When I first discovered APLS (Affluent People Living Sustainably), I was a bit surprised that there was so much discussion around the choice of the word affluent. Not only am I comfortable granting creative license for a good acronym (and who doesn’t love APLS and its tie-ins like “The Bushel Basket”???), but I recognize the fact that many Americans, my nuclear family included, are both fortunate and unusual because things like hunger, poverty, homelessness, disease, and mortal danger are things we read about in the news instead of actually having to fear or experience them.
So for me, affluence is an important part of the APLS equation. Not in a jet around the world with Paris Hilton sort of way, because we’re far from that. But having enough money to live comfortably, with access to ample food, clean water, shelter, clothing, education, and entertainment gives us something that most of the rest of the world does not have when it comes to sustainable living: choices.
A conventional cotton farmer in India, for example, does not have much choice about whether he or she is exposed to the toxic chemicals required to produce the crop (and I recently read that many of these farmers, unable to make a decent living due to the cost of the GM seed and chemicals, are turning to suicide. That’s some choice!). The women and children working in factories around the world to produce so many of the inexpensive goods we Americans consume in mass quantities don’t have a choice about the number of hours they work, the chemicals to which they are exposed, or the education and other opportunities they forgo to work for slave’s wages.
But we have a choice. We can choose to live more simply. We can choose to drive less, consume less, and lighten our burden on the Earth. We can choose organic foods because we live in a country where the choice is between organic, local, conventional, or fresh, frozen or canned instead of being between food or lodging, between food or medication, or between food or safety.
That is not to say that I believe everyone in America is affluent. I know that hunger and poverty are an issue in this country, in my state, and in my local community, which is what makes the amazing over-consumption many Americans participate in every day all the more tragic. It is also what makes the choice to live more simply and to give back to the community so crucial to our continued existence on this planet.
The cotton farmer in India doesn’t have a choice, but we do. By buying local, by donating some of the money we don’t spend on new cars or satellite television or designer clothing for our children to charities that help those in need, by voting with intention and knowledge rather than impulse clouded by spin, we choose to use our affluence to make small changes. And the aggregate of these small changes, like the proverbial snowball, might just create the big change that we need.