Bill McKibben on the Environment

Renowned environmentalist and author (End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information) Bill McKibben spoke at MIIS earlier this week on Oct. 13th. I wish I had taken notes, because what he had to say was quite profound and tended to invoke some self reflection, but he also did it with a sense of humor in an easy going conversational manner. Some of the key points I remember taking away from his talk include:

American Ego – When we examine that the first President Bush said ‘The American way of life is not negotiable‘ in regards to the 1992 Earth Summit… we can easily see that this mentality continues today – not only in politics – but in the conscience of the majority of American people. If we want to see the world’s pollution levels fall, fossil fuels replaced by alternative energy sources, and the effects of global warming to slow… as Americans we first need to learn to live as Western Europeans! If we could accept the fact of planning to catch public transportation, share a ride, and simply reduce our energy consumption – that’s the only way we can advert disaster. Technology alone cannot save us.

World Revolves Around Me – Mr. McKibben once had an entire day’s worth of television (100 cable TV channels) recorded and then reviewed this for himself. Of all the interesting insights he got out of this, one that seemed to permeate all of them was that to the American sitting in front of the TV, “the world revolves around them”. These hyper/uber-humans see their place in the world mostly through selfishness of what’s in their best interest. This seclusion into the world of TV and individuals becoming further drawn away from quality social interaction, is creating a consuming individual who drains on society.

Happiness and Financial Stability – Polls from the end of WWII show that the height of American satisfaction with their life was around 1952. The standard of living has been moving up steadily since WWII and one would expect the answer to roughly ‘are you currently happy with your life?’ would parallel in growth. In fact it has gone down steadily. There has only been shown a relation in these two measures up to about $10,000 annual income – enough to meet the basic needs. Beyond this amount, there is no connection at all to the survey results — they appear all over the place. This simply reinforces that money doesn’t buy happiness, but also hints that we’ve somehow lost that social “something” in our society that makes us happy. Is it Sunday afternoons in the park that we no longer have time for or kids not playing outside because they’re busy on the Xbox?

In my own experience in Norway and parts of Europe, there is much more of a family bond and social connection among people there. On Sundays – towns are virtually closed! People do take time for families, live close together, eat together, and communicate more often. Perhaps if we let go of some of our “American ways-of-life”… we might find a way to enjoy life better together, and be more open to ways to enhance the global community we all live in.

More thoughts to post as they return to me…

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