Yesterday morning – my first morning in the Bella Center, the main conference venue at Copenhagen – I ran into my good friends from Kiribati, the Solicitor General David Lambourne and his wife Tessie, who is the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Immigration. After an hour chatting with this amazing power couple, my brain was ready to explode with new insights and ideas which have formed the basis for my next few blogs.
I’d like to emphasize that the ideas about to be expounded are mine and mine alone. Although inspired by this morning’s conversation, they do not in any way claim to be the views of David and Tessie, nor the government that they represent.
So, here is our current situation. One planet, 195 countries – all with different cultures, economies, industries, geographies, and political landscapes. But for the purposes of this discussion, let’s over-simplify and categorize them as developed, fast-developing (China, India, Brazil, Russia), and slow-developing.
The developed countries got there first. They took the earth’s finite resources of fossil fuels and used them to build big economies and a high standard of living. Now the fast-developing countries want the same, but the developed countries are telling them that fossil fuel usage has to be cut, and in any case the fossil fuels are about to run out. Meanwhile the slow-developing countries are about to bear the brunt of potential climactic changes, and are asking for help from the chief culprits to help mitigate the effects.
I’d like to offer my perspective on this. It is human nature to aspire to improve. That is what has led us from being just another animal to being the dominant species on Earth. But at some point along the way, improvement became synonymous with monetary wealth and conspicuous consumption. I would like to suggest that these are not truly conducive to human happiness.
Clean water, healthy food, shelter, sanitation, medicine, education – these things matter. With sensible allocation of resources we can provide these fundamental rights to a much higher proportion of the world’s population.
Huge houses, multi-car households, frequent air travel and the accumulation of possessions – these things are not necessary, and the provision of such luxuries is using up our finite resources at an unacceptable rate. And the chief point to grasp here is that there is no causal link between these commodities and health or happiness.
Not only do the developed countries need to radically cut their demand for such things, but somehow the developing countries need to be convinced that we have been sold a myth by advertisers and corporations in search of enrichment through infinite economic growth – and we don’t need to buy the lie. We need to embrace a new simplicity, either voluntarily or, if necessary, through legislation.
It made my heart sink when I visited Peru in 2003, and I would see the humblest of shacks with a TV aerial stuck on the roof. I knew that inside they would most likely be watching Baywatch on a grainy black and white TV set, and dreaming of the California lifestyle. I wanted to run inside and beg them not to believe it, as I had done.
Coming from a family that, by the standards of a developed country, was relatively poor, I was desperately aspirational as a young adult. I really believed that money would buy me happiness – and was lucky enough to get just wealthy enough to discover what a treadmill materialism can become. More is more, and enough is never enough.
So having realized this, I shed all the trappings of a “successful” western lifestyle and bought an ocean rowboat. I fitted it out with a view to keeping it as light as possible to maximize my speed across the ocean. I thought I had the bare minimum on board. Then the ocean came along and took away half of it. Things broke, got lost overboard, or were found to be superfluous. My original “minimum” turned out to be far more than I actually needed, and I learned the lesson of simplicity. I have found that the less stuff I have, the more time and energy I have to focus on the important things in life.
I’m not saying that rich people can’t be happy, or that poor people can’t be miserable – I’m just saying that your position on the happiness spectrum has much more to do with the state of your mind than the state of your bank balance.
Latest News from Copenhagen – via today’s Rapid Response Dispatch issued by Fission Strategy
1) Danish text – has been very detrimental to the talks, deepening divisions between developed and developing countries. The story has gained traction in mainstream media. Fission Strategy suggest to media and bloggers that this is an opportunity to:
a) spank the US, UK, and Denmark for this – calling on them to support a strong and *fair* deal
b) call for a more transparent process: sharing documents, making the process clear, who they’re consulting with, reporting back
2) Japan finance issue – this Friday the Japanese Prime Minister will meet with his senior team to determine their position on long-term financing and targets. Japan has demonstrated some positive leadership on climate change, the outcome of these meetings is very important, and positive encouragement would be constructive.
3) Breaking news: there was just a rapid response demonstration inside the Bella Center by the main plenary hall. A delegate from the island nation of Tuvalu was blocked from speaking up and calling for a real deal.
300 people assembled outside of the hall for a spontaneous and passionate rally in support of the Tuvalu delegate. The UN security closed off the area temporarily, initial footage (brief clips) here: