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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Affluenza Vaccine

"We have too much stuff,"  says environmental heavyweight James Gustave ("Gus") Speth.  Speth's simple words belie his sparkling CV (current Yale Forestry dean, co-founder of the NRDC and World Resources Institute, top Carter adviser, Dad's college buddy and colleague).  "We have to get over this epidemic of affluenza."

Speth uttered these insights as a panelist during yesterday's Spring Environmental Lecture and Luncheon at the American Museum of Natural History.   Apparently the term affluenza (per Professor Wiki, a portmanteau of affluence and influenza) has been kicked around by anti-consumerism advocates for quite some time.  But this is the first I heard of affluenza (and the groovy word portmanteau).

After consuming a lean and green meal of free-range chicken and acai sorbet under the big Blue Whale (where Husband and I celebrated our wedding 4+ years ago!), I went home and looked up affluenza and found the following definition:

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. 4. A television program that could change your life.

Now I'm not quite sure about the life-changing television part, so feel free to ignore it.  But the rest sounds a tad familiar, doesn't it?  We are buying bigger and bigger houses and buying more and more stuff.  Stuff that Speth contends isn't making us any happier.  What makes us happier?  Other people.  Warm interpersonal contact.  Having someone to talk to.

I sit here typing away in my living room amid the day's Toddler Tornado, a scattered storm of stuff, wishing there were in fact an affluenza vaccine.  And if there was,  it wouldn't just be administered to the old and the young and the pregnant.  It would be offered to all of us.

For now, we should perhaps all check out Speth's latest book The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (Yale University Press) wherein he urges us to conceive of a non-socialist alternative to our capitalist system.  No, it doesn't sound like a fluff-fest, or a candy beach read.  But if we don't listen to Speth and his conservationist cohorts, we might just end up with a lot of meaningless stuff and no beaches left to read on.  (Okay, on which to read.)  

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