By Crina Hoyer & John de Graaf
COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD, March 8 2014
If Whatcom’s proposed coal port
is approved as many as 18 more trains per day will pass through Bellingham, all
to feed the coal-fired power plants of Asia. In exchange for all this coal we
get flat screen TVs, plastic bags, toys, and millions of other disposable
products being made for the “consumers” in our “market”. But that’s not all! We
also receive a growing volume of polluted air blown here from Asia, and the
related toxic deposits in Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for most of
An undiagnosed disease lies
beneath this exchange, the single-minded pursuit of money and stuff regardless
of the costs to our fellow Americans, our communities, our health, our
democracy and our environment. We call that disease “affluenza”. It’s a
contagious virus with symptoms ranging from “feverish expectations,” to chronic
congestion, chilled communities, killer stress, resource exhaustion and
industrial diarrhea, all exacerbated by our dogged pursuit of “more.”
But before we cast stones, we’d
do well to examine the glass house of affluenza
that America has become. As the virus
spreads among us, we pay little attention to consequences. Since World War II,
Americans have consumed more resources than everyone who ever lived before
then. We have reduced our fisheries, soils and fossil fuels by half, caused the
extinction of countless species and dramatically changed the climate.
Already, according to the Global
Footprint Network, if everyone were to suddenly consume as Americans do, we
would need four more planets to provide the resources and absorb the
wastes. Technological improvements alone
will not change this; we need to consume less.
To ensure our right to all the
stuff we have come to expect, we are cutting off food stamps for the hungry
while reducing the taxes of millionaires and subsidizing our wealthiest
farmers. To ensure the resources to continue
our binge, we mine coal from the Powder River basin and poison its waters,
frack recklessly for natural gas, and haul fossil fuels through our cities,
leaving a trail of danger and pollution in the wake.
As a community of consumers we
have a responsibility to look at the connection between the coal and oil trains
we’re concerned about and the demand for products that necessitates them. We
have discovered there is enough supply of carbon based fuels – enough to choke
the planet. Now it’s the demand side, and our part in it, that we need to
The message of AFFLUENZA: HOW
OVERCONSUMPTION IS KILLING US AND HOW TO FIGHT BACK is simple: we don’t need to
engage in this reckless behavior in order to live well and be happy. We don’t need to poison our drinking water in
order to have a green lawn. We don’t
need to threaten Whatcom county’s environment to provide jobs. We don’t need to compromise our parks and
waterfront to transport coal. We don’t
need to strip the planet of its natural resources in order to feed the
insatiable appetite for more and more stuff.
What we need most in the age of
affluenza is not more stuff but more time, not more work but satisfying
low-carbon leisure, not the right to get rich but the right to live securely in
modest comfort and good health, with pure food, air and water, connected to
community and friends and nature.
Join us Thursday, March 13, at
the YWCA 1026 N. Forest in Bellingham, for a community discussion, action
planning, and vaccinations against affluenza in our community.
John de Graaf is a documentary filmmaker of dozens of
prime-time national PBS specials, co-author of the books Affluenza and What’s the
Economy for, Anyway?, and a noted public speaker.
Crina Hoyer is the executive director of RE Sources for
Sustainable Communities. RE Sources
promotes sustainable communities and protects the health of northwestern
Washington’s people and ecosystems through application of science, education,
advocacy, and action.