Consilience Productions
Essays

A New American Dream
   --- from The Center for a New American Dream


Why A New American Dream?
The American dream. What do those words mean to us?

For our parents and grandparents, the American dream meant hope – an unshakeable belief that happiness and security were truly possible. They knew they had a unique opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. That dream still exists. But these days, it has some competition.

The original focus on security and personal well-being is giving way to an obsession with “more.” More work. More material goods. Bigger cars, bigger houses…bigger everything.

What does this “more is better” version of the American dream leave in its wake? Less contentment and less free time. Disconnection from nature and community. And an environment straining to supply the natural resources and absorb the waste generated by our expanding collection of stuff.

Fortunately, there is a growing trend of Americans who are working to create a new American Dream – by changing the way they consume to improve their quality of life, protect the environment and promote social justice. They’re reconnecting to the land, and to their communities. They’re also building a consumer movement for a whole new dream, by pushing businesses, institutions and governments to provide products that make sense for the planet AND the bottom line. This is the future, and this is what the Center for a New American Dream is working to build.

Small Planet, Big Appetites
The fact is that our throw-away culture is taking a heavy toll on the environment. Although we do not always see the impacts, every product comes from the Earth and must return to it in one form or another. A few startling facts offer some perspective:

America consumes 40% of the world's gasoline and more paper, steel, aluminum, energy, water, and meat per capita than any other society on the planet.
The average American produces twice as much garbage as the average European.

Recent scientific estimates indicate that at least four additional planets would be needed if each of the planet's 6 billion inhabitants consumed at the level of the average American.

We suffer the impact of consumer behavior in many ways, from the dramatic loss of forests for paper and packaging to the conversion of farmlands and wetlands to large suburban developments. We have generated huge quantities of atmospheric and solid waste while degrading the water, soil and air necessary for healthy living. Untold plant and animal species have become extinct in the process. If we wish to reverse this trend and preserve necessary resources for our children and future generations, we must shift and reduce our consumption of resources.

The Earth's Not in Balance, and Neither are We!
Our hectic work-and-spend way of life takes its toll on our financial well-being, psychological health, and personal happiness. The commercial culture leads many to accumulate debt and live beyond their financial limits. For the past five years, more Americans have declared bankruptcy than have graduated from college. The average employed American now works more than 47 hours a week in the struggle to keep up with mounting bills, causing tremendous stress. Millions of Americans report feeling exhausted, pressured, and hungry for more balanced lives. We seek greater purpose and more free time to spend with family and friends.

Whose Dream is it Anyway?
The "more is better" approach to life widens the growing gap between the "haves" and "have-nots." Globally, the 20 percent of the world's people in the highest-income countries account for 86 percent of the total private consumption expenditures, the poorest 20 percent a minuscule 1.3 percent. Conspicuous consumption is especially debilitating for low-income families in a culture that measures self-worth on these terms.

Is All Consumption Bad?
Of course not! Many services and products do improve our lives while providing quality jobs. Furthermore, millions of people around the globe (and right here in the U.S.) live on the edge and must consume more to become healthy and materially secure. But we all need to shift our consumption choices toward environmentally friendly goods while resisting excessive consumerism.

We're All In This Together
Is it possible to influence the American culture and economic system in ways that will help people live in balance with their deepest values and in harmony with the Earth? Can individuals resist the "more is better" mantra of our times and put their energy into other life priorities? It’s easy to assume that the power of advertising, the human urge to consume, and the globalization of our consumer culture make it impossible. Some even believe that our economy is dependent on unsustainable consumption. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Each of us can make important and powerful changes, but motivated individuals will need help to make a new American dream possible for everyone. Businesses must play a role, by reinventing products that are durable, produced for reuse, and fashioned from recycled materials. Labor must press for living-wage jobs making products designed not to hurt workers or the planet. Governments must create tax incentives and public policies that help individuals and communities feel safer while encouraging responsible consumption. We also need private and public incentives that encourage flexible work arrangements and options for reducing stress in the workplace.

We Need You
We are attempting nothing less than a shift of American culture away from its current emphasis on consumption towards a more fulfilling, just and sustainable way of life. We will succeed only with the personal commitment and financial support of thousands of individuals just like you. Please become a supporting member of the Center for a New American Dream and join us as we encourage Americans to adopt our motto: More Fun, Less Stuff!

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