*The* Solution vs. Better Ways of Living

Sacrifice all your comforts in favor of a poor life, get back to the land… the caves… the trees, and save the planet in the process. Take responsibility, be aware, do whatever it takes!
That seems to be what the socially-conscious and planetary-prophetic are telling – at least when they don’t suggest that things will simply go on as they have been, only with ethanol instead of gasoline, windmills and solar cells instead of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Either way, *this* is *the* solution.

Just go on, get a job, work harder, treat yourself to some nice things, take a vacation to recharge, make the others jealous of your partner, kids, house, car… Live in comfort, enjoy, run faster!
On the other side, business-as-usual is not just the dominant story in business, but also in “development” and even in personal lives. Growth, jobs, higher purchasing power, more stuff, etc. keep being propounded as the solution to unhappiness. And it must be true, for developing countries want to get there too, no one wants to give up their amenities but get ever more conveniences – and we’ll just solve any and all problems when and if they occur. It’s *the* unchangeable course of unstoppable progress.

Singular stories used to be popular, not least because religious and social conventions used to be all too strong. The singular story of economic growth, (post-)industrialization, and the homo economicus still holds its sway. The counter-story of a coming decline that only knows one single solution (whether that be a techno-optimistic silver bullet or an eco-apocalyptic vision) is also going around.

Singular stories, however – no matter how convincing they may be, no matter how much the contemporary lack of a “grand narrative” may be decried – raise more problems than they solve.

Such a “the truth” doesn’t deal well with others, and often, not even with reality.

  • When ecology, such as planetary boundaries, runs counter to the story, ecological reality is ignored as long as possible, and problems that are to be seen or foreseen quite clearly are denied.
  • When the story is one of planetary boundaries, too, human reality often gets denied. Everybody is supposed to just learn to face reality, live in all the same, singular, poor conditions, and act in altruistic ways, to the point of showing no self-interest at all – as if we could like, and would ever all be completely like, that.

“The truth,” in knowing just what is best, even ignores the diversity of human needs and wants, or at least of their manifestations.

We all need air, food, water, the feeling of having some control over our lives and lives that make some semblance of sense, social interaction, and so much more.
We all live in certain locations, in particular environments, with different climates and resources, offering different opportunities and presenting different problems.

Thus, what we can easily have and what we look for even just in our eating is based on universals, yet manifesting itself in highly diverse, very personal (and also socially/culturally influenced) ways – sustenance or pleasure, social validation or personal taste, and how much of the one or the other, and in what situation?

Of course, human societies, even those we like to call civilizations, have risen and fallen, have disappeared or continued – and they always did so in using what their environments and their inventiveness made possible for them and what they came to see as the normal way(s) of doing things.

The great challenge now is that the capitalist-consumerist path, fueled by the fossil resources that became ever more available over the course of industrialization, has made it look as if there were no need, and not even much of any possibility – especially if you want a good life – for anything other than different lifestyles well within this single path. Different ways of shopping expressing different lifestyle orientations are all that supposedly matters, the future is abundance.

Happiness, however, needs more than just different expressions of a consumerist attitude that is fundamentally all the same.
Keeping our story going, given how we can’t know at least some of the challenges humanity will face and our need to reduce impacts, also requires diversity.

It is also only by diversity that ways of living can get integrated into the locales in which they really take place, and that they can interlock to create the communities in and by which humans have always been living, using what is possible and available, to produce what is necessary and desired.

It is not better to just see us venturing out into space, and therefore forget about this our home planet – nor is it any good to just get back to the land and forget about any and all high technology and high-flying dreams.

The real solution to humanity’s conundrum – and to our search for really better lives for ourselves – is a diversity of different ways of living and making a living. Not *the* solution, *the* single way, but ecologically and humanly bounded ways – and ones that are all the more creative because of the challenge that working with nature, as a part of it (but also as humans striving for greater) presents us with.

With 7 billion – and counting – people, looming resource scarcity and a run-in with planetary boundaries and ecological limits, our collective impact having risen to the level of geological forces, and better lives, now and in the future (if not a future itself) thus depending on a shift from bigger to better, it is high time we created the diverse, radically better ways of life that are required and that will be better for us, for futures

Gerald

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