Monday, April 12, 2010

Exercise 2: Response to "Radical Simplicity"

Since the summer of '09, sustainability has been something that I've worked to incorporate into my lifestyle, and I intend to become increasingly more sustainable throughout my life. However, if someone had asked me both before and after reading "Radical Simplicity" to envision my life 10 years from now, my answers would not be the same. In both instances I imagine myself working hard to be sustainable, but "Radical Simplicity" showed me new ways to live sustainably and broadened my views on consumerism.

Before reading "Radical Simplicity," I would imagine myself 10 years from now living in a small, energy-efficent apartment in a city near the beach with a roommate or two, eating completely from local and organic farmers' markets, and enjoying beach runs with an adorable female Chow-Chow/German Shepherd mix ( I wouldn't own a TV (all I watch is snippets of the intellectually enriching Chelsea Lately on youtube anyway) or a car because I would hopefully live close to my workplace and/or Villaraigosa's revamped public transit plan was successful (

One of the main ways that "Radical Simplicity" has changed how I imagine myself 10 years down the road is by increasing the immediate significance of sustainable living and painting a broader picture of material production and consumerism. This has lead me to reevaluate the amount of items that I buy. Although the results shown in "Exercise 1: Trash Inventory" demonstrate that I waste less resources than the average American, I now realize that my ecological footprint is still above the sustainable amount of acres. "Radical Simplicity" outlined a lot of little ways to reduce my ecological footprint, like planting a garden and composting waste as fertilizer.

Furthermore, the fact that if everyone started only having 1 child, it would take just 100 years to reduce the global population to 1 billion (pg 1830). I have never wanted to have an only child because my experience with single children has not been very positive. I don't want to just adopt because my science classes and self-absorption have given me a desire to pass on my amazing genes for the benefit of humanity. However, limiting my biological reproduction is an easy way to work toward global sustainability, and I now plan on compromising my desires relating to reproduction, by having one biological child and then adopting more. This way my only biological child will not grow up a spoiled brat and other children up for adoption who may not have otherwise had opportunities for things like an extended education would now have that due to me adopting them.

However, two components of my envisioned lifestyle that will not change in accordance with Merkel's ideals are my desire to have a job and live in a city. I think that, although the system of, essentially, communism that Merkel proposes would work hypothetically, it would never become a reality in America because it would require the existence of a perfectly just society where no single individual valued their self-interest over that of their neighbors. Although a similar system seems to be working in Kerala, I still believe that the sociopolitical and economic upheaval that would have to occur in America to make such a system possible is impossible.

Additionally, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to go live in a forest and collect nettles, especially with demographic trends indicating that the majority of population growth will be occurring in cities. As someone interested in urban planning and public policy, I think that it is a better approach to develop and implement ways to make cities more sustainable than it is to pretend that Americans can live like Native Americans. Also, the cultural diversity found in cities provides an outlet for people wishing to pursue or enjoy "immaterial" pursuits like art and music.

Furthermore, I plan on having a green job that I find immaterial fulfillment through. I have a semi-secret fantasy that I will amass a small fortune during my early adulthood and use it to open a sustainable, local and organic restaurant with my brother. So although I now envision material changes in how I see my life 10 years from now (specifically, buying less long-term items like clothing, and buying little or no single-use items like water bottles), I don't see much of a change in my immaterial goals (having a fulfilling job, close friends and family, and the aforementioned Chow-Chow/German Shepherd mix). What I mean by fulfilling is that, if a situation arose where I could make the same amount of money whether I had a job or not, I would still choose to work because would be something that I believe makes the world a better place in some way.

By running, I think I also achieve a variety of the nonmaterial pleasures he suggests doing in the book. The repetitive motion of running mimics the repetitive breathing patterns employed during meditation which, with the natural endorphins released from the physical activity, results in a "runner's high" and the release of stress. Furthermore, because I run outside every single day, I have become very well acquainted with my surroundings, and I love noticing the seasonal changes in the local flora, deepening my connection with nature and the value I place on the environment.

For me and, I believe, a majority of Americans, such an approach provides a compromise by incorporating many of the more realistic suggestions made in "Radical Simplicity" while not implementing some of Merkel's more radical and impractical ideas.