One True Need
It's 105° outside. Thank God for the air conditioner. I'm drinking tea cooled in my refrigerator with ice produced in my freezer. I'm also writing on my computer while streaming classical radio online. My phone is charging on the table next to me, and I'm waiting for the cycle on my washing machine to end so I can put the towels and jeans into the dryer. My husband is driving our car to the ATM at the bank and then to the grocery store.
We interact with machines all day, every day.
We rely on these machines. They truly make our modern lives possible. I wouldn't want to do without them, but obviously people have. If I had to, I'd adapt.
What none of us can do without is nature. We can't live without sun and rain, healthy soil, and the plants that grow in it.
We need birds and bees and insects. And who hasn't felt joy on hearing a robin in spring, or a meadowlark singing as it rises into the air?
We need trees to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, for shade and cooling, and to provide beauty, solace, and retreat.
We need mountains to provide a watershed and to support entire ecosystems, and the oceans, which regulate climate and make it possible for the Earth to support life. Both provide adventure and inspire awe and wonder.
We are part of nature.
Everything that we require comes from nature.
I've written before that I'm not naturally athletic and outdoorsy. But my love of nature has grown. Now I can't understand why everyone doesn't care about the Earth.
We might think we care because we recycle, drive a hybrid, or have some solar panels on the roof. But we also routinely buy cheap clothing, factory-produced food, air travel, and lots of stuff we don't need.
I live in a country where most people enjoy a lifestyle that would have been unimaginable to people of the past. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like the average American, we would need five planet Earths to supply our desires.
That's simply impossible. Unsustainable. No matter what story we tell ourselves about untapped sources of oil or higher-yield crops or improved energy efficiency, the Earth is finite. That means its resources – even if some currently remain undiscovered – are finite.
Yet our desires seem to be infinite.
How is it possible for us to think that our lifestyle can continue as it is? Why are we so unaware of reality?
Maybe it's because we spend so much time with machines, so much time inside buildings and cars, so much time surrounded by asphalt and concrete. We breathe mechanically heated and cooled air, and most of the sounds we hear each day come from a computer, TV, or radio.
While surrounded by our machines, living in man-made environments, it's hard to believe in our dependence on nature. When we go to the grocery store, and see produce from all over the world, and aisles full of highly processed and packaged foods, we seem to forget where it all comes from. When we enter a big box store, or shop online, we look only at the millions of products available, and never think about the natural resources that go into making them, or even more natural resources expended in shipping them to our doors.
Dear aspiring minimalist – decluttering is not enough. It's not enough to declutter our homes and streamline our schedules. We have to go further, and change our thinking.
We have to start thinking like people who believe there is only one Earth.
We have one true need: a healthy planet with intact ecosystems where we and our children and grandchildren can live. A healthy planet that we can share with the other 7.5 billion people who live here.
It isn't enough to intellectually accept the facts and then go on with life as usual. And whether we start by cutting meat from our diets, buying more unprocessed food that is grown closer to where we live, driving much less and walking or bicycling more, moving to a smaller house, using less heat and air conditioning, buying fewer clothes, shoes, and household goods, planting trees, or avoiding air travel, we must start.
I must start.