Reflections on Austerity

by: Heather on 12/20/2010
Posted in: Activism

Merriam-Webster has just named "austerity" its Word of the Year for 2010. The term was looked up more than a quarter of a million times on the dictionary's free online search engine, most likely in connection with increased coverage of the global debt crisis.

As interesting as this is, it's worth remembering that austerity need not always have a negative connotation. Sharon Astyk, author of Depletion and Abundance, co-founded the Riot for Austerity in 2007, inspired by George Monbiot's contention in Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning that no-one ever took to the streets demanding *less*. Members of the Riot for Austerity pledge to cut their emissions by 90% of what the average person in the US consumes - the approximate amount people in the rich world need to reduce by in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

From Depletion and Abundance:

Overwhelmingly, the focus of the solutions was on low technology, low cost and human power. The solutions were creative, imaginative things that almost anyone could do. That is, most of us made our cuts not by buying high-tech things but by cutting back to the bone. And most of us found that we could do it, or come very close to a 90 percent reduction in most categories, while still living in the same places and with the same dubious, imperfect family members we’re dragging along on the journey. We have members from 15 nations, living in every kind of city, town and country location you could imagine.

All of us believe that the kinds of things we are doing are the kinds of things that most people will have to do—either from necessity or desire—to protect the planet and live in a lower-energy, lower-money world. So we set about trying to figure them out, to offer some kind of guidelines for what saves us energy. It has been a fascinating project. A year into the project, our family is down at least 80 percent in all categories, and has achieved our goals in four categories. We’ve had a blast, too — the community, the creativity, the energy have been exciting, engaging and inspiring. Instead of a sense of loss, we’ve found joy.

We'd like to hear what austerity means to you. Is it scary and negative, or does it reflect a positive step in the right direction? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Depletion and Abundance


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