Why are we as human beings obsessed with the idea of making the most out of the present? There are numerous idioms about “living in the moment” and “making the most out of your time” that convey warm sentiments, but as a society we’ve taken them too literally. In fact, we’re “living in the moment” so much that there might not be sufficient resources for the next moment, or the moment after that.
We fail to recycle, compost, and efficiently use our resources to a point where they are being effectively depleted for the next generation. We do this not because we don’t understand how to, but because it doesn’t always seem worth our time to go out of our way to separate recycling or compost from the rest of our waste. Our politicians deny the realities of climate change because it makes for a convenient political tool amongst certain blocs of voters, allowing them to stay in power. We embrace a culture of consumerism that encourages us to buy, buy, buy and use, use, use, for the sole purpose of making us feel better in the moment. We’ve even come up with a name for it; retail therapy.
We are warned of what is to come, rising ocean levels, extinct species, decimated habitats and ecosystems, displaced peoples, and countless other consequences. Many choose to ignore these warnings or lament the problems the next generation will inevitably have to deal with. Very few choose to take measurable action towards a deterrent or solution.
We’ve slipped so far into these wasteful norms that doing anything else seems wildly unlikely, even though there are often very reasonable solutions. In a matter of decades, we have normalized a level of wastefulness and consumption that had not previously been seen before on this planet, and while we can all agree that conservation is a noble and worthy cause, no one can seem to bring themselves to commit themselves to those principals. I fully confess to being guilty of this, and I can’t think of a single person who isn’t in some capacity.
For these reasons, I am challenging myself and you to put the present second, and the future first. Consider how your actions today will affect your surroundings tomorrow. There are little steps each of us can take to build a better tomorrow, even if it requires a bit of sacrifice today.
Really interesting post, Jared. I do see the similarities between both of our contemplative practice posts – it is nice to see that at least some of us felt the same way after the contemplative practices this week.
It always seems to boil doing to the bigger institution of political interest that we cannot escape. As you mentioned, we know how to make our own choices somewhat better for our earth, yet we slide by doing the bare minimum because it is convenient for us. Reading your post left me contemplating how our political system consistently reinforces the norm of consumerism and instant gratification. We choose to ignore the warnings you mentioned because they make us uncomfortable, and I think politicians reinforce that by dodging all of the issues completely.
Jared, I really like your contemplative practice. I too have thought about the choices we make, and the implications those choices will have down the road. The premise of this article is great; we need to think more about the future than the present in order to combat climate change. You briefly touched on the idea that part of commitment to the future is to compost and recycle the goods we consume. In her article, “Shopping Our Way To Safety,” Jennifer McNulty provided a good framework for looking at this issue. Just as she says buying “green” products is still a form of consumption, composting and recycling goods still requires the consumption of goods. The only difference is that it gives us a clear conscious to sort our trash at the end of the day. So when we put the future first, we should think of any consumption as harmful to the life of the planet.
There have been some Native American cultures that when they would make an important decision, they would think seven generations into the future. That is actually a long time. That’s like you making a decision and thinking of the implications to your great-great-great-great grandkids.
I think this post is very thoughtful into the modern world. It made me think about why we as Western society humans, and probably most other humans, think for the present and rarely for the future (other than personal goals). The main reason is because most of the things you listed, rising ocean levels, and extinct species, that was not happening in the future that could be imagined or cared about. If it was, it was so far in the future that one would never be affected by it.
The big problem is, things like ocean acidification, rising sea levels, and climate change is happening at an exponential rate and actually affecting us now, and will affect us even more in the future. But human habits are slow to change and minds are hard to change as well, so the convincing of humans to make decisions for the future will be hard. Especially when there is now the mindset that it won’t matter anyway, since climate change is happening already.
Jared, I really liked how you started by defying a modern phrase that many people have adapted to their lives and mottos. It grabbed my attention immediately because I like the idea of “living in the present,” but I had never really thought about the societal implications and, I guess you could say branding, behind the statement. It makes a lot of sense that this would give people a more carefree mindset, without actually having them consider the longterm side effects associated with a lot of their decisions. I like that you transform the conversation to thinking about the future, rather than the moment. Taking time to really think about the consequences of your actions as a consumer should be encouraged, as it is probably more rewarding in the long run.
On a side note, Robert Dietz’s book Enough is Enough touches on this topic of slowing down. As a country, we prioritize a growing economy over what seems like everything else, yet a steady state economy can be just as beneficial to jobs and citizens, and much more so to the planet. I really liked this book as well because the authors offer direct advice on how you as a consumer can slow down and still live in the moment while also making wiser consuming decisions.