I recently read “A Conservationist Manifesto” by Scott Russell Sanders and found it to be quite profound. He discusses the concept of common wealth, all “natural and cultural goods” we share including “the air, waters, soils, and oceans; outer space; the electromagnetic spectrum; the human gene pool and the diversity of species; language in all its forms, including mathematics and music; knowledge in all its forms, from art to zoology; all manner of artifacts and machines, from stone scrapers to supercomputers; the practical arts such as cooking, building, herding, and farming; the practice of medicine; the body of law, the structures of democratic government, and the traditions of civil liberty; parks, community gardens, state and national forests, wildlife refuges, and protected wilderness areas; museums, libraries, schools, plazas, and other public spaces.” He argues these are common wealth because “none of us, as individuals or even as nations, could create these goods from scratch, or replace them if they were lost.”
For years the government has favored giveaways including below-cost timber sales in national forests, patenting of organisms, oil drilling in wildlife refuges, subsidies for the nuclear industry and agribusiness, off-shore tax havens for corporations, and waivers of clean air regulations. Our common wealth became further at risk in 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United. Now corporations can give anonymous unlimited funds to politicians.
These corporations need consumers so they flood the media with advertising. According to Sanders, by age 21 the average American has been exposed to 30 million ads. They convince us “you, the isolated consumer, are the center of the universe; your pleasure, comfort, status, looks, convenience, and distraction are all that matter; you will find happiness and fulfillment through buying this product or service; the entire Earth is a warehouse of raw materials at your service.” So now the circle is complete – Insatiable consumers take from the common wealth oblivious to the common good.
He suggests we live more lightly. “We need a dream worthy of grown-ups, one that values simplicity over novelty, conservation over consumption, harmony over competition, community over ego.”
To sum it up, “We are born into the legacy of the common wealth, and we pass it on, either enhanced or diminished, to future generations.” Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Pick up Litter, Use your Voice and Vote wisely. Future generations will be glad you did.