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Live simply so that others may simply live: 5 ways to live development in your daily life (Part 1 of 2)

March 18, 2010

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, especially as we have gotten so many great posts on Why I am in Development here on Do No Harm.  Sometimes studying development can feel like whole lot of talk and very little action. Can’t wait to get back to the so-called ‘field’ or to set foot ‘on the ground’? Fear not, there’s plenty you can do right here, right now. Let’s stop finger wagging and free riding, and get to it!

So here is the first of a two-part installment I’d like to call Live simply so that others may simply live. I ripped the title off of a sign outside a wonderful sustainable development collective in Andhra Pradesh, India, that I visited a few years ago!

Here goes.

1. Conscious Consumption > Compassionate Consumerism

We all know that money makes the world go round. Yet in the 21st century, commerce is the ‘catalyst of change, good and bad,’ and there are a growing number of solutions that point to compassionate consumerism instead of conscious consumption. Buy that new iPod or Starbucks coffee, branded in (RED) parentheses, and rid the planet of HIV/AIDS! Re-branding (Africa) says something can be done about poverty or deadly disease just by going about our daily consumptive lives—not changing the ways in which we spend.

How can we become more conscious consumers? First, reduce—do you really need it? Second, reuse—can you borrow or buy it second-hand? Third, recycle—can you find use for the old stuff without throwing it out? Fourth, redouble—if you are going to buy something, is it environmentally preferable. Plenty is available through fair trade, so stop free riding and start smart buying!

Finally, find out where your stuff comes from before you buy it!

2. Live the Green Life

We all wish we were more green—and big fixes like cap-and-trade, putting mirrors in the atmosphere to deflect radiation, and so on are may happen with or without too much of our help. But what can we do at home? Buy eco-friendly lightbulbs? Turn off our computers and electronic devices when we aren’t using them?

How about taking public transport, flying less, or buying carbon offset when you do? As development jet-setters, the carbon footprint really gets you with the air travel. How about eating more organic foods, or slow food that supports farmers and does wonders for your health? Unfortunately, many forces are working against you here, as we all know, imbalances in agricultural subsidies and protections for farmers contribute to the fact that farmers in the developing world remain poor, and in the West, a salad costs more than a Big Mac.

What about eating less meat, to decrease your carbon footprint? Eating less meat may be the most effective lifestyle change to mitigate climate change. Why, you may ask? 1 kg of beef has the carbon footprint of 40 kg in CO2 (because of all of the farting that cows do!) This does not take into account indirect emissions and over 10,000 L of water it takes to produce meat.

The hardest adjustments to our own ‘pro-development’ behavior may be in being green. Calculate your carbon footprint, here.

Stay tuned for three more ways to live the development life, right now!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 4:40 pm

    Thanks for the tips!

    I think what you’re talking about here is more environmentalism than development.

    Granted, the two are linked, but however much many NGOs may want to ‘push’ the climate change agenda, the environment is only one aspect of what makes up development (being used here as a catch-all phrase meaning economic growth + improvements in living standards).

    For instance, you mention food and reducing our carbon footprint. Buying local is one way to reduce our carbon footprint. But what happens to the vegetable growers in Kenya or prawn fishermen (is that what they’re called?) in Ecuador? If we stop buying their produce due to concerns with the carbon costs of flying it here, what happens to their infant export industries?

    Also, when you talk of us becoming conscious consumers are you not really just saying consume less? I agree that the current rates of consumption in the west are untenable… it would be good to know what to ‘cut’ so to speak, without damaging the economies of developing countries, if that is even possible. If it were I imagine it would require the sort of ‘conscious comsumerism’ that is beyond the vast majority of people.

    • Judith permalink
      March 18, 2010 4:58 pm

      Very interesting topic. And a good reminder that the way in which we choose to live our everyday lives DOES have a wider impact. Not only ‘big projects’ matter, but small things in life, like cycling, walking, using public transport, etc. instead of driving by car.

      But trying to make the ‘right’ choices even in such seemingly trivial everyday life situations, can be confusing. Reading your post reminded me of an article a friend as told me about:
      http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2007/11/think_globally_eat_globally

      In short, the article questions the assumption that eating locally is automatically better for the environment. Maybe I should simply not be eating apples when they’re not in season…. :s

      I’m not sure I entirely understood the difference between conscious and compassionate consumerism. But I agree that the overall message should be to try to consume less.

      And YAY to eating less meat!

      Thanks for making me think and reflect once again! 🙂

  2. Rajni permalink*
    March 18, 2010 5:12 pm

    I guess ‘compassionate’ consumerism implies consuming to feel good, with some sort of guilt-mediation in mind (as with Product RED). ‘Conscious’ consumerism means thinking more about what our spending means, where our products come from, how they are produced, and the like. Really thinking about the structures that inform what we buy, and so on.

    Yes I definitely agree with your points on slow food versus buying fair trade or from producers around the world. Maybe this is where the goals of environmentalism and development are actually at odd– buying local means reducing transport cost, carbon emissions, supporting local economies and the like. Buying from international producers supports trade and agricultural production around the globe, but at a high cost of emissions as well! I guess we cant do everything right..

  3. October 29, 2010 8:27 pm

    the best thing about organic foods is that they are free from hazardous chemicals that are present in non-organic foods”*’

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