01.04.2009 - 01.04.2035 30 °C
When I sold my house and most of my possessions in 2009, I moved onto my rusty dusty trusty bus; a Toyota Coaster manufactured in 1982 which I had fitted out as a motor home. It was necessary to do so because of practical reasons; I had to live somewhere, as I did not have enough money to buy another house. It was also because I was looking forward to a life on the road, discovering all about Australia, the country I had made my home for the previous seven years.
But it was also a logical step to take in my search for living a more sustainable life. I stepped into a new level of commitment and made choices that the average person would not normally make. I would have only the very basic practical needs of life; shelter, food & water, cooking facilities and yes... a toilet.
It helped that I had lived on a boat for many years. A boat is, of necessity, very self sufficient and I had developed a routine that required little effort or money in order to live comfortably. My bus was simply a boat on the road.
I still had to make choices about what to take, or how to live. There was still a trade-off between wants and needs. I wanted to travel, that means I needed some form of transport; the bus is my home and transport rolled into one. That is not what the average person does.
I wanted to remain in society, not be a dropout or a tramp, so I thought I needed to give the appearance of having “the means” or “status” to do so. This seemed to me to be a very important criteria on which our present day materialistic society is based [and I will come back to this point again]. But I soon discovered that in Australia it is not difficult to achieve acceptance, as there are many travellers on the road already; Grey Nomads and younger people too, many of which are not too fussed by appearance or status. In fact it is heartening to encounter other travellers from all walks of life and with wide ranging finances getting along fine and sharing yarns around a Barbie. It has become almost a necessity for an Australian to travel around the country at least once in order to speak about it with authority.
I wanted to know what was going on in the world, keep in touch with friends and family and engage in some creative leisure activity so took along a radio, a mobile phone, computer with internet; some books, CD’s for the bus stereo, an mp3 player and a second hand electronic keyboard.
I had reduced my life to the simplest elements required for me to be happy. And that is the crunch; the key; the most important factor for leading a sustainable life. The elements required to make a person happy. Surely no-one needs more than happiness and everyone, it turns out, requires roughly the same basic elements to be happy.
Recently there has been a great deal of scientific research done into what makes people happy. Without going into too much detail [as that is for the experts to inform us about], it has been found that the accumulation of wealth and material possessions has little or nothing to do with it.
So, taking that as a starting point; if everyone took a good long look at their lives to decide exactly what those elements of happiness were, and then removed the excess material possession part, we would be able to save this planet and ourselves from the ecological and societal disaster we are hurtling towards.
This sounds so simple but it is not, for people are complicated in the way they think and behave. Most are incapable of looking at their lives objectively. Our logic has been distorted by a lifetime of propaganda and pressure from all directions to believe that happiness can be achieved by buying these goods, or that service, or this promise. Believe me, it is not true!
The Industrial Revolution made it possible for everybody to own luxury items that previously only the rich could afford. When I speak of luxury items I mean products that are not necessary for everyday life but enhance it; perhaps making it easier [tools], more convenient [running water, electricity], more comfortable [heating, mattresses] or more interesting [toys and entertainment]. Everyone wanted to be like rich folk, because rich folk seemed to be in control of the world; in other words, everyone was trying to improve their status in society.
In my humble opinion, but reinforced by diverse scientific research into the human brain and animal behaviour, the need to acquire status may be due to primal instincts from the time when hominid apes needed to display their power to maintain the integrity of their family group, or to gain dominance over another group, in order to protect or expand their habitat or food source and survive. In a later evolution, food, weapons, wealth and other possessions were used as display items. [Silly thought; Understandably people find it hard to accept that they have barely evolved beyond animals, so perhaps their logic is distorted by ego.] Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are ignorant of the scientific research and how our brains can produce animal behaviour; and they are most certainly ignorant of my opinion. Maybe they need to be gently told.
[Coincidentally I have just heard that children from the age of six are going to be educated about the functions of the brain, and how emotions and behaviour are generated by different parts of the brain. An amazing, progressive programme]
More recent research suggests that material possessions have become a kind of language which speak of common interests or social and intellectual compatibility. People like the feeling of belonging to a group or community, especially if that group is “superior” to the others in some way. The motivation has not really changed.
