Our weird idea of the good life

Green Options has notes from a public chat by Michael Pollan (author of the excellent The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Bill McKibben (author most recently of Deep Economics, which I haven’t read but which, according to the PR materials, doesn’t really seem to be about economics) in Berkeley.

Despite the setting and the speaker, this paraphrase of McKibben strikes me as important:

The metrics by which we measure success need to change. We’re so convinced that the ends we puruse are correct just because they’re possible. To frame a push for sustainability or organic farming as giving up modernity is wrong. It’s more a question of trajectory: what course we choose, what we invest in as a society, and how we lead the world. China and India could follow either the European or American model of development, and if they all decide they want to drive their Hummers to the suburbs, it’s game over.

I think he’s onto something with the idea that our North American idea of prosperity and plenty isn’t the only one. Indeed, our understanding of plenty is dangerously twisted. It is not normal to have strawberries in most of Canada in March. It is not normal to play golf on lush fairways … well, really anywhere, but especially in, say, Las Vegas or Phoenix. It is not normal to eat sushi in Calgary, and certainly not for a quick lunch. The idea that we can not only get goods from anywhere, but that we can do so routinely and inexpensively, is extremely recent and extremely weird.

What’s even weirder is that our common idea of growth is more of this for more people, and that that is the concept underlying too much government economic policy.

Update: Here’s a counterexample, exactly the kind of thing that gives the attempt to pair ecology and economics a bad name. These multicoloured units are fun to look at, but to live in? Jeez, don’t even joke. Tell me it’s some kind of installation art.

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