Those of you who followed the whole debate about the word affluence for our APLS carnival know that I came down heavily in support of keeping the A-word. I believed that it was important for those of us in the developed world to acknowledge our affluence. At the core, I wanted to keep the word "affluence," because I want to work for a world where everyone is an affluent person living sustainably. Where everyone gets the advantages I was lucky to have.
Lately, I've been hearing a lot about 'limits to growth' and how we cannot sustain a world where everyone is affluent. But this begs the question: what is affluence?
In my field of study, we tend to talk a lot about poverty, and how one defines it. Do we define it as income, or do we also include other factors like life-expectancy, health, and happiness?
And most people in my field agree that one needs to approach poverty in a more holistic way.
Thus, it's ironic that very little conversation is had around what it means to be affluent.
What is affluence? How do we define it?
Are another ten thousand cars on the streets of Bombay a sign of affluence?
I'd argue emphatically not.
You are not affluent just because you have a car if your commute takes three hours out of your day.
You are not necessarily affluent if you have the latest tech gadgets and you also lack health care. Or if the purchase of said gadgets lead to enormous credit card debt.
If you are stuck in a job you hate in order to pay the expensive mortgate and car payments, are you affluent?
The truth is that affluence is only unsustainable if we measure it in terms of cars and plasma TVs.
But cars and plasma televisions don't necessarily make people happier or healthier.
Instead, what if we view an affluent society as a society with high quality universal health care, education, and social security? As a society with adequate soup kitchens and shelters for those who are going through tough times? As a society with excellent public transportation, so that a car is not a necessity. As a society where kids can bike up and down the street without fear of getting run over? As a society with walkable neighborhoods filled with small coffee shops, restaurants, book stores, movie theatres, parks and museums?
Is the life of the average cookie-cutter suburban McMansion living, SUV-driving, American sustainable for everyone on the planet?
But who said that that's affluence anyway?
3 weeks ago