Bush: “The American lifestyle is non-negotiable”

By Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

These words, first uttered by the former President Bush at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero (1992), have found willing supporters in our current national leadership. You probably know that – America has affirmed the right to consumption and resource exploitation over global justice and societal sustainability for years. Ever asked yourself if it was entrenched in your mind?
Next Tuesday, October 10th, MacCARES will be launching The Fossil Free Future Film Festival with an address by Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian human rights activist who has struggled for environmental justice and against corporate abuse of his country by oil corporations in league with the government. The increase in Western (particularly U.S.) interests in Nigeria is the result of a strategic decision by the United States to import more oil from Africa and Latin America to avoid the risk-laden Middle East as much as possible. The results have not been peaceful – Sowore’s friends have been killed for standing up for the rights of their communities, he himself has been repeatedly imprisoned and tortured, and the poor of the Niger Delta still face the midnight sun of the raging natural gas flares. The agents may be Shell, and Chevron, and the Nigerian government, and US foreign policy. The ultimate decision-maker is the American lifestyle. Join us for this event at 7 P.M. in JBD – it’s the first of eight events exploring the problems and opportunities presented to us by the energy and climate crises.

A couple years ago, Sowore told Ford Motor Company that every SUV it builds runs on the blood of Nigerians. Ford is one of the world’s most regressive vehicle manufacturers, now with a lower fleet-wide fuel efficiency than its 1920s Model-T. Ford recently sued California for trying to mandate higher efficiencies for the state – arguing that this would favor the already successful Japanese and European carmakers over American vehicles; Ford and GM have been losing value, their employees losing jobs, and some of their facilities – like the St. Paul Ford Plant – shutting down. The economic signals and voices from all across the globe are telling us that something is wrong. The ‘production’ of oil is taking lives and starting wars; Earth is warming.

In the minds of most Americans, the American lifestyle is non-negotiable simply because we can’t imagine all the thousands of super-consumers all around us changing their lives. Yet we care. A recent poll found that the vast majority of Americans think that the average person is much less concerned about global warming than they are. Americans are not taking action because they fear no one else will. American individualism has brought us a perverse peer pressure towards the status quo of the suburb, the highway, the power plant. It’s time to break the cycle of apathy.

Really talking with someone about changing lifestyles has become almost a taboo – it’s really awkward to ask why we personally live the way we do – maybe it’s okay to change your own life, but you better stay out of everyone else’s. But seriously, Mac students can’t really like that half the power coming out of their sockets comes from coal–we don’t want to be running our heaters on a commodity that kills. All of you know how many gadgets and appliances we use, how much stuff we throw away. If you’re an upperclassperson, you probably know that it can get so hot in the dorm rooms in winter that people open their windows.
So I’m inviting all of you – become a climate warrior by making the Macalester Climate Challenge your own. Thousands of students nationwide are building a new lifestyle: they’re using task lighting, unplugging unused applliances, army showering, staying warm with blankets and sweaters, and spending a lot more time doing stuff together. Starting next week, our student team will be asking for your help as Macalester students work for a sustainable daily life. We need your interest, your ideas, and your readiness to take the buildings we have and the friends within them and build a model for a new American lifestyle.

Remember, we’re college students, supposedly the most wasteful and irresponsible segment of society. We’re also the visionaries, the people who form the culture of the future we must live in. If we lead, liberal arts colleges, the Twin Cities, and ultimately the nation will follow. Students are already changing their institutions. Now its time to change the way we live.

Bundle up, power down, and get your dorm buddies together for action. Unplug those coal-sucking wires. Get thinking about a Macalester community that lives for solutions – start talking about it, and don’t worry if it’s awkward at first. Get in touch – I want to hear from you.
We have a growing fund ready to support campus sustainability, we have an administration at least cautiously enthusiastic, and we have a team of students – chances are you know some of them – ready to help you in the fight. Let’s go climate cool.

Macalester: it’s time to negotiate a new lifestyle.