Is Time Our Most Precious Environmental Resource?


Image credit: TheTruthAbout, used under Creative Commons license.

When we talk about protecting precious resources, it can be tempting to focus almost exclusively on the physical—whether that be diminishing oil reserves or clean water. But sometimes we need to take a step back and look at some more abstract resources. Just as getting a handle on personal finances and money can be an act of environmentalism, many of us would do well to take control of our use of time too. Together with my colleague Jerry Stifelman, I've talked before about the value of slow business—and how, on a macro level, the push for greater and greater speed is putting pressure on our global environment, and our collective sanity. But unless we really do start moving toward a no growth economy or something similar, the pressures on our time are only likely to increase.

But this is by no means only a macro-level discussion. By paying close attention to our own personal use of time, we can take control of the pressure for more-and-more and faster-and faster. We may just find ourselves slashing emissions and reducing our environmental footprint in the process too.

I was listening to a radio show the other day about personal finances, and one woman was explaining that she never understood the value of time until she stopped working. Whereas she once had shopped at budget stores and low-priced clothing outlets, once she retired she found herself hunting through thrift stores and buying clothing she could never have afforded when she worked.

It wasn't said, but the environmental subtext of this situation was that she was buying clothes that not only cost a fraction they would have new, they also boasted a fraction of the carbon footprint too. From homebrewing or gardening to making your own clothes, freeing up time can create space to build valuable do-it-yourself eco-skills.

Just as constantly living on the go leads to waste, inefficiencies, a reliance on convenience food, and often choosing more expensive products than we would have had we had time to think our purchases through—downsizing and simplifying our lives can also become a reinforcing process. Not spending as much on new clothing means you don't have to work so hard, which means you have more time to spend at the thrift store, which in turn means you don't have to spend so much money. Living simply in a small space means you have less need for money, which means you have time to build that transformer furniture you've been dreaming of.

The pressure to go faster-and-faster is very real, and very strong. I'm not immune to it myself, and many of us may have no immediate "out". But simply being aware of our time and how we use it may be a first step to doing things differently.

Step away from the email. Breathe. And go do something fun instead...

More on Lifestyles, Money, Wealth and Sustainability
Slow Business: A Manifesto
Material Possessions Are Not Evil: Learning to Love Your Stuff
Get Rid of the Wall Street Mafia Says Economist David Korten
The Economics of Happiness as a Response to Environmental Crisis
Living Simply: An Alternative American Dream

Tags: Consumerism | Economics | Ethical | Poverty

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