* Before I begin this article, I would like to acknowledge the privileged place from which I write it. That my story, and what I urge from others, is not always possible, or at least not yet, for many people. I am a white Canadian female with British and Irish ancestry. I have a BA in Global Development Studies from Queen’s University and a BEd in Outdoor Experiential Education from Lakehead University. And, when it comes down to it, I have a middle-class family home that I can return to (and eat all of the cheese that I want) if ever things didn’t work out for me.
A few days ago I was sent an article from the Vancouver Sun titled, Growth is Ending and that’s OK. The article discusses the lessons we can learn from a unique, and often ridiculed, group of young people – hipsters! In light of the enormous challenge our world faces to rapidly shift to a low-carbon economy, hipsters - with their bicycles, local beers, and used clothing - are living, and actively choosing to do so, the kind of low-consumption, low-carbon lifestyle that everybody will need to adopt if we are to prevent the most dangerous effects of global climate change.
I was reminded of that article again tonight, as I sat, amongst my peers, older and younger, hipper and less hip, at the opening night of PowerShift BC. PowerShift is a youth-led movement that is committed to climate justice, with the belief that “We can shift our economy not only to address climate change, but to build a more resilient and just society.” David Suzuki, who, unbelievably, seems to get more passionate with age, was the last speaker of the night. In his speech, Mr. Suzuki talked about how his perspective on environmental advocacy has changed over the years, as he began to listen and better understand the motivations of the First Nations people whom he was working alongside with. That despite the crucial need for jobs and economic investment in their communities, First Nations continued to oppose logging, pipelines and other extractive industries that would devastate the Earth. That there were some things that were more important than money. More important than money. For surely all people can agree, if on nothing else, that that which gives us life (air, water, soil, biodiversity) and that which gives life meaning (family, friends, fulfillment) are the priorities to which our economy (that thing that WE create) should be designed to sustain. When you list your priorities - does money even break the Top 10?
Because that is what the article was about in the first place – a low-carbon lifestyle that takes money off of its pedestal and puts life, a life well lived, in its place. It’s about artists, or outdoor educators, or unemployed teachers. English majors, carpenters, and full-time activists. People that are choosing to do what they love, or are taking the time to figure out what that might be, over what will allow them to make lots of money and buy things. They have prioritized health, fulfillment and meaning over material consumption. Those twenty-somethings who are rejecting the lifestyle of their Boomer parents, who worked hard every day, for decades, to come home to a big screen TV, a hot tub, and trips to Cuba. And while I’m no hipster, (I think the hippest thing I own might be Toms – and were Toms ever actually all that cool?) that article was about me too.
I feel like a brat when I share this message with others – but then, it is a question that is so often asked of someone as transient as me, “What do you want to do...for real?”, that to not answer it honestly would be exhausting. What do I want to do? For real? I want to do what I love. I WANT TO DO WHAT I LOVE. And do I know what that is just yet? Nope – but I’m exploring. And sometimes I find answers in the most surprising of places. But what I do know is that I am in no way searching for money.
And yet I am rich. In the past twelve months I have lived all across Ontario and have moved across the country, to beautiful Victoria. I have worked six different jobs – jobs that left me exhausted and fulfilled at bedtime, but still jumping out of bed the next morning to do it all again. I have made my home in a beautiful cottage in the woods with a dock. I have travelled through Malaysia and Thailand and stood atop South East Asia’s highest mountain, watching the sun rise across the peaks. I buy fancy, “adult” face creams to deal with my less-than-adult pimples. I’ve maintained relationships with friends scattered across the globe. And I have done all of this with a yearly income never breaking into the five figures.
And yes, this low-income lifestyle of mine often results in a low-carbon one as well. (Minus the plane tickets - eeeks). I shop, as much as possible, at local markets and thrift stores. I walk A LOT. I make my own granola. I don’t own an IPod and my laptop, which needs to be plugged in at all times, often screams at me before shutting down unexpectedly. These are all choices that I hope I would still make if I was a millionaire, but right now are ones I choose partly because my income necessitates it.
What if everybody did what they loved? If everybody chose to do that which left them healthy, happy, and fulfilled? If everybody wrote out their priorities – and then chose their next move based on that list rather than their material “Wish List”. This amazing video asks, what if money were no object -what would you do?
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?!
I have this feeling that if everybody finally just followed their heart, did that “thing” that makes them the most happy, the IPCC may be able to write a totally different prediction for our Earth. Would a shiny new car still be so enthralling if one was being fulfilled in other, non-material ways? Would anyone actually choose to spend their life’s energy persecuting marginalized people who are working to protect Mother Earth? Maybe bikes would out-number cars on the road and therapists would go out of business as more people began experiencing the stress-relieving benefits of simply being outdoors.
In his speech, Mr. Suzuki explained that environmentalism isn’t a discipline – it’s a way of seeing our place in the world. I see my place in the world as being a creator of spaces in which youth can be successful – outdoor spaces, ideally, with lots of play. Why? Because it’s what I love to do.
What do you love to do?
Go do it. On purpose.
All of us who share this Earth will thank you.