfactions we have are from giving: having children, caring for animals, and teaching, sharing with, and helping others. Our most rewarding friendships display an equilibrium of taking and giving, talking and listening. But when it comes to our friendship with the earth we have been doing most of the taking and talking and very little giving and listening.

It should come as no surprise that our consumer lifestyle and value system promote selfishness rather than generosity, narcissism rather than empathy, insensitivity rather than caring, disaffection rather than connectedness, indifference rather than love. And if we see these undesirable qualities in our kids, we need look no further than ourselves for the cause.

Which leads me to my point. Perhaps the crisis of climate change isn’t all bad. It is, like any major change, potentially transformative. And it is arriving at a time when we need transformation, not only to save our planet and our children’s future, but to save us from our own deadened existence. We have become disconnected from the land, from animals and plants, from food and water, from our hands, from our neighbors, and from the best parts of ourselves.

To save ourselves from climate change, we need to unplug and wake up to the world around us. We need to stop working too much and spend more time with our kids. We need to stop buying fast food and learn how to cook and eat well again. We need to spend less time with our machines and more time outside growing vegetables or tending animals or planting trees or restoring streams or visiting friends. We need to stop using harmful chemicals in our homes and yards. We need to stop forcing animals into toxic death camps. We need to stop buying imported water in plastic bottles and instead work to ensure the safety of our own local water supplies. We need to convert our homes, cars, businesses, and communities so they use energy from renewable sources. We need to eat less or no meat to reduce the destruction of rainforests for cattle grazing. We need to switch our old light bulbs to energy-efficient ones. We need to build wind farms and install solar panels.

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Sound hard? It’s not harder than the world our kids will inherit if we don’t make these changes. What an opportunity it is for us to snap out of our consumer stupor and make our lives better—more meaningful, connected, focused, thoughtful, and creative and less selfish, destructive, rushed, loud, ugly, smelly, and rude. What an opportunity for us to model a more fulfilling, purposeful existence for our kids. What an opportunity to save species and ecosystems on the brink of extinction. What an opportunity to feel less lonely. What an opportunity to feel more alive. And, as Anne Frank so inspiringly said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

©2007 ProgressiveKid. May not be reprinted or redisplayed without permission.

Photo taken by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004. ©Creative Commons.

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