Image credit: Larry Page, used under Creative Commons license.
When I posted an interview with wind energy pioneer Dale Vince, one Facebook commenter took issue with my references to his "hippie dropout" past, and the fact that he is now on Britain's rich list. The idea that we should be impressed by how his "wind energy empire was built", she said, nearly turned her stomach. Whether or not my original words were appropriate, this brought up a very valid debate once again.
Are the notions of material/financial wealth and environmental sustainability mutually exclusive? Hippie Dropout is Not an Insult
I should first note that my references to Dale as a "hippie dropout living in a bus" were not intended to be derogatory—I originally wrote "New Age traveler", which is the term we use in the UK for the subculture, but was not sure how culturally relevant that would be to a US audience.
Semantics aside, what are we to do about the thorny conundrum of wealth and sustainability?
Learning from Alternative Culture
The man himself speaks of "dropping out", and describes that time as deeply informative and educational. And while he has now chosen a different path, I don't think he would argue against those who choose to continue pursuing "alternative lifestyles". In fact, from encouraging conversations about veganism and lower impact lifestyles at the soccer (sorry Dale, football!) club he owns, to exploring new ways of financing that cut out banks and traditional financial institutions, Dale's activities often seek to tackle some of the same cultural sticking points that the alternative/traveller/hippie movement has sought to address—they just do so from a different perspective.
Economics is a Real Issue
On the one hand, i have a lot of sympathy with those who argue that no growth economics should be pursued with vigor, and i have respect for those—like the Moneyless Man, aka Mark Boyle—who have sought (with varying degrees of success) to disconnect themselves from the destructive nature of our current economy.
Time is Not On Our Side
But I am also aware that time is not on our side when it comes to fighting climate change and mass extinction. From where I sit we can either go all out to reform our financial systems to be less destructive and less divisive; we can choose to play within the current system and boost clean energy technologies, efficiency and lower impact lifestyles—or we can seek to do all of the above and more.
Yes there is a huge disconnect between the material wealth and personal carbon footprints of some of our most prominent green voices and yes, as a general rule, the more money you have, the larger your personal environmental impact is likely to be. But it is also true that, in our present society, the more money you make, the more leverage and power you will have to create further change.
By all means let's search for ways to create more just, stable and equitable societies—and let's find ways to encourage simpler lifestyles and less consumption—but if we want more clean energy, let's not knock those who build it for being too successful.
Time is too short for fighting among ourselves. Feel free to join the discussion on Facebook.
More on Money, Wealth and Sustainability
How a Wind Energy Empire Was Built: Live Chat with Dale Vince of Ecotricity
What Would a No Growth Economy Look Like?
Living Without Cash for a Year: Hipocrisy or Heroism?
Must the Greens Hate the Rich? Class War in NC
Living Simply as an Alternative American Dream