TARN RODGERS JOHNS
In order to live more sustainably, we must use less plastic, eat less meat, and buy fewer things.
All of these things may be true, but this language of less sure doesn’t fill me with excitement.
So much of the rhetoric around sustainability seems to be tied up with a language of scarcity and/or self-denial that after a while, no matter how committed we are to living a more sustainable life, it’s basically inevitable that we will bounce back to our old, comfortable, unsustainable habits.
Many of the least sustainable habits we’ve adopted as a society are driven by the assumption that we are somehow lacking. The underlying message is often that we are not smart enough, cool enough, strong enough, beautiful enough, lovable enough.
We must economize the use of our Earth’s precious natural resources. Yes. But we will not solve the climate crisis with the same tools that created it. In order to make a switch to a truly sustainable society, we must learn what it means to live an abundant life.
In her book Pleasure Activism, activist and facilitator adrienne maree brown challenges the myth that changing the world is just another form of work. Instead, she says, we must embrace the fact that we all need and deserve to feel great. In our culture, a lot of shame exists around the pursuit of enjoyment and pleasure. Not to be confused with reckless hedonism, pleasure can describe the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.
Sustainability built on the feeling that we must punish and limit ourselves, or the desire to prove our worthiness (‘virtue signal’) to our colleagues, employees, or peers is not sustainable at all in the long run. Simply — it’s not coming from a place of inner sustainability.
Pleasure activism is learning what it means to be satisfied with what we already have. It’s about learning how to generate a sense of abundance by cultivating fulfilling relationships, spending time in nature, and practicing the skills of self-compassion and gratitude.
By embracing our right to feel good, and by using pleasure as a guide, we can switch to more sustainable habits. This can help us to identify patterns in our life and stop buying things purely for their symbolic value (e.g wealth, or happiness) and focus on the underlying factors that give our lives a genuine sense of meaning and purpose.
Tarn Rodgers Johns is a London-born, Berlin-based freelance writer and editor who has spent the past years probing the intersections between technology, culture, leadership, personal development and the climate crisis. She is the creator and producer of two podcasts and her writing has been published in Emerge, Vice, Broadly, The Financial Times and The Independent. Follow her endeavours on Instagram or Twitter.