‘Less’ is a formula for more happiness | VailDaily.com

‘Less’ is a formula for more happiness

Cliff Thompson
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyFuturist, author and sustainability expert Dave Wann tells the audience that conspicuous consumption won't buy happiness or help the earth.

AVON -When Dave Wann returns to his home in Golden from his many travels to Third World countries, he says, he invariably returns with the same question.How can people who live a subsistence existence with less stuff than us be so content when happiness in this country seems to be based on an excess of stuff?Wann, 56 – a futurist, sustainability expert, author and filmmaker – wrote “Affluenza,” a book about America’s reliance on money as the measure of success. He was the second speaker in the High country Speaker series sponsored by the Gore Range Natural Science School and Eagle Valley Library District.America’s conspicuous consumption has to end, he says, because it is unhealthy to individuals and the world at large.”We’re boxing ourselves into a frantic pace to where we can’t maintain health or happiness,” he said last week. “We’re in a serious fix here. We have a shortfall of resources and the inability of the earth to soak up all our wastes.”Getting there will require a shift in patterns of consumption, corporate profits and expectations.”It’s a hard sell,” he said. “How do you tell people to back off all this wealth they’ve accumulated? We’re running ourselves ragged trying to maintain and fill up hour houses with all this stuff.”Sea change needed His message of sustainability – consumption based on maintenance rather than continued growth – hasn’t been kindly received by corporate America, he says. In the hyper-patriotic days after Sept. 11 he was accused being a terrorist for seeking the overthrow of our economic system, he says. “I’ve been pilloried by free market fundamentalists,” he said at the Avon Library, grinning and arching an eyebrow with a “go figure” look.

But he persists with his message, regardless, and admits to making “cranky comments,” he said. “It’s not okay to keep buying stuff that you’re just going to throw away” he said. “The stakes are too high now to claim that the free-marketing way of doing things is the only way. “Our economy shouldn’t be balanced on the quantity of consumption,” he added. “We need to wake up from the American dream.”Each person in this country generates four pounds of household waste a day, but hidden behind that amount is 118 pounds of waste created when manufacturing the products we buy, Wann says.Stress of excessBefore our economy became global our economy was like an all-you-can-eat cafeteria, he says. Now that same cafeteria has new rules – you can’t stop eating or the economy will fall apart.Change is slowly coming, he says. It’s just a question of whether we make a conscious decision to change our habits or it is forced upon us by the lack of resources.”There are going to be things happening in 15 years that will change our economy,” he said. “Oil, potable water and grain supplies will be in short supply.”There are some promising changes evident in the culture of corporate America, Wann says. Of the $13 trillion invested in stocks and bonds up to $3 trillion is “screened” before investment to ensure companies are demonstrating an adequate social conscience, and aren’t engaged in non-sustainable practices, he says.”There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye,” he said, noting there is enough un-tapped wind power in Texas, North Dakota and Kansas to fulfill the energy needs of the entire country.

So what’s to be done?Rather than turning outward and looking for solutions elsewhere, people have to turn inward and begin to work together to create sustainable systems that don’t require constant growth to be maintained, Wann says. We really do need to think globally and act locally, he says.”That saying is 30 years old but it’s more true today than ever before,” he said.Wann walks the talk. He lives in a neighborhood in Golden that is quasi-communal with people sharing front yards, green space, common walkways, gardens and governance. It’s called co-housing, a name he dislikes because it doesn’t capture the spirit of the community.Co-housing not perfect, he admits, but it is designed so residents can walk to work, to shop and avoid using cars.”We can take a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach,” he said. “You can even share cars and rent cars by the hour.”So how did Wann feel speaking in the shadow of Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch, studded with the vacation castles of corporate America?”I was seeing there was a lot of pondering going on (in the audience),” he said. “I did see a glimmer of understanding. If we can think globally and act locally then you have the ability to have some purpose and meaning to it. It’s on a human scale.”Ultimately, Wann said, we will have to derive some “joy” in efforts to change the system.

Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com==========================================Aspects of affluenza• The average American home requires enough wood to cover an acre• Each year the world requires 30 billion board feet of lumber for housing• Cars in this country alone require 56 million acres of space.• Animal species are being driven to extinction by man’s activities 1,000 times faster than by natural causes==========================================Vail, Colorado

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