Some nine years ago, I had my mind blown by Bruce Sterling's Viridian Manifesto, a call-to-arms that held:
1. That the world was under serious threat due to anthropogenic global warming, and
2. That the answer wasn't to live simply, but rather to use better technology to help us make better choices and conduct our lives in a better way
These two ideas are incredibly inspiring, and have served as a powerful antidote against the Three Stupidities of Global Warming:
1. There is no global warming, or if there is, it's natural
2. The only answer to global warming is to live in log cabins, unplug your fridge and never get on another airplane
3. Global warming is inevitable, so let's go buy some more Hummers and pass the spotted owl omelette, wouldya?
The Stupidities are, at root, counsels of despair. They rely on denialism, or hold humanity to an impossible standard (witness the goofball commenters to my post about entertaining your children with a single bucket of water on a hot day who immediately leapt in to characterize this as a sin against the very planet, since water is precious and shouldn't be wasted by splashing around in the summer), or throw up their hands and give up.
For this entire century, Viridianism has provided a critical, design-based, technological, optimistic, and humane approach to the immense problem of global warming.
Now, Bruce has wound up his movement, writing a final brilliant essay filled with advice for the future of material culture. In the Last Viridian Note, Bruce issues a kind of high-tech Arts and Crafts Movement manifesto to surround yourself with great things — things that are great for you, great for your community and planet and species, and to approach the world as a problem to be solved, and to solve it. Reading Bruce in this mode is inspiring, makes me want to stand up and salute.
I've just given away fifty boxes' worth of junk and shut down my Toronto storage locker. My London locker is gone. My LA locker is next. I won't get down to Thoreau's axe-head and pen, but I'll be pretty close: a few good pieces of furniture, some books I love, some art, a laptop and assorted life-support, and well-made, comfortable clothes that look good and last. Oh, and a multitool, natch.
What is "sustainability?" Sustainable practices navigate successfully through
time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable
is about time — time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to
material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that
are physically closest to you. Time and space.
In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been
far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and
ship. They were rare and precious. They were closely associated with social
prestige. Without important material signifiers such as wedding china, family
silver, portraits, a coach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising
your lack of substance to your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself
with a thick material barrier, you were inviting social abuse and possible
police suspicion. So it made pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all
major purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.
That era is dying. It's not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form of
material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you
from want, from humiliation — in fact they are *causes* of humiliation, as
anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV
has now learned at great cost.
Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours you
waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing,
those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime.
Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them
from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your
children, your friends, your society, yourself.
It's not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that
you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the
world. The rest is dross.
Do not "economize." Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly
insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It's melting the North
Pole. So "economization" is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less.
Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal,
boring goods that don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones.
They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects.
It's in your time most, it's in your space most. It is "where it is at," and it
is "what is going on."
It takes a while to get this through your head, because it's the opposite of the
legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the
best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too
much money on a bed — (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact
I do not). You're spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might
be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to
that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious
notice. See it. Replace it.