Posts Tagged ‘sustainable living’

Is sustainability possible without slowing down?

Do we Americans work too much or otherwise stay too busy to live sustainably? The question has been running through my mind since Saturday, when I joined about 50 other Portlanders in sampling a new discussion course on food by the Northwest Earth Institute. (I am a member of the NWEI board.)

I led a group of 10 people in discussing two articles from the course. One question from the readings, “Does slowing down in terms of food — shopping, preparation or eating — appeal to you?”, drew unsurprising consensus. Although some “hated” going to the grocery store and some “hated” cooking, the idea of slowing down around food appealed to everyone.

That is, until the follow-on question came: “What would be the trade-offs for you personally?” This was a group of well-educated adults whose intense work lives and family responsibilities seemingly allowed no room to slow down. Who has the time or the energy to shop, cook and eat in a manner that always makes a priority of sustaining the environment, our families and us?

We were talking about food, but the same could easily be said of any number of consumption, work and lifestyle choices we face everyday. Sustainable living requires conscious choices. When we’re overly busy or stressed we go on autopilot or revert to what’s convenient instead of what’s healthiest for all concerned.

One of the group members told me that slowing down would mean leaving her corporate job where she was held captive by the “golden handcuffs” — even though she had to work 60 hours a week to keep those handcuffs on. Millions of Americans find themselves in the same predicament. And when push comes to shove, most of us decide to keep our demanding jobs and the financial security they provide rather than choose a mode of living that leaves more time for the basic joys of life, such as preparing and sharing a meal with family or friends.

So what will it take for more Americans to choose to slow down? Or is the story we tell ourselves — that we can’t afford to slow down — true for most of us? And if the latter is the case, what does that say about the prospects for a sustainable future?