An Illustrative Journey Among Sustainable Lifestyles
At the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, George H. W. Bush stated that “the American way of life is not up for negotiation.” What he failed to acknowledge, is that the American way of life is not sustainable.
The environmental issues of our time are grave. The impact of human activity on the planet is disrupting many of the ecosystem services upon which all life depend.
Overpopulation is the greatest threat to the security of a habitable planet. This, combined with ideologies that promote excessive consumption in the pursuit of an unsustainable standard of living (SL), threatens to diminish our planet to an intolerable wasteland.
While climate change is certainly at the forefront of environmental debate,
this is only one of a long list of environmental concerns. Other serious problems include, global average temperature rise, ocean acidification, coral die-off, water degradation, plastics pollution, pollution from other manufactured products, decreasing air quality, loss of agricultural lands, soil degradation and erosion, species extinction, sea level rise, the introduction of invasive species, and as stated above, overconsumption of natural resources.
The Impact of Consumption
We are exceeding Earth’s biocapacity. Scientists assess the Earth’s capacity to produce the biological materials necessary to sustain life using a measure termed “biological capacity” (biocapacity). With this method, an area’s production capacity is compared against its ecological footprint to determine deficits and reserves.1
Currently, human demand for the Earth’s resources is surpassing its annual capacity to produce them.2 The day on which human consumption exceeds the annual biological capacity is termed “Earth overshoot day.” In a balanced system, Earth overshoot day (EOD) would occur after December 31st, meaning that, each year the planet is producing more biological resources than humans are consuming. However, since 1970, EOD has progressed steadily to earlier points within the year. In 1970, EOD came on December 23rd.3 In 2017, EOD occurred on August 2nd.4
According to the Global Footprint Network, current annual consumption of biological resources requires the biocapacity of 1.6 Earths.5 However, if everyone on Earth achieved the same level of consumption as Americans, the biocapacity of nearly 4 Earths would be required to meet demand.6
Many people are aware of the gravity of the problems at hand. Many people want to do their part to help navigate society towards a sustainable way of life. But what does this involve? What sacrifices do we have to make?
While innovations in environmental technology will foster an eco-friendly material world, I believe that a shift to a sustainable human existence will also require a change in the ideologies that we currently embrace.
Every day, new products and services come to market, that offer easier, faster, and more, and with their introduction, the desired standard of living increases. In this way, the SL rises indefinitely; luxuries become necessities, and society becomes a creature of endless consumption. However, high rates of consumption, increasing wealth, and an escalating standard of living do not necessarily translate to increases in quality of life and well-being. Understanding and embracing this reality is critical to developing a sustainable way of life.
Furthermore, I believe that the alarming rates of mental illness and the increasing dependency upon prescription drugs in modern, western society are clear indications that something is terribly wrong. People shouldn’t have to rely upon a drug just to get through their day.
If we go back just a few decades, no one generally needed a drug to live a good day. If we go back to the turn of the 19th, or the 18th, or the 17th centuries, we find that no one needed a drug to be content with life. This is also the case in many present-day, less “advanced” societies. Considering this, I believe there is good reason for us, the members of the most “advanced,” modern societies, to evaluate the ideologies that we embrace, and rethink our concepts of progress and standard of living.
Clearly, a wonderful life can be had without many of the material and technological innovations of the 20th and 21st centuries.
We must keep in mind that we do not come to desire something, until we know of its existence, or grow accustomed to its existence in our lives. For this reason, the generations that came before us were as equally content with life as we are today, despite lacking many of our “sensational” extravagances. I say “equally content,” but there is good evidence to suggest that previous generations were actually more content with life than we generally are today. Likewise, I believe that many present-day, less “advanced” societies, enjoy a greater degree of life satisfaction than their western counterparts. For this reason, creating a sustainable human existence requires, in part, a look into our past, and an evaluation of simpler ways of living. This is my inspiration for Rich Simplicity: An Illustrative Journey Among Sustainable Lifestyles.
The Project Concept
Rich Simplicity: An Illustrative Journey Among Sustainable Lifestyles is envisioned as a series of pastel drawings, depicting women, men, and/or children whom lead fulfilling lives devoid of the extravagances of modern, “advanced” societies. The aim is to convey that material wealth and an ever-increasing standard of living do not necessarily improve quality of life and general well-being.
I want to show that life need not be big and modern, to be great, and that there are few things we truly need to live a wonderful life.
This is important because embracing this reality will steer us towards a sustainable human existence and help us reduce our negative impact on the planet.
Drawing for Change
A portion of proceeds generated from the sale of artwork will go to non-for-profit organizations supporting sustainable living and/or protecting indigenous cultures. Click here to learn more about Drawing for Change.
If you are interested in watching the progression of Rich Simplicity: An Illustrative Journey Among Sustainable Lifestyles, please visit my blog, where I post updates, pictures and videos, and other information related to the project. To receive email updates, please use the “Follow” button in the right sidebar of this page. If you are viewing this website on a mobile device, the “Follow” button is provided further down on this page. You can also follow me on Instagram.
4 Earth Overshoot Day. Global Footprint Network. 2017. http://www.overshootday.org/
5 Ecological Footprint. Global Footprint Network. 2017. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/
6 McDonald, Charlotte. “How Many Earths Do We Need?” 2015. BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712