Today the headline “An Age of Scarcity” made up the front page of the the Ottawa Citizen. The “news story” was the rising price of oil and the rising cost of food. For most of us environmentally-inclined types, hardly news. However it was the scare-mongering attached to these announcements that really got me wanting to post and the newspaper’s insistence that living with less will be a terrible, onerous sacrifice.
I’m tired of living in a society where everywhere I turn the “news” and advertisements scream at me to be afraid, the subtext being that if I buy something–the newspaper or whatever product is being marketed–my chances of avoiding whatever I’m supposed to be afraid of will be increased. Yes, there are massive challenges that we need to deal with, we know that, but there are also many solutions, a lot of which are already in play, and many of which could end up being more fun and satisfying than the mouthpieces of mainstream consumer-society would have us believe. And the good news is, if we get our act together here in the over-consuming parts of the globe that will reduce the stress placed on resources in other parts of the planet. It’s one of those win-wins.
So let me turn around the front-page news story. Let me declare that here in Ottawa we are in an era of abundance. This statement is easily as true if not truer than the story presented in the newspaper. Let me explain:
- We have an abundance of bike paths and sidewalks, and an abundance of bus routes (a buspotter friend of mine once told me that Hurdman station serves more bus routes than any other bus station in North America).
- We have an abundance of unused car passenger seats that could be filled by carpooling commuters, cutting the cost of gas in half, thirds or even quarters and easily off-setting the rising cost of oil.
- We have an abundance of empty lawns that can be transformed into orchards and vegetable gardens. After all, most of our city and suburbs was built on once prime farm land. In the older suburb where I live, all the octogenarians still live off the land, converting half of their ample yards into larders. One old guy who lived down the street had such abundant harvests that he would leave produce on a little table next to the street for his neighbours.
- We have abundant unused roofs just begging to be filled with green roofs, gardens or solar panels.
- We have an abundance of plastic water bottles, paper and cans that have yet to find their way to recycling facilities
- Each of us has an abundance of stuff in our homes, our garages and sometimes even in those storage buildings popping up in industrial parks all around town. Annie Leonard informs us that only 1% of stuff is still in use 6 months after it has been bought. That makes for a huge abundance of unused stuff just sitting around, waiting to be redistributed to people who would actually use it. Think of all those underused power tools waiting to be shared.
- Think of all the clothes in the closets of Ottawa, many of them worn only a few times a year or less. They can be redistributed as is through second hand stores, exchanged with friends at exchange parties, or upcycled by creative hands into entirely new garments. Fashion magazine Elle Canada even ran an article in February 2008 about the joys of spending a year without buying any new items of clothing.
- In this town we also have an abundance of policy makers and citizens, activists and students, shop keepers and customers all of whom are capable of making conscious choices, as long as they aren’t scared into a state of denial.