laughing boy at farmers market The old thinking, as author and thinker Bill McKibben explains in today’s LA Times, goes like this: bigger is always better, growth is good no matter what, and a booming stock market is the ultimate measure of our success.

McKibben illustrates the kind of lopsided priorities that naturally flow when we’re ruled by the bottom line, pointing to a scarcely-reported White House report that said the US would be pumping out almost 20 percent more greenhouse gases in 2020 than we did in 2000, our contribution to climate change going steadily up—against all warnings to the contrary.

That’s a pretty stunning piece of information—a hundred times more important than, say, the jittery Dow Jones industrial average that garnered a hundred times the attention. How is it even possible? How, faced with the largest crisis humans have yet created for themselves, have we simply continued with business as usual?

New thinking, by contrast, might go something like this: measure what matters. (Have we mentioned that before?)

When you start to do that, the bottom line looks a little different.

In fact, it’s not all about sacrifice and set backs as the old thinking would have you believe. Part of the work to be done to combat global warming is the work of rebuilding what McKibben calls our “broken communities.”

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    Here’s a convincing reason to shift attitudes:

    …material prosperity has yielded little, if any, increase in humans’ satisfaction…our dissatisfaction is, in fact, linked to economic growth…[With increased wealth] we have far fewer friends nearby; we eat fewer meals with family, friends and neighbors. Our network of social connections has shrunk.

    So, we’re bowling alone. We’re driving instead of walking. We’re eating food that’s been shipped around the world instead of supporting local farmers. And, even as so-called standards of living rise, carbon dioxide, unlike many other pollutants, consistently tracks economic growth. 

    McKibben tells us that one of the best ways to reduce “that endless flow of carbon that’s breaking our planet” is to restablish our communities—drive less, buy local products, support local economies, walk and ride more. The beauty of this approach is that strong communities don’t just help us keep climate change in check. Strong communities can keep people healthier and happier.

    Shouldn’t that be the bottom line?  

    Put it in more concrete terms:

    Academics who followed shoppers found that those in farmers markets had 10 times as many conversations as those in supermarkets.

    Not a bad way to make a difference.



    Bill McKibben will present his latest book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, in Seattle tonight at Town Hall.

    McKibben is behind the Step It Up, Congress! campaign, a “national day of climate action,” with over 1000 rallies planned so far in all 50 US states on April 14—Earth Day—calling for an 80 percent reduction in global warming emissions by 2050.  Here’s the Seattle websiteHere’sPortland, Eugene, Bend. Ten events in Idaho. Seven in Alaska. Look for one in your neck of the woods—or start organizing one.