St. Louis roundtable charts a sustainable and just American future.

Author:Ardery, Phil, Jr.

Leaders, experts and activists in the movement to steer the United States away from climate change catastrophe while protecting and improving the lives of low-income Americans and the poor throughout the world converged on St. Louis June 28--29 for a spirited roundtable exchange of ideas and proposals.

Dubbed "Surviving Climate Change: Producing Less and Enjoying It More," the three-day eight-panel event focused on "developing solutions, rather than repeating the problems we all know exist." (For a list of the 32 presenters and descriptions of all panels, see Officially co-sponsored by Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought and the Webster University Department of History, Politics and International Relations, this Roundtable was inspired by Don Fitz, editor of Synthesis/Regeneration and co-coordinator of the Gateway Green Alliance in St. Louis.

Fitz has articulated a way forward that requires mind shifts by both environmentalists and social justice activists. According to Fitz, "Toxic poisoning, peak oil and climate change all point to a need to dramatically reduce production. Unfortunately, environmentalists and social justice activists conclude that this means a need to consume less." This wrong conclusion, Fitz told the Roundtable, traces to a failure "to distinguish between Type 1 Consumption, or consumption for genuine needs, versus Type 2 Consumption, which is luxury consumption, wasteful consumption, or consumption to feed corporate gluttony. Since roughly the 1950s, America has witnessed an explosion of Type 2 consumption with no overall increase (and perhaps a total decrease) in Type 1 Consumption."

Using the example of shirts--contrasting shirts that wear out after a few years with "costlier" shirts that can be worn for decades--Fitz gave Roundtable participants a simple illustration of how producing more can mean consuming less, and, conversely, how producing less can actually create more consumption. "Everyday consumer items multiply almost as fast as they break, illustrating the simultaneous growth of Type 2 consumption and decline of Type 1 consumption," Fitz said. He advocated the reduction of the work week to four days as perhaps the single most important action to advance desirable social change. "The current economy is so twisted that a decrease in the total mass of production is a necessary component of meeting the needs of the poor. The resolution...

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