If Whatcom's proposed coal port is approved, as many as 18 more trains per day would pass through Bellingham, all to feed the coal-fired power plants of Asia. In exchange for all this coal we would get more 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 would also receive a greater volume of polluted air blown here from Asia, and related toxic deposits in Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for most of Whatcom County.
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." As the virus spreads among us, we pay little attention to its 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 the resources to continue our binge, we stripmine coal from Appalachia and the Powder River basin and poison their waters, frack recklessly for natural gas, and haul fossil fuels through our cities, leaving a trail of danger and pollution in their wake. 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.
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 carbon-based fuel for the foreseeable future, if we are willing to choke the planet to get it. Now it's the demand side, and our part in it, that we need to question.
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, family, friends and nature. With changes in the way we use products, greater sharing of wealth, resources and working hours, we can do this. All that is lacking is the will to do it.
Join us 6:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 13, at the YWCA, 1026 N. Forest St., in Bellingham, for a community discussion, action planning and vaccinations against affluenza in our community.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John de Graaf is a documentary filmmaker, with more than a dozen prime-time national PBS specials, and co-author of the books "Affluenza: How Overconsumption is Killing Us and How to Fight Back" and "What's the Economy for, Anyway?" Crina Hoyer is the executive director of Bellingham-based RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources promotes sustainable communities and the health of local people and ecosystems through science, education, advocacy and action. More information can be found online at re-sources.org.