What We’re Seeing: Promising Trends for the Future
These are tough times to be an optimist, especially if you care about the planet and are concerned about climate change. But it’s in my nature to be an optimist, so here are some encouraging movements afoot that we can build upon:
Revival of Activism
Increasingly, many Americans are feeling like they can no longer stand on the sidelines as our planet warms and as we pollute more of our water and air and destroy more of our remaining wild areas and open space. It is inspiring to see that more Americans are engaging in acts of civil disobedience to make their voices heard (which is harder and harder when corporations and big business have unparalleled ability to influence the political process). Three of our Board members, Betsy Taylor, Liz Barratt-Brown, and Gus Speth, stood up to be arrested recently in Washington, D.C. as part of the protests against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline; Tim DeChristopher is facing two years in jail for disrupting an oil and gas auction; and two young women are sitting in trees in West Virginia protesting mountaintop removal. Let's hope these bold stances are an inspiration to others.
New Dream has long promoted models of re-use and sharing, so it’s exciting to see a strong trend emerging toward creating a sharing culture and economy. Essentially, the point is: why do we need to own things in order to get utility out of them? There are astounding statistics about how often we use some of the things we own—for example, our cars: 8 percent on average; power drills: 15 minutes on average over their lifetimes!
Why waste both our natural and financial resources to own things that we really don’t need to keep in our possession all the time? Not to mention the space we fill up storing the things that we don’t use nearly as often as we think we do!
I think it’s exciting to see not only multiple sharing nonprofits arise, like Freecycle and TimeBanks, but also the new generation of businesses that are being created based on utility rather ownership. Netflix is one of the most well-known examples, but others include Zipcar for car sharing and ShareSomeSugar for everyday stuff. See our Collaborative Communities program as well as wonderful sites like Sharable.net and the Collaborative Consumption Hub.
Re-envisioning Work and Leisure
Another fundamental tenet for New Dream is to value our time and re-envision how we work, live, and play. This is one of my favorite ideas to promote as I think it has real potential to improve the quality of our lives while also helping to solve some fundamental issues that plague our society and economy, such as unemployment and excess consumption.
Why must we have a 40-hour workweek? Why don’t we reinvent the workweek to better serve ourselves, our families, our communities, and our economy? There’s a wonderful report worth reading by the New Economics Foundation, 21 Hours. Also, check our new short animation featuring our Board member, Juliet Schor, talking about ideas in her recent book Plenitude. Also, take a look at the project Take Back Your Time, which aims to “challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling, and time famine.”
New Dream helped promote and design various Buy Local campaigns during the past decade, and these efforts are even more important now with our struggling economy. Not only is buying local important for the local economy, but these campaigns bring the additional benefit of better connecting and restoring communities, bringing people together face to face, and building long-term relationships that can help foster resilience.
For instance, we strengthen our feeling of community when we meet the owner and producer of our local honey, milk, meat, vegetables, and so on, or when we join a bike tour to visit local farms, backyard gardens, or solar co-ops. This movement is also being felt in the burgeoning efforts to reform school lunches, as parents and educators partner with local growers to create new avenues to provide fresh and whole foods in school cafeterias and classrooms.
Reskilling & Homesteading
The trend toward urban homesteading, do-it-yourself, and reskilling is really taking off. Just witness the explosion of Maker Faires around the country. The feeling of satisfaction you get from being able to grow your own food, build your own things, make your own repairs, or even generate your own energy is fundamentally inspiring.
These days, the economic imperative to hone your own DIY knowledge is much more present. The loss of basic skills such as carpentry, sewing, and cooking-from-scratch over the last few decades has made us all more reliant on the mass marketplace for just about everything. This in turn makes us less secure and less empowered.
The burgeoning movement for self-reliance is one that cuts across ideologies: the desire to be more self-sufficient appeals to many Americans, regardless of whom you vote for at the ballot box. Neither my husband nor I are fixer-uppers or green thumbs by nature, but we’ve tried our hand at smaller projects, like a garden, herb pots, a patio, and a compost bin.
When our kids jump up and down because they’ve spotted the kale peeping up in our garden, I love it—I feel a sense of accomplishment and freedom. However, we do have two large plants of hot red peppers growing in our garden because my husband bought them thinking they were sweet peppers!
Wendy Philleo is Executive Director of the Center for a New American Dream.