The current financial crisis has made me stop and think about my relationship to money and just what it provides you with. Is it an illusion that having a robust stock portfolio helps you feel secure or that when your 401k is up the future looks more rosy?
Now the illusion has been stripped away. People are waking up to the fact that, contrary to everything we have heard for many years now, money doesn’t make you happy. According to Meadows, Meadows and Randers in “Beyond the Limits”, “People don’t need enormous cars; they need respect”
“They don’t need closets full of clothes; they need to feel attractive and they need excitement, variety, and beauty. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgment, love, joy.”
“To try to fill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems. The resulting psychological emptiness is one of the major forces behind the desire for material growth. A society that can admit and articulate its non-material needs and find non-material ways to satisfy them would require much lower material and energy throughputs and would provide much higher levels of human fulfillment.”
In “Insurmountable Opportunities?“, Hunter Lovins and Walter Link also point this out, “This work has caused a growing number of residents of North America and Europe to ask, ‚ÄòHow much is enough, and whether consumerism, the accumulation of more stuff, is contributing to their happiness?'” Sustainability goes hand in hand with a society that values human, emotional needs over excessive material needs.
Meadows, Meadows and Randers are also clear that eliminating poverty is critical to achieving a sustainable future. “Sharing is a forbidden word in political discourse, probably because of the deep fear that real equity would mean not enough for anyone. ‘Sufficiency’ and ‘solidarity’ are concepts that can help structure new approaches to ending poverty. Everyone needs assurance that sufficiency is possible for everyone and that there is a high social commitment to ensure it. And everyone needs to understand that the world is tied together both ecologically and economically. There is enough to go around, if we manage well. If we don’t manage well, no one will escape the consequences.”
The zero sum game that has been American economic politics since Ronald Reagan will have to change radically to embody these kinds of ideas. The greed of Bernie Madoff and every Wall Street banker who decided to take advantage of loose regulations and uninformed investors should signal a turning point for us.
Sustainability is about more than running out of oil and climate change, it is about changing our culture to one that values life and the qualities that make life meaningful and fulfilling. I believe that change of this magnitude can happen, but only if it driven by a positive message of hope for a better future.
Robyn Miller is an MBA student at Presidio School of Management with a background in financial management.