Ethic of conservation

I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s amazing Hot, Flat, and Crowded, and am full of an urgency right now about our collective future.  Friedman says we are in dire need of three things: clean energy, energy efficiency, and an ethic of conservation. 

It’s this last one that worries me the most.  It’s the one that is most difficult to define, talk about, and transition to.  We’ve spent a century being wasteful in the extreme (especially in America, but also globally).  We’ve abandoned thrift and humility; we seriously believe we’re entitled to huge wealth and to using resources any way we wish to advance our greed; we measure success in terms of material possessions, and generally (if sometimes secretly) admire profligate spending.

Introducing and firmly establishing an ethic of conservation is a formidable mission.  The term does not mean just recycling soda cans or newspapers; it suggests a transition that changes the roots of thinking.  It involves losing all sense of entitlement, and fostering an attitude of constant gratitude and care.  It actually requires that we orient our lives towards compassion, that we leave personal greed behind and exist only for the benefit of others.

Anyone out there see this happening anytime soon?  Probably not, but our healthy future depends on it.

I have an older sister whom I idolize.  About ten years ago, I noticed something about her that, at the time, actually irritated me.  She has a way of being infinitely gentle with absolutely everything: people, ideas, and things.  She is always attuned to the feelings of others, and will sacrifice without hesitation for their needs.  She asks questions, rather than making pronouncements.  She puts away the clean dishes without making a sound.  When I first realized this, I was irritated by what I perceived as a weakness in her.  But soon enough, I came to undertand that she was not at all being obsequious; rather, she was operating from a well-entrenched ethic of conservation.  Ever since, I’ve been working on emulating her.

We must take conservation to heart, to the very source of consciousness and personality, and learn to exist day to day in unbroken compassion for all things.  Such a re-invention of thought is an almost impossibly tall order.  Nonetheless, we must chip away at it, or eliminate the human race.


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