Downsizing May Not Be Enough
Article ID: 14341
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Nathaniel Jeffers
Posted: May 15th. 2011
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The cowboy mentality dominates American life. From gas-guzzling large trucks complete with thirty-seven inch mudding tires to sport utility vehicles and modified hummers, perhaps no other culture holds quite as much emphasis on consumption as the United States of America. For Americans, consumption is a shared cultural value and a trademark of the American Dream. It is this very fact that has led America to become symbolic of abundance to third-world nations, many of which are the backbone of our “plentiful abundance.” Immigrants from these nations come to seek this American Dream that is typically characterized by home ownership and a car.
While these material aspirations are outwardly and seemingly harmless on a small scale, they have become ingrained into our cultural values to such a degree that they have become exacerbated to a harmful degree. Plentiful abundance has grown to be marked by extreme waste and gluttonous excess. Movements to use conscious conservation and moderation to combat these new ills have sprung up in America and indeed the world. It is the opinion of this author that unless people desire to make a change for the better, moderation movements may not be enough to cause much of an impact, especially when perpetrators are often within the ranks of conservation movements. Obviously, without a desire to change, this behavior is leading us all toward our own demise.
Jane Holtz Kay is a writer and author of Asphalt Nation and Lost Boston. In her article entitled Kicking the Petroleum Habit: Ending Auto-domination, Kay makes several points about American consumption as it pertains to our environmental crisis and global warming. She provides a fresh perspective on contributors to global warming that are often missed by green conservation groups in their zeal to confront other issues. Kay asserts that it is urban sprawl that has caused the most damage as opposed to mega-buildings. It is the thousands of four cylinder cars and the suburban developments with ranch style homes that are the main perpetrators.
In Can America Go Green?, Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for The New Yorker relates to us the general American attitude on the ecological crisis and how it impacts our likelihood for overcoming it. She relates that while the rest of the world is consumed with green living and conservation, The United States is lagging sorely behind. Kolbert feels that eventually, America will be forced to face these issues and to make amends, a point with which this writer wholeheartedly agrees.
A couple of days ago, I was having my old Honda towed for scrap. As they hauled the car away, I stopped to talk to a friend (the maintenance man for our apartment complex) who was idling in his car outside of my apartment chatting with a colleague. A motorist looped around in an adjoining parking lot and tried to come out of the exit we were idling at. The adjacent parking lot was otherwise empty and there were two exits. The driver could very well have gone out the other. This particular motorist would be the one who inspired the opening statement concerning thirty-seven inch mudding tires. Perched high above us, he honked for us to move out of his way. Coincidentally, his truck was emblazoned with a custom paint job, an American flag theme.
The theme of this man’s truck seems to imply that this man and his truck embody the American spirit. If that is so, then America must be the quintessence of excess. America is the young, brash bullyboy of the world. America is a child who will use brute force (i.e. a temper tantrum) to get their way. America has gone from the land of opportunity to the land of gross exploitation. This country operates on a false illusion of plenty and unlimited prosperity. The illusion is so emphatic in fact that there are powers that be that would deny altogether that global warming and the threat to our ecological existence even has merit.
Making generalizations about an entire nation is always a dubious enterprise and this is especially true of the U.S. The environmental movement was born in America and enjoyed its first successes here (Kolbert 511) . I am a professed environmentalist and in some instances, I often see ridicule in many American circles given to those genuinely concerned and ready to take action. It is as if these groups are dismissed and marginalized by right-wingers as left wing nuts and dirty hippies. It is repeatedly made clear that America as a whole values profit first before even a secured existence in our children’s future. Surely, the conservative notions of family values would include a future for families.
Kay tells us in her article that downsizing may not be enough. Sure, switching from a gas-hog SUV to a small 4 cylinder helps to a small degree but the millions of smaller vehicles racks up the damage. She urges voters to support the renovation of old inner city neighborhoods over development of more suburban subdivisions. Kay urges the use of public transit wherever possible and less intrusive means of transit such as walking, running, or bicycle-use.
Kolbert reports that along with Australia, the United States is “one of only two industrialized nations who have rejected the Kyoto Protocol which was a motion proposed for nations to make a turn toward green-friendly business by mandating emission cuts from industries. She (Kolbert) relates to us that every year Republican Senator John McCain proposes a bill to Congress which would introduce federal limits on CO˛ emissions and that the same motion of Congress is rejected. Kolbert feels that eventually the United States, which is responsible for a sizable percentage of the world’s emissions, must face the reality and make considerable changes to its policies, but fears that it may not do so before it is too late. I would concur.
Cultural elements in the United States still prevent us from taking action because we wouldn’t be American without this cultural emphasis on consumption. This policy of gross excess is even evident in the rampant obesity epidemic that faces the American populous. Every aspect of American being is dominated by consumption. And if we are going to save ourselves, then a dramatic shift is indeed necessary.
What can we do? A major solution would be to pursue readily available alternatives to gasoline-powered engines and start working toward affordable alternative energy sources. My family and I recently noticed that a local complex was powered by a large windmill. For these sorts of solutions to really catch on however, Americans as a whole must reprioritize their values and begin advocating change. We must drop the cowboy persona and adopt a new identity for ourselves and a new set of values. We must learn humility and be willing to let profits suffer briefly for greater rewards from positive change.
Kay, Jane H. "Kicking the Petroleum Habit: Ending Auto-Domination." 2001. English 251: For Columbus State Community College. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. 505-09. Print. Although she is perhaps radical in some of her approach, Jane Kay presents a refreshing new look at ecological issues that are often overlooked by green activist movements. She was instrumental in helping me to illustrate why it is a change in values as opposed to a change in consumption that will produce the most beneficial answers to the growing predicament we have created. Kay presented several possible solutions to a growing problem.
Kolbert, Elizabeth. "Can America Go Green?" 2006. English 251: For Columbus State Community College. Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. 510-13. Print. Elizabeth Kolbert was most helpful in providing specific examples in which the United States has failed to address the ever-expanding issue of global climate change. While she suggests small-scaleanswers to the problems America has both created and must face, Kolbert's work expresses that the real issue is not external but rather internal. America is it's own worst enemy.
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