Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sustainability and Community

The following was written by Cecile Andrews (Phinney EcoVillage and author of Slow is Beautiful) for the upcoming Holiday edition of the Phinney Ridge Review but, due to lack of space, did not make the final edit. We thought you might enjoy reading it nevertheless.

People are finally understanding the importance of sustainability. We’re beginning to realize that we must change our ways — in particular, we’re beginning to understand that climate change is forcing us to reduce our use of oil.

In response, we’re trying to drive less, keep our heat turned down, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, and so on. But there’s one thing we often neglect — something that should be at the top our lists: building community.

Why community? Because it helps you cut back on consumerism, the issue at the heart of oil reduction.

We overconsume because we are confused about the nature of happiness. We think that if we’re rich and have lots of stuff, we’ll be happy — so we throw ourselves into the pursuit of money and things. But the research shows very clearly that, after a certain point, more money does not bring more happiness.

What does? Warm, supportive relationships with others — community.

But since we don’t understand this, we go along with the consumer society, working long hours and spending our time at the malls, growing more depressed and frantic. In fact, over the last several years happiness has decline just as community has diminished..
Further, we consume because we don’t have many alternatives to the malls. There’s not a lot of fun, free things to do in most people’s neighborhoods. But what if people had vital community lives? What if people knew their neighbors and took the time to gather together to talk and laugh. Who would want to go to the mall?

So building community is central to sustainability. As we support our local businesses, we create a vital and congenial street life where people will hang out rather than drive across town for costly entertainment. As we get involved in community activities, we have no desire to wander the department stores.

Above all, community is where people transform themselves from consumers into citizens. In a democracy people must be engaged at the local level, and there’s plenty in Phinney to get involved in. We can take a class at the PNA, get involved in a conversation group at the Phinney EcoVillage (, affect public policy in the Phinney Ridge Community Council (see, or work to stop the war with Phinney Neighbors for Peace and Justice.

Ultimately, it is the experience of community that teaches us to care about the common good. It is in community we learn that we’re all in this together — that our individual fate is connected to the fate of others. That's the heart of sustainability. >>Back to main blog page

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