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One of my good friends may be losing her job due to lay-offs. She will find out in the next few weeks. She has said that if she just makes it through this (economic crisis) and pays off her debt, she is never going to go into debt again. She is going to start saving more money and spending less. To her, while the economic downturn may prove to be personally financially damaging, she feels like it is a good lesson learned. She hates the situation she is in, and is determined to not make the same mistakes again – she says she will never live beyond her means in the future.

This gets me thinking about consciously choosing to change one’s lifestyle vs. being forced to change one’s lifestyle. My friend is being forced to be financially responsible, more so than ever before. While everyone complained about rising gas prices, it made people drive less and look into buying more fuel efficient cars. Is raising a person’s awareness or consciousness enough? Or do people need to be forced to change?

Prof. Michael Maniates was interviewed for Miller-McClure magazine, where he argued that climate change and other environmental problems cannot be stopped through government edicts. Instead, he states that people must make real changes in their lifestyle and habits (shopping, driving, etc…) – changes that “must be substantive, not superficial symbols like recycling newspapers or switching to low-watt light bulbs.” And instead people must make “steep, absolute declines in per-capita consumption of oil, food, minerals, timber products, fresh water and other finite resources.” He argues that if you want to help the environment, you should think about : 1) Getting rid of your car, 2) consume only locally grown organic foods, and 3) stop buying stuff you don’t need.

How are these things going to happen? Should I be happy that people who I never thought would talk about buying less, are doing so now? Even if they make these changes now, will they keep it up once the economy improves?  Is there going to be a real sea change in people’s attitude towards never-ending consumption due to the economic downturn? Or does being forced to do something not as effective as consciously choosing to make a change?

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