As more and more carbon seeps from our earth and into the atmosphere, so too is our purpose for living being torn away and replaced with artificialities. The demand for material growth under capitalism drives us to mine faster and dig deeper into the soil for resources, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum; this happens parallel to a lack of spiritual connections between ourselves and our neighbors, those next door or those across the planet. As we address climate change’s realities -more natural disasters, unpredictable weather, and the devastation of our oceans – we need to look closely into the sociological conditions that allow them.
Our interactions with each other, on sight judgments immediately form to try and identify the other from their appearance. In order to ensure even participation in society, we fight for justice along racial and gendered lines, in hopes that someday those traits aren’t the foundation for our judgements. Still, there’s a deeper layer to our first impressions that has existed for centuries: material wealth. Take, for example, the modern businessman. The man would be ashamed to appear in meetings without a tie. It’s not necessary whatsoever for his survival, but the tie represents his membership in society, and without it he’d likely face ridicule. Today, the roots of this way of thinking have sunk deep into our interactions, outlining the clothes deemed acceptable to wear, the cars acceptable to drive, and places acceptable to live. Without these material goods, it’s much more difficult to be a member of our society. This principle dictates the way we look at the homeless people we pass on the sidewalk and whether the person we’ve just met would make a suitable friend. Time has only accelerated the amount of material needed to pass these sociological tests.
Over time, we’ve regressed to the point where many people feel the need for a new car every few years and a gold watch or clothes to match their status. As more material becomes necessary for a person to function socially, we unearth more resources and destroy the planet further. The crucial understanding to be made is that the process isn’t stopping. Under our current system, there won’t come a point at which enough is enough. Using materials as a means to decide who remains in society demands constant growth from its members, even if unnecessary for us to survive.
If we want to address climate change and try to save our planet, address our system first. The need for certain objects as a way to participate in society stems from capitalism. The alternative requires a shift away from capitalism and towards a more inclusive system. Known as ‘alternative hedonism,’ the other option is an idea that many are calling for in all ways but name. Alternative hedonism is a structure that rebels from consumerism and forces us to recognize each other as more than the property we own. To enjoy the truly important moments in life over unboxing a new pair of shoes. In this structure, the need no longer exists for the world’s resources to be constantly uprooted, and it instead allows us quiet revolutions like working less hours because the car we have now is good enough. People are ready to shed the pressure of their mandatory materialism, giving dignity to both the poor and the rich. Prospering until now has always been signified by material wealth. It’s caused immeasurable and likely irreversible damage to our planet. It’s taken away our ability to empathize with each other and share evenly the fruits of our labor.
The solution to climate change is the solution to our spiritual emptiness and the common lack of fulfillment among people today. By choosing to find satisfaction in things other than materials, we can not only avoid cataclysmic changes to the earth, but realize a more meaningful existence and enjoy a more powerful connection to each other.