Although the scientific data that material possessions above a certain basic need level [when they become luxuries] do not provide happiness has been around for quite a while and is well known, the facts are that people have decided not to take any notice. They have responded to their primitive animal instincts rather than the scientific evidence and are busy accumulating status symbols to outdo rival groups or at least create the appearance of belonging to a certain strata of society which has dominance over another.
This accumulation of “status stuff” which is now way above what is necessary for happiness cannot continue. It is unsustainable in a finite world. The planet is already running at 140% of its capacity to sustain people’s animal instincts for status, power and dominance without taking into account those billions of people without even the basic elements for happiness, joining the mad scramble.
You could say our habitat has expanded to include everyone on the planet. We now have to make the choice to come to our senses, make a conscious effort to resist our animal instincts, rise above them and become happier and emotionally richer Human Beings in the process. I am living proof of that process, I made that choice.
There are enough resources, natural, mineral and Human, on this Earth to provide everyone with the basic elements for happiness and then some; even to provide for the human population stabilising at around 10 billion in 2060, as predicted by most demographers. But as the Earth is already running at 140% of its capacity it means that all of us living at levels way above the basic elements for happiness need to reduce our consumption drastically. We need to take a long, hard look at our lives to determine what we really need to make us happy; and we now know it is not status stuff.
This is the hardest thing for us “middle of the range residents of developed countries” to accept. Even Environmentalists are trying not to mention that fact, for fear of alienating themselves from society and being called radical.
We will have to do with less stuff! Less “Lifestyle” [as status possessions are now called in Australia]. Fuck status, monkey brains! It is basic maths; in order to provide the poor with the basic necessities to lead a happy life, we are going to have to do with less. Our limit is Spaceship Earth.
We have two urgent things to do;
1] Cut down our consumption in order to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2] Cut down our consumption in order to help all people benefit from the Earths’ resources within sustainable limits. [Don’t think that buying cheap stuff from China is enabling Chinese people to become more prosperous. It is merely setting up the same system as we have here in developed nations; where the rich get richer through exploitation of labour, and this in a country where a Communist Government controls everything. Besides you have to make ethical choices in what you buy; environmental and social considerations. Nearly all developing countries have basically the same issues because they are all using the same model.]
I’ve already started my journey to sustainability by selling my house and living on a bus. As I travel around Australia I have been dismayed by how little has been achieved towards sustainability, despite the enormous world disaster of Climate Change looming over our heads and the impact that rampant material growth has had on Earth’s limited natural and mineral resources. It is constantly and glaringly obvious to someone like me who cares about the natural environment; and who cares for those people who do not have the basic elements of happiness and have little hope of achieving them in the future, due to the animal instincts of the rest.
Many people are angry now about the increasing gap between the super rich and the poor but I would like to point out that the super rich are not the only ones to blame. We are to blame; you, me and all the other “middle of the range” residents of developed countries. We are the ones keeping the system going, the ones who make more money for the super rich, and get rewarded by them for being good little workers. We are living above the basic elements needed for happiness because the super rich like it that way!
What to do? Step out of the system; or create a new one; or try to make the system you are in a better one. What not to do? NOTHING.
In subsequent instalments I will talk about the difficulties and joys, people and places I encounter as I travel the road to sustainability. The difficulties I have overcome practically, psychologically and socially; and those I have not yet overcome. My journey can serve as a rough guide. To a road those people living way above their basic elements of happiness will have to follow very soon. Not that my road is a common one [most people want to stay in one place they call home], but I have come across obstructions and diversions, potholes and dangers, breakdowns and short cuts on this road which do apply to everyone and from which lessons can be learned.
I am an explorer and pioneer; my path is not clear and I do not know the way. I get lost all the time, but I am not alone and constantly bumping into people who are exploring a road of their own. They do not know the way either but our destination is the same. One day we will find it; a world where people are happy.
What’s that? All we need is love?
No; all we need is happiness. Love will help us achieve it.