Moving Beyond Oil: Restoring Meaning to the Word "Necessity"


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What things can you absolutely not live without? Pause for a second and really think about that. You can't live without it. What did you come up with? This question when applied to our lives and, more importantly, the pausing it takes to honestly consider the answers, is at the heart of moving beyond our addiction to oil -- that sticky, dangerous stuff we use to make a whole lot of things and use to ship those things all over the world.

Last week, GOOD asked on Twitter:

And the responses came in -- people couldn't live without laptops, Internet connection, iPhones... all gadgets that have become integral parts of our daily lives. But what most of the responders failed to pause and consider is the definition of "live."

What technology can we live without versus what technology do we allow our lives to revolve around? There are a lot of devices that we definitely need in this day and age, with computers topping the list. But there's also a plethora of gadgets and gee-whiz junk that we can do without, despite the fact that we've developed an (unhealthy) attachment to them.

It's not a question of technology, but of necessities
When it comes down to it, the technology we can't live without is pretty minimal -- the technology of basic tools like the wheel, lever, and techniques for building fires; the technology behind basic methods of agriculture and weaving; some basic building technology so we can create durable structures for shelter; and the technology behind medicine such as basic medications and childbirth. There's a handful of other things we'll likely want to add to the list but the point is this: there is a lot of technology that we think we can't live without but in reality, it simply only adds convenience, pleasure or longevity to our daily lives (which can often lead to poor health and more unhappiness) -- it isn't an actual necessity.

This same thought process can be applied to pretty much everything in our lives. When it comes to moving past a dependence on oil, the consideration given to the question of "what can we not live without" has to be seriously considered. What things do we need to have healthy, happy lives and what are just supplementary or a byproduct of consumerism?

Make a list and start scratching things out
If you were to sit down and make a list of your necessities -- the things you honestly need in your life to feel safe, happy and satisfied -- what would that list include? How much of that list would be dependent upon oil? Are there things that are currently dependent upon oil but that could be transitioned away?

For example, if you need to get yourself from one end of town to the other (like to get to work and earn an income) and that need is currently met with a car, could the need be fulfilled without oil, say by using a bicycle instead? And if shopping makes you happy, you can indulge yourself and actually buy happiness without partaking in the oil-and-oil-based-products party by changing your purchases into experiences.

Paring life down to needs doesn't necessarily mean sacrifice
Changing our list of necessities doesn't necessarily mean giving up things we love or enjoy. Finding a balance of what we need to survive and what we need to feel fulfilled is part of a happy life.

This is a major reason why we're seeing a push for measuring a country's success not by its gross domestic product (GDP), which is only production for production's sake, but by gross national happiness (GNH), which is a much more true measure of stability. There are countries more happy and healthy than the United States that also have smaller environmental footprints. At the root of it is an understanding of, and contentment with, a handful of needs being fulfilled.

If we're to kick our addiction to oil, we have to put serious thought into the word "necessity" and get creative on how to fulfill all our honest needs without the fast and easy, but extraordinarily costly, option of oil.

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More on Moving Away from Oil
Want to Kick Our Oil Addiction? Let's Get Our Priorities Straight First
Getting Off Oil: Forget Hybrids And Solar Panels, We Need Active, Exciting and Vibrant Cities
How Will We Eat When Peak Oil Hits? Tofu, Tree Farms and Electric Tractors

Tags: Consumerism | longreads | Minus Oil | Pollution

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