This past week I got to walk to and from work on Caveman Bridge, across the stunning Rogue River, in brilliant spring sunshine. I was staying in Grants Pass, Oregon for my work in rural transit. I felt like I was inhabiting heaven on earth as I strode over the water, I was so rich in what matters.
Walking to work is a grounded thing to do. It uses none of the fossil fuels that drive climate change, and it fosters our health, just like bicycling. It’s something the natural world can sustain over time. Sustainable choices are what’s needed in response to the latest scientific report issued by the United Nations on climate change. We are not responding nearly fast enough to avert grave events like submerged coastlines and vast extinctions of species.
The catch in my idyllic walking to work, though, is that I drove 250 miles to get to Grants Pass in the first place. Ouch. While that’s normal in the context of the U.S., it’s a grandiose choice in a world beset with climate change.
The U.N. report concludes, “Policies have to be found that will leave much of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.”
The challenge in nations making those good, grounded policies, let’s call them, is that citizens have to be willing to follow the policies. And our willingness is blocked by our grandiose expectations of our lifestyles.
It’s grandiose to think our lives here in the first world should keep expanding in fossil-fueled consumption and choices.
The poor in the developing world do need their consumption and choices to be expanded. They need electricity, and clean water without it taking a day’s journey. This great organization, Green Empowerment, partners with them on solar projects to make those things possible.
Here in the first world, my experience is that even in rainy Portland, Oregon, the solar panels on my home’s rooftop generate slightly more electricity than we use each year. Renewables like solar and wind are a grounded response to climate change. Another grounded response would be using the phone to do business with far-flung partners, rather than driving 250 miles to spend the week with them.
In general, though, we in the developed world, have grandiose lifestyles, me as much as anyone, despite getting to walk to work sometimes. Don’t take it personally when I call us grandiose. It’s a cultural thing. It’s a this-time-in-history thing. And we’re fully capable of living grounded lives, rather than grandiose ones.
Earlier in history, people lived in grounded ways, not because they were more virtuous than us, but simply because they weren’t burning vast amounts of fossil fuels that warmed the climate. And their lives had plenty of joy. They didn’t suffer from the obesity and diseases related to it that we do, nor from our high rates of social isolation.
Climate is part of the natural world. The natural world grounds us. It gives us consequences for what we do and don’t do, like a parent who teaches us responsibility. It’s grandiose to think it’s normal, an entitlement, to consume vast amounts of fossil fuels. Climate change shows us the case is otherwise — doing that is disastrous. Climate change is clipping our wings as a species.
Look at how harsh and wrong that last sentence feels to us. We’re not getting our wings clipped!
But that attitude is taking it all too personally. The natural world is grounded in facts, not feelings. We need to be willing to change how we do things, willing to lead lives that are grounded, rather than grandiose. The premise of Diamond-Cut Life, from its beginning in 2007, is that taking that path can be joyful, and make us richer in what matters.