I have a problem. We have built together a wonderful community of bloggers here. Several of us, working together, have pushed one another to live more sustainably, work harder on our communities, and in general to put our fears and worries toward action.
But lately a new group has formed. Last month I wrote “If We All Lived Sustainably, Could We Change The World?” for the first APLS carnival. If you haven’t encountered the APLS site, APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. The group is formed by close friends of mine, who I love and respect dearly. But I have a big problem that stems from the word Affluent. And for this reason, I feel on the outside, in a way, excluded.
Am I Affluent?
That is tough. If I use this tool, I see that I am considered the 605,000,000th richest person in the world because of my income… Compared to others in the world, definitely I have more than most. At the same time, I live on very little per month compared to others in my city. And here’s a big one: if I subtract my income from my debt, I have no money, no wealth, no assets.
Overall, I should not spend as much as I do, I should be paying more of my debts, I should not have so many things, and I should never have accrued so much debt in the first place. I’m working on it.
I live in an affluent country, where I felt I had to have that education that left me several hundred thousand dollars in debt. I felt I had to buy way more things than I needed. I felt I needed a product or two for every part of my body, I needed to eat out because I didn’t have time or energy to eat at home, I needed this product for that thing, and that product to solve that other problem. And for these unhealthy relationships to things and money, my net worth is negative.
In the past few years, I have been working to simplify my life, to cure myself of the need to spend, to find alternative solutions to buying products that society tells me I should have. In a way, I have been working to cure myself of the influence of our affluence.
Dictionary.com says affluence is “having an abundance of wealth, property, or other material goods.” Honestly, if I had an abundance of wealth, I would be doing more with my own efforts to thwart climate change. I would be finished creating my non-profit status and working hard to create a Board of Directors and move forward with my dreams for Elements In Time. That is my hope and my dream, but I cannot realize it yet because I do not have that abundance of wealth I need to get it going. Every day this makes me sad. But every day we move forward, pay more of our debts, and I know that eventually we will get there.
Yet… while I don’t feel that I have an abundance, I do feel I have enough. I am privileged to be a citizen of a wealthy country. I do live comfortably, with a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I have a job and health insurance. And so, I suppose, many would consider me affluent.
I’d say I come from a middle class family. Very early on in my life I understood my privilege in the world, as I traveled to poorer countries and drove through poorer parts of our own country. I felt distant to others because of my relative wealth, and that made me sad and uncomfortable. And at some point along my path, I vowed to change that.
As I went to college and read and grew, I understood that our country as a whole is affluent. And that for this affluence, others in the world suffer. We spend more and waste more than any other country in the world. We fight wars and destroy environments in other countries in order to supply our affluence. For our country’s affluence, the whole world suffers.
As a filmmaker, often I travel to other countries and interact with people from other parts of the world. And often I am embarrassed by the affluence of my country. Would I be embarrassed if we spent our money helping others, worked harder toward helping others become as affluent as we are, and contributed to more solutions than problems with our money? Probably not.
But even if we were ever to get to that point, I would not want to set myself apart from those less wealthy than I.
Because I want to relate to people as one human to another human, finding common ground, working toward common goals. I don’t want to define my self by my wealth, I don’t want to define my net worth in terms of money and power. I want to bridge the gap between myself and others, and define my self as a human being wanting to save our planet. My humanity is what defines me. Not my wealth.
And it is for this reason that I wish with all my heart the group would call themselves All Persons Living Sustainably. Because together we must become united. We have a long road, full of hard work that requires all of us, poor and rich, from every country on every continent. We all must pull together to sustain our planet, its species, and its humanity.
I have seen other friends who have also shied away from APLS for the term affluence. It is a good idea. But I think it can be even better.
We have grown such an amazing community of people here in our blog world, all working toward the same goals, all pushing one another, building, learning, growing. And I believe we can become an international movement, united for one cause: to lower our negative impact on the earth, to live in a sustainable world. We start with our own lifestyles and then work outwards, to our communities, our cities, our nations, and our planet as a whole. Together.
What Do You Think?
Can we become something bigger? What do you think of the term affluence? Do you consider yourself affluent? How does being defined as affluent make you feel?