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Balancing Our Loves of Earth and Stuff

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By Brandon M. Breen


In a recent Momentum article I trumpet love of Earth as a powerful and underutilized conservation tool. I even go on to suggest, as Aldo Leopold and others have done before me, that a dramatic increase in humanity's fondness for nature may be critical to long-term conservation success.

My friend Patrick read the article, and then posed this interesting question: "How do you get people to love Earth more than they love the stuff that destroys the Earth?"

Getting people to love Earth is the easier part; you just introduce them. Few people can observe a moonrise from a remote camp, or spend a quiet morning at streamside, and not feel something stir inside. The second part of Patrick's question is much harder. It touches upon one of the grand engines of the conservation problem, our love of the stuff that destroys the Earth: the personal vehicles, big homes, etc.

There are at least two significant hurdles to getting people to love their stuff a little less. First, many people do not see the connection between their consumption and the often hidden environmental degradation such consumption entails. Second, the advertising industry and American culture - in short, the messages we receive every day - glorify extravagance.

Luckily, these hurdles can be overcome. More and more of us, armed with knowledge of how American lifestyles are unsustainable, are beginning to recognize a need to reduce our impact. Additionally, science is showing that happiness - which Aristotle considered the supreme good - depends more on our pursuit of goals and relationships with others than on material wealth; Consider that Americans are twice as rich as they were 50 years ago, but no happier.

To answer Patrick's question, people can love Earth more than the stuff that destroys the Earth by (1) reconnecting with nature (e.g., watching the joyful chickadees to see what the little guys are up to), and (2) replacing the pursuit of material gain with the pursuit of the true and non-consumptive wellsprings of happiness (better relationships with loved ones, personal goals).

The hardest part will be resisting the cultural and advertising messages we are blitzed with every day that tell us, erroneously, that everything is OK, and will likely be even better once we consume even more.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.