Simple Living Could Save Our Planet

May 31, 2015 Carol 6 comments

If  the material consumption of a fraction of humanity is already harming the planet, is there an alternative path that enables all of humanity to live more lightly upon the Earth, while experiencing a higher quality of life?
Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity

Do I honestly believe that simple living could save our planet? Yes, I do!

Here’s why:


Contrary to media myths, consumerism offers lives of sacrifice while simplicity offers lives os opportunity. Simplicity creates the opportunity for greater fulfillment in work, meaningful connection with others, feelings of kinship with all life, and awe of a living universe. This is a rich way of life that offers a compelling alternative to the stress, busyness, and alienation of the modern era.
Duane Elgin, Simplicity Is Not Sacrifice!

A Critical Point in Our Evolution

Thus, because we are rapidly advancing along this non-sustainable course, the world’s environmental problems will get resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today. The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies.
— Jarred Diamond, Collapse

A “perfect storm “of events has landed us at a very critical point in the evolution of the human race. There are three powerful forces, two pushing, and the third pulling, all to the same place. The forces doing the pushing are climate change and economic instability. The force doing the pulling is the desire to achieve a freer, happier, and more productive life for ourselves and others.

What is this place? It’s a crossroads, where we must choose between two paths:

  1. We can continue on our current path, described by Duane Elgin as a path “of denial and bargaining, using up precious decades, until we slam into an evolutionary wall.”
  2. The other choice, as described by Elgin, is to “confront the reality of unsustainable consumer societies, bring this taboo topic squarely into our public conversation, and search for realistic alternatives.” “We can awaken ourselves from the dream  of limitless material growth, and actively invent new ways to live within the material limits of the earth.”


In The Perfect Storm, I have optimistically depicted the second of the two choices. By choosing to live simply, we can transform catastrophe into opportunity. We can make the great transition to an era of sustainable prosperity.

A Common Ground

Simplicity is simultaneously a personal choice, a community choice, a national choice, and a species choice.
Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity

“Awakening to a living universe provides a common ground that can unite us as we grapple with these immense challenges to our future.”

“We are beginning to see that the world is an integrated living system,not just the human system, but the Earth system of water, air, and earth. So we have to learn how to live sustainably within the Earth system, and we need to learn to live compassionately within the human system, and then . . . we have to learn to live at home within the cosmic system, the universal system – because that’s where we come from, and when we die, that’s where we go.”

New Attitudes

We’ll need to adopt some new attitudes as we move toward a “way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich.”


Not surprisingly, many of these attitudes relate to money. Take The Money Quiz below. Mentally mark each statement below either True or False.

  1. Money can make you happy.
  2. We should consume more to help our economy grow.
  3. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the best measure of a country’s prosperity.
  4. There has always been a wide gulf between the richest and the poorest.
  5. Trickle-down economics works for everyone. The richer the rich get, the better our economy does.
  6. I want to live in a world where the 1 per cent own more than the rest of us combined.

For the answers, see 6 Myths About Money.


We need to redefine the meaning of “success.” Is it measured in dollars and cents? By the house you own? The car you drive? The country club you belong to? Or is it measured in terms of achievements, especially those that benefit others? The successful person loves and is loved. She finds her place in the living universe, enjoys life as fully as possible, and helps others to do the same.


We need to understand the nature of happiness. The emerging field of positive psychology is bursting with findings that can help us with this. The research is so vast that I cannot begin to do it justice in this brief post. But my current understanding of what makes us happy is depicted in the Authentic Happiness Map below.

I recommend that you check out Where Can We Find Sustainable Happiness? The essay is adopted from the introduction to the new anthology, Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference (Berrett Koehler, 2015).

Sustainable happiness is built on a mutually supportive community. It grows out of knowing that our well-being is linked to that of our neighbors. When we feel that we can count on others in difficult times, that there is a place for everyone, and that we can make contributions and be recognized for them, we have the foundations of sustainable happiness.

Reasons to Choose Simplicity

There are a multitude of reasons that people consciously choose simplicity. Reading through Duane Elgin’s list (pages 6-7 of Voluntary Simplicity: Cool Lifestyle for a Hot Planet), these are the ones that resonate most deeply for me:

  • Simplicity promotes fairness and equity among the people of the earth.
  • Simplicity cuts through needless busyness, clutter, and complications.
  • Simplicity responds to global shortages of oil, water, and other vital resources.
  • Simplicity keeps our eyes on the prize of what matters most in our lives — the quality of our relationships with family, friends, community, nature, and cosmos.
  • Simplicity is a higher lifestyle that fits elegantly into the real world of the twenty-first century.


There is a self-organizing movement for sustainability that is growing rapidly around the world. Elgin says (page 17 of Voluntary Simplicity: Cool Lifestyle for a Hot Planet, “Around the world, people are awakening to the sanity of simplicity as a path to sustainability.” He cites a number of global surveys that support his observation. “Global surveys say that a majority of people support environmental protection and human development, two key themes accompanying life-ways of simplicity. Global surveys also show there is virtually worldwide citizen awareness that our planet is indeed in poor health and great public concern for our well-being.”

I am optimistic. We will come together to turn catastrophe into opportunity.  We will make the great transition to an era of sustainable prosperity. We will achieve the highest lifestyle in the history of human evolution. There are rainbows waiting for us on on the other side of the perfect storm!

Please Chime In

If you are already on a simple living journey, what got you started? What have you learned? Do you have different reasons now than when you started?


If you are still standing at the crossroads, what path will you choose, and why?


P.S. Don’t miss the A living Universe? video! It will make you feel glad to be part of it! I’ve watched it several times.

Additional Resources

6 Comments on “Simple Living Could Save Our Planet

  1. Wonderful, wonderful post, Carol! I will be tweeting and pinning it. Why would anyone *not* choose simplicity?!

  2. If we can’t get governments to agree on what to do on climate change, I’m not sure what it’s going to take to get ordinary citizens to give up on consumer goods. I do understand all the points you’ve made and I agree with most of them.

    1. Hello Maureen, I hear you! What gives me the most hope is the global surveys cited by Duane Elgin. Please spread the word. If we all share these beliefs, we can make a difference.
      Wishing you well, Carol

  3. I came across an article this week which listed the planets we could possibly live on after we destroyed this one completely. Living simply is a much better option than trying to find another planet to live on.

    I believe many are going to have to embrace simplicity as the economy worsens. Full time good paying jobs are fewer and fewer so families are having to be creative to make ends meet and find enjoyable activities. While I believe it may take time for those thrust into this situation to actually embrace it I do think in time they will be happier working less because they accept having less.

    1. Hello Lois,

      Well said! Although I am not necessarily opposed to having humans live on other planets, I most definitely am opposed to us ruining our beautiful planet earth!

      And, yes, those thing pressuring us to embrace simplicity could actually eventually have an upside.

      Wishing you well, Carol

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