Question: If you have oodles of money, do you have the right to use up oodles of resources? Obviously a lot of rich people seem to think so. This is the time of year we start seeing private jets parked at the Airport bringing in super wealthy weekend visitors. Houses as big as some schools are made ready by vans full of cleaning staff, kitchen help and grounds workers. A one month utility bill for many of these palatial summer cottages exceeds the annual utility bill for a lot of regular folk.
While some of us are greatly limiting our driving, walking as many places as possible and generally mindful of the amount of fuel we are using (not just because of the price but because we are aware that some of the truly bizarre and destructive weather in many parts of the country this summer is due to climate change), a number of wealthy summer visitors are buzzing around in monstrous SUVs. Not to worry, they tell us, they can afford the gas.
And it’s not just the super wealthy. Recently I spent some time reading comments to an article on the Internet about what people were doing who own big gas guzzlers given the recent hike in prices. A surprising number of SUV and Hummer owners said they were financially successful and could afford really expensive gasoline. Several opined that those of us who drove fuel efficient cars and objected to these ridiculous vehicles were just jealous because we couldn’t afford to buy or operate one ourselves. A mother wrote that she was not about to tell her 14-year-old, almost six foot tall son that he had to bend himself into a small car every time he needed a ride to the mall.
Wasting resources, it seems, is quite the status symbol in this country. It sounds like there are even a number of people who see the potential for $8 a gallon gas as a truly excellent way to show the world just how successful they are. Imagine how envious we will all be of someone tooling along on our local roads in a Range Rover limousine knowing that they can afford to fill the tank of a vehicle that gets 5 mpg. Wow! And most of us can only dream of attaining such success in life.
Well here’s a message from at least a few of us non-envious ones to all those wealthy wasters: we really don’t care how much fuel you can afford for your private jet, your Escalade or to keep the lights on in your “cottage” 24/7, we can’t afford to pay the freight for your opulent lifestyle. The elderly in some of our large cities who are trying to stay just marginally comfortable while the temperature exceeds 100 degrees in June can’t afford it. The families of the dead and injured in the Midwest, causalities of greatly increased number and severity of storms this season, can’t afford it. Our children can’t afford it and even your children can’t afford it because eventually even the affluent will feel the effects of droughts, floods and really wacky weather.
What I’d like to suggest is a few ways the wealthy (and their emulators) could show the world just how successful they are and not destroy the planet in the process.
Make small, extremely well-designed, energy efficient houses the new status symbol. Imagine being able to brag that your 1,500 square foot summer home can comfortably sleep 8 because only a select few can afford the best small house architect in the Western Hemisphere. Your roof is covered in those new extremely expensive solar shingles, every light bulb is a $150 LED that uses one-tenth of the energy of a regular bulb and every bit of material used to construct this little jewel of a house was reclaimed or sustainably harvested and non-toxic.
A bunch of us really can afford Hummers, but some of those cool proto-type electric cars cost almost as much as a Maserati. Even we tree huggers would turn an extra shade of green if we saw you buzzing around in a jazzy little electric number.
Take the train and the bus rather than a private jet on your next visit to the island. And then with the money you save, make a decent donation to our third world style rail system and ask them to name several miles of new track in your honor.
Buy only local everything. Imports shipped halfway around the world on polluting tankers are strictly for the masses.
How we speak about wealth would change dramatically. We’d say things like “he’s so rich and successful, he generates only one-third of the greenhouse gases of the average American” or “she must have gotten a super bonus from Wall Street this year by the looks of that new state of the art wind generator.”
Of course we already have some very affluent residents who have been actively and passionately working to save the environment here and elsewhere for decades. We need more of them. And we all need to acknowledge that every single one of us foots the bill for excess and waste. Nobody can really afford it.