TH!NK post

Want Not Waste Not? Is That Relevant for Climate Change Movement?

Published 23rd October 2010 - 2 comments - 949 views -

In my last blog post I proposed “Want not, waste not” as one essentially necessary change of attitude to aid the Climate Change Movement, which was liked by Ms Giedre Stekunaite, my fellow blogger of this platform. I am thankful to her of course, but in retrospect I feel I need to write about this “Want not, waste not”.

Want not? Doesn’t that sound paradoxical? How can one prosper without wanting? Is it a kind of mumbo-jumbo oriental philosophy, may be Hindu-Buddhist hocus pocus? I can imagine any number of questions like that, maybe I wasn’t asked one such courtesy the impeccable manners and restraint of the bloggers and readers of this platform. But the silence is poignant, I sensed that way too many times to know better.

I feel compelled to address this paradoxical proposal of mine because, in my opinion, it is very important if we seriously and sincerely want to participate in Climate Change movement. First step towards that is to ask what makes us want and to be precise, want more?

A few psychologist friends of mine posit that we want more simply because there IS more. Nature is manifest in abundance, a bounty with countless options for taking and since we are creatures of Nature, desire for having more is one primitive and natural aspect of us. But I find this view flawed on several counts. First off, Nature is grand with its explicit multitude, but it is NOT abundant, not in a sense that there is more than what is necessary. In fact, if Darwin is taken any seriously, Nature ruthlessly discards what is surplus and unnecessary. The evolutionary process works on a grand scale with very simple fundamental rules of propagation of only the fittest by gradual trial and error, with NO scope for a bounty gift-wrapped for anybody. The Natural (inanimate) resources are huge but FINITE. So there cannot be any naturally acquired tendency for us to want more.

Secondly, without going into the moral-philosophical-religious quicksand of divine design, we, homo-sapience sapience, are one unique animal. In course of our natural evolution we had a parallel evolution of culture and intellect and gathered a few contexts that are uniquely applicable to humans only. No other animal possesses, owns, barters, buys, sells. No other animal wants more.

I shall contend that we want more because we were programmed by our own cultures and philosophies to do so. We became the most dominating species of the earth on account of some chance events tilting the evolutionary balance towards us and that unfortunately created our belief systems and world views independent of natural rules. I shall insist that it is very important for us to understand that this is one point of departure to which we are coming back to through full cycle in the form of Climate Change dilemma.

I hope that I will not sound unreasonably harsh to say that this crazy desire for wanting more is the gift of the materialistic westernized so called ‘developed’ world philosophy. We want more because we have incredible number of choices. As we face these choices, we need to make decisions and the satisfaction value of our decisions decreases with increasing choices. So we want further more. This created a whole economic model so outrageously perverse that we have come to associate our growth, welfare, happiness and prosperity with wanting and possessing more. I will draw your attention to the book “Why More Is Less” by psychologist Barry Schwartz and his very compelling argument in the video below:

This talk of Barry Schwartz saves a lot of my time and I shall proceed in my argument taking one thread of his presentation: somewhere down the line we have crossed a justifiable limit of our self-created choices, which Barry hints at and admits that he does not know.

This is where my “Want not-waste-not” proposal becomes relevant. In my opinion, calculating a standardized and finite limit of our ‘wants’ is not possible through any algorithm. We need to decelerate the same engine of consumption (and wanting more) that we once accelerated out of ignorance. When we run out of ideas, we look up to Nature, and since Nature forbids surplus, we need to change and re-orient ourselves in every possible manner now to try and find out that subjective limit of our ‘wants’ by trial and error, by wanting less and sharing our surplus to the less fortunate. This is no ‘missionary’ compassion I am proposing, but a practical and sustainable approach to check the runaway growth and avert a man-made natural calamity, Climate Change. By corollary, this “want-not-waste-not’ should include active participation of the wealthy to help the poor by developing not a donor-beneficiary relationship, but a partnership based on trust and love and shifting the quest for happiness from amassing absurd wealth to redistribution of resources to people below poverty line and feeling proud and fulfilled with that.


Category: Sustainable Development, | Tags:


Giedre Steikunaite on 24th October 2010:

Honoured by the mention, Pabitra! wink

And thanks for this extended explanation. Barry Schwartz was a great watch, and his ideas of “too much choice leads to paralysis” and “we’d be happier with less” I can surely agree with. Just like with those psychologist friends of yours - one surely becomes greedier than usual when they know there is MORE to desire, to acquire, and to own.

Have you seen that little test of how many Earths we’d need if everybody lived like the rich world does? Can’t find the link now, but usually the answer is 2+. The fact remains, as we all know, there is just one planet and it does not reproduce itself, but who cares about some finite resources - as long as they are finite to someone else somewhere else in another space and time.

A very good method I’ve noticed, although not an easy one to self-impose, is simply not having money to buy stuff. It doesn’t take long to realise that we don’t need as much as we want.

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