10 December 2008

Minister for Simplicity

I didn't think I'd be frightened by our economic crisis. Initially I saw it as a way of slowing everything down, putting the brakes on indiscriminate spending, and forcing many people to rethink the way they live their lives. Now it has gone beyond a simple lesson and is hitting hard. At the Centre I volunteer at, many more people are needing help and some of them are losing hope in the future. The crisis has a long way to go yet, some say life will be very difficult for at least another 18 months. My fear is that our governments have no idea how to handle what is happening and if they continue to throw money at the problem, the chance to grow through this, and eventually prosper, will be lost.

Simple living is the answer but politicians and those in power refuse to acknowledge that reducing what we spend on 'stuff' will help us and our planet. They are choosing to support 'the economy', and here in Australia, sections of our community - pensioners, carers, some people on a low income and families with children are being given one-off payments of over a thousand dollars ($1000 per child) and being encouraged to go out and spend it. It's a great pre-Christmas boost for those people but it's not a long term solution and it totally fails to address the problems associated with always having an economy reliant on non-stop spending, shoddy products and debt.

Simplifying our lives is not just a decision for tough times, although it makes the most sense then. I am not naive enough to believe that moving to a more simple way of life would be easy. I know it would be tough. But would it be tougher than what we are faced with now? Continuing to spend like drunken sailors is not sustainable, there must be a point at which the economy can't "grow" any more. Is climate change telling us we have reached that point?

I think our political agenda needs to change. If we had a Minister for Simplicity, she would be overseeing the development of factories to produce good quality, repairable, electrical appliances and cars that run on hydrogen; she would be encouraging us to attend the sewing or gardening classes in our neighbourhood; she would support the use of renewable energy, give rebates for solar panels and make water tanks compulsory on all homes.

Isn't that alternative an enticing idea. It would be wonderful if we had governments that really meant it when they said "it's time for change". Imagine if our factories reopened to produce sustainable, good quality products we all needed. Imagine if children grew up learning about vegetable gardening instead of sitting in front of an Xbox for hour upon hour. Imagine if credit cards were banned and we went back to thinking carefully about what we need, and then saving for it. The reduction in our landfill dumps alone would be astounding!

Don't worry, I don't believe that is going to happen, at least not in my lifetime. I am an optimist but I'm not stupid. I know handing out money is far more popular than being the instrument of change. I know band-aid measures are popular.

But in the meantime, we can all work towards further reductions in our lives. We can teach ourselves lost skills and be energised by producing some of our own food. We can slow down our spending and pay off debt. Big business hates that - it takes away their control of us. We can sew and knit, keep chooks; teach our children; talk to our neighbours; make do with what we have; be aware of our local natural environment and care for it; cook from scratch, and become healthier because of it; and live smaller instead of bigger.

And while you're doing that, show your friends and neighbours what you're doing; they might be interested. Talk to your children about your family's changes and show them ways they might change too. Explain what you're doing to your extended family and work mates. If we can help others find a way of living that will help them survive this financial crisis, that helps us all. Be open with what you're doing and show others the benefits of your changes. And if you get the chance to talk to your local politicians, tell them how you've changed, what you've done and what you've planned for your future, and then ask them when we will have our first Minister for Simplicity.

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