Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sustainable Consumption

Boston's New Dream Foundation is one of the most consistently informative and interesting green organizations around.  Rather than cause-oriented activism, they take a big-picture approach, seeing the need to change deeply ingrained habits and practices (rather than "awareness" in general).  Drawing on the work of scoiologist Juliet Schor, NDF offers fine-grained analyses, thoughtful commentary and practical advice.  One of their recent studies looks at Americans' patterns of consumption, and tries to think about what more sustainable consumption might look like. 

Meanwhile, Andrew O'Hagan in the London Review of Books takes a look at three recent books about car culture (mostly in the US) and explains why governments--not just the US, but world-wide--are deeply reluctant to let the carmakers go under. In O'Hagan's view, the issue is much more than economic, but goes to the heart of modern (male) identity, especially as its been made in the image of Americanism:

"In American fiction, a great number of epiphanies – especially male
epiphanies – occur while the protagonist is alone and driving his car.
There are reasons for that. One may not have a direction but one has a
means of getting there. One may not be in control of life but one can
progress in a straight line. When your youth is over and definitions
become fixed, even if they are wrong, it might turn out that the
arrival of a car suddenly feels like the commuting of a sentence. It
may seem to give you back your existential mojo. That is the beauty of
learning to drive late and learning to drive often: it gives you a
sense that life turned out to be freer than it was in your childhood,
that time agrees with you, that your own sensitivities found their
domain in the end, and that deep in the shell of your inexpensive car
you came to know your subjectivity."
O'Hagan is not an apologist, merely honest about the deeply visceral experience of highway driving.  (Not one I share, incidentally, but I can appreciate the perspective).  That sense of personal power is a key promise of modernity, and not easily restrained or displaced.  The private automobile is one of the linchpins of the current consumption regime, which perhaps suggests how much work a serious transformation is going to take.

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