I have a six-year-old. No, I’m not talking about a little one who likes rearranging the food on her dinner plate to disguise her hatred of anything green and nutritious. I’m talking about my mobile phone. In the occasional crowded bar it has elicited chuckles, as well as the wonderment of bystanders who revere it as the “eighth wonder of the retro world”. Compared to the newest smartphones on the market, I suppose they have a point. But for me, it’s enough.
It’s not that I’m a Luddite, but in recent years I’ve come to reflect a little deeper on this notion of “enough,” its place in my own life, and the important role it plays in addressing our climate predicament.
Like many who watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, I became terrified by this thing called “global warming” and felt compelled to do something about it. So in 2006 I began researching it—first as a hobby, and later in an academic setting.
It didn’t take me long to discover that tackling the problem is much more complex than carbon taxes and clean energy. In fact, even if every Australian switched to renewable energy and stopped using fuel tomorrow, household carbon emissions would drop by only 18 percent! Most of our ecological impacts are actually linked to the foods and goods we consume.
I quickly realised that to solve the climate crisis we need to radically rethink our consumption. You might say this awoke the anti-consumer in me. I sold my car. I searched out fresh, organic produce. I bought less “stuff.” Fortunately for friends and family, I drew the line at hemp clothing.
Deep down I knew my actions alone weren’t enough. Climate change has become an in-built feature of the economic system we’ve created. We’re locked in a cycle of consumer growth, and we need ever-greater amounts of natural resources and energy to fuel that addiction. To cease this trend, the whole world needs to be on board.
For now, the news is dire. We are fast-approaching critical tipping points with our climate that scientists have been warning us about for decades. We are pumping out carbon pollution at such a rate that our species has all but committed the planet to levels of warming over and above the “dangerous” two-degree limit.
There have been times when, under the weight of this research, I’ve felt like a mosquito attempting to bring down a herd of charging elephants. In my darker moments, I’ve even found myself hoping for some kind of global cataclysm—at least then the human race may have the chance to start anew.
But then I recalled some words from Aristotle: “It is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.” And in that moment these words took on a new meaning. I decided that humanity does have another choice, and it sits firmly within our reach. We can choose to allow the “evil” of social or ecological collapse to fall upon our future kin, or we can start to shift the power away from this unsustainable economic system that’s caused it and build a better one in its place.
How do we do this? I go back to my earlier point about consumerism and “enoughness.” We need to become active citizens, not passive consumers. We need to put our energy into nurturing local economies and community participation, not corporate power. We need to value the goal of “enoughness,” not growth. In the words of Epicurus, we need to reconnect with the age-old notion that, “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.”