I will *own my things* and be happy

I will *own my things* and be happy
The Notion of Owning Nothing isn't Rooted in Sustainability, it's about Control

Guest Authored by Harrison Bohrer

Given the dichotomous nature of environmental discourse, fostering active listening, open dialogue, and striving for progressive change through achievable milestones might be more fruitful than seeking abrupt revolutions. A 2016 article by the World Economic Forum published in Forbes suggests a future where people could feel gratified owning nothing. Let's dissect this debatable proposition.

While communism may have toppled in 1989 in Berlin, elements of communal resources and non-ownership can be discerned in some 21st-century environmental narratives. Policies promoting reduced car use in cities, encouraging co-living, and advocating for electrification of all elements of life are often presented as steps towards environmental sustainability. Yet, extreme measures like compromising more and more isn't a persuasive strategy for forward movement. For many in Western capitalist societies, owning nothing signifies personal failure rather than an objective. Sustainable education, investment, and initiatives like circular economies are all intricately linked with ownership, conservation, and personal accountability. The world isn't black and white, but a vast gray area with the potential to become green. However, solutions like giving up clothing, appliances, or properties aren't universally viable or sustainable.

The article from Forbes’ WEF presumes that in an ideal city, individual transport becomes redundant and largely unavailable. Granted, urban dwellers often benefit from integrated transport systems like subways, trains, buses, or personal bikes and scooters. However, certain establishments like hospitals, organizations, and individuals, especially those with disabilities, might require continued personal transport, even if it's more detrimental to the environment.

Sectors like public health, goods transportation, police, public safety, and fire departments also merit consideration. These entities may disagree with the article's premise, given their specific requirements for certain vehicles or practices that directly contribute to human health and wellbeing. The article overlooks these subtleties and exceptions. While tangible actions matter, gradual shifts in perception and spreading awareness through measurable methods are more crucial than promoting an unattainable utopia.

Housing in this hypothetical city poses another challenge. People form emotional attachments to their surroundings and have a unique ability to personalize any space. While the advent of a sustainable city is appealing, property ownership in suburbs or rural areas that provide locally-sourced food offer significant benefits to local and national economies. The article’s vision of a city where "we don't pay any rent, because someone else is using our free space whenever we do not need it" hinges on perfectly aligned schedules, an improbable scenario. This expense-cutting strategy is risky, with dubious benefits for long-term sustainability. On the other hand, sustainable appliances like solar ovens for daily meals on apartment patios are attainable, realistic steps towards a greener lifestyle.

The article neglects to consider the complexities of a diverse nation. For instance, who gets to reside in such a city if jobs are increasingly automated? Will rural communities distant from urban areas suffer consequences and also own nothing? Do they have to abandon their belongings and make do without amenities? Irrespective of their efficiency, urban, suburban, and rural areas host populations with different perceptions of necessity, luxury, and availability. The notion of owning nothing isn't a viable life strategy. Owning, in fact, is the first step towards environmental rejuvenation, starting with acknowledging the problems we have created in global diet and sustainable agricultural methods.

Supporting local farmers and businesses who own local land is key to transitioning from mass-produced, unsustainable diets and wasteful practices. As many environmentalists agree, this is the next step in combating climate change. To put it simply, dreams without goals remain just dreams.

We must all learn to identify bad actors in our world-wide efforts to build sustainable community.  True sustainability is all about decentralization, personal responsibility, local action, healthy ownership, distributed ownership, and education.  Giving up owning all items is not a path to a green future, but it is a path to handing over control to a few powerful elites.  Let's build a sustainable future for all, where all still own the items we need to thrive.  Anything else is hiding an agenda.

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Off-grid October 2023

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