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Neville Berle: Thriving with less, toward a livable climate

This commentary is by Neville Berle, a 10-year resident of Montpelier and a member of Buddhist Peace Action Vermont.

In Vermont and across the world, people are understandably anxious. Once-stable democracies are in peril; the tide of refugees fleeing unlivable homes continues rising; nuclear war with Russia is again a possibility; the corrosive effects of greed and tribalism are everywhere. 

While all of these crises require immediate attention, we have little hope of addressing them while struggling to survive a hostile climate. 

Reversing climate disruption is a massive undertaking — bigger than anything humanity has attempted — and the possibility of failure is real. Faced with the enormity of the task, some deny the problem altogether; others accept human responsibility for global heating but think it’s too late — we’ve passed the point of no return. Still others believe the worst can yet be avoided if we take decisive action now. 

What kind of action? As we work to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, we often ignore simple, low-cost strategies for climate mitigation. One obvious example: preserving the world’s old-growth forests — our most efficient carbon-sinks. 

To name another, if people around the world did nothing but limit family size, especially in richer countries with low child mortality, global population would fall steeply, giving our biosphere time to heal. Local economies might suffer in the short term but at some point, expansion has to stop. Though some would persist in magical thinking, we can’t have endless growth on a finite planet. 

Another obvious strategy for regulating our climate involves reducing personal consumption. A few examples of this: returning to local, healthy activities like biking, hiking and skiing; avoiding cruises and minimizing air travel; eating less meat, leading to improved health and vast reductions in land and water needed to grow food. 

While a tiny fraction of Americans live like kings, many of us struggle to get by. Good consumers, we equate material wealth with happiness and envy those with more. But as numerous studies show, once basic needs like food, shelter, and a sense of belonging are met, communities tend to thrive. 

In pre-industrial times, people met those needs through close attunement to the land and seas from which they lived; those who thrived were acutely sensitive to their place within the greater web of life. For humanity in the 21st century, the rules of the game remain the same. 

Our world is at a turning point; American democracy may not stand. But while elections come and go, our duty as citizens remains the same. Those we elect need to know we’re serious about protecting our only home, that choices we make now will impact the earth for generations. 

Are we willing to work for what we love, to act on behalf of a world that yet may be?

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