April 30, 2012
By Matt Palmer
Do you believe we live in a world of diminishing resources; a world of lack? Many, many people believe that, preach that, and fear that. What if we actually live in a world of abundance, and if by choosing to live our lives within this reality, we fundamentally and radically transform the quality of our present lives, and the future? What if in accepting the abundance of the earth, we exchanged our current set of problems: environmental destruction, resource depletion, world hunger, and water shortages; for a new set of challenges that do not frighten people to the point of paralysis?
Seeing the world as abundant allows a fundamental worldview shift from being overwhelmed by massive problems, to exploring solutions to real and credible challenges around the environment, food production, and water use, using a palette of infinite colours. It is the difference of existing in a closed system or flourishing in an open system. Many people believe that focusing on negatives is a message to the Universe to bring more negative. For example, focusing on debt sends a message to the Universe to bring more debt.
Happiness becomes elusive because a typical thought pattern will say “I’ll be happy if I have a bike, then, I’ll be happy if I have a car, then I’ll be happy if I have a nicer car, and a nicer home, and more money, and so on.” This type of thought pattern transforms into a perpetual motion unhappiness machine attaching happiness to what is lacking, rather than gratitude for the here and now. This does not mean we cannot want more or to better our position, but it does matter to consider why and how we do it.
How and why we do things is an important factor in the energy and environment debate. Many people believe we can solve our energy and environmental problems if we stop using fossil fuels. If we build more wind turbines, If we build more solar panels everything will be okay. Saying we must stop our addiction to fossil fuels (we are dependent, not addicted) in favour of alternative energy sources denies the reality that fossil fuels are the feedstock that brought the modern technological world into existence and that we will continue to need them, and it often ignores that alternative energy sources bring their own host of negative impacts along with the positive ones.
So if everything we do has positive and negative consequences, and if alternative energy production is going to introduce a whole new set of environmental problems, does that mean we are essentially screwed? I do not believe so, in fact, I learned a new word today: eudaimonia; and it reaffirms my philosophical worldview. Eudaimonia is an Ancient Greek self-realization theory that makes happiness and personal well-being the chief good for man. I got this from a wonderful article in the Harvard Business Review, Is a Well-Lived Life Worth Anything? by Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Labs.
The economy we have today will let you chow down on a supersize McBurger, check derivative prices on your latest smartphone, and drive your giant SUV down the block to buy a McMansion on hypercredit. It’s a vision of the good life that I call (a tiny gnat standing on the shoulders of the greatAmartya Sen) hedonic opulence. And it’s a conception built in and for the industrial age: about having more. Now consider a different vision: maybe crafting a fine meal, to be accompanied by local, award-winning microbrewed beer your friends have brought over, and then walking back to the studio where you’re designing a building whose goal is nothing less than rivaling the Sagrada Familia. That’s an alternate vision, one I call eudaimonic prosperity, and it’s about living meaningfully well. Its purpose is not merely passive, slack-jawed “consuming” but living: doing, achieving, fulfilling, becoming, inspiring, transcending, creating, accomplishing — all the stuff thatmatters the most. See the difference? Opulence is Donald Trump. Eudaimonia is the Declaration of Independence.
Yesterday, pundits and talking heads believed this crisis was just a garden-variety, workaday crash. Today, people like Tyler Cowen and I have called it a Great Stagnation. But here’s what I believe it might just be called tomorrow, when the history books have been written, and the debates concluded: a Eudaimonic Revolution. A sweeping, historic transformation in what we imagine a good life to be, and how, why, where, and when we pursue it.
As he says in the article, this is not about asceticism, but it is about creating a meaningful life, and discovering the elements that support that journey. There is no sacrifice in giving up one way of life, if the next way provides deeper meaning and satisfactions.
So how does all this fit with what I am calling “The New Environmentalism”, which is really another way of shifting to systems thinking? How does eudaimonic prosperity inspire energy prosperity? By shifting gears and realigning our worldview.
We live in a world filled with abundant energy, filled with abundant resources – some of which are more renewable, more sustainable than others, but all fuel sources require infrastructure and resources to build and maintain the production, distribution, and consumption chain. Ultimately then, it is not as much about what fuel sources we use or switch to, but how and why we use them. Harnessing any form of energy comes with positive and negative impacts, and true energy prosperity will come from embracing the unintended consequences and the ethos of eudaimonia.
I believe the quantum leap from opulence to eudaimonia is going to be the biggest, most significant economic shift of the next decade, and perhaps beyond: of our lifetimes. We’re not just on the cusp of, but smack in the middle of nothing less than a series of revolutions, aimed squarely at the trembling status quo (financial, political, social): new values, mindsets, and behaviors, fundamentally redesigned political, social, economic, and financial institutions; nothing less than reweaving the warp and weft of not just the way we live–but why we live, work, and play.
It all comes down to what kind of world we want to manifest for ourselves. Do we want to believe in obstacles or solutions? Which one will inspire hope, and consequently, motivation to change?