Someday we'll look back on the 20th
century and wonder why we owned so
much stuff. Not that it wasn't great at first.
After thousands of years during which
most human beings lived hand to mouth,
in the 20th century the industrial
economies of the West and eventually
much of the rest of the world began
churning out consumer goods —
refrigerators, cars, TVs, telephones,
computers. George W. Bush won
re-election as President in 2004 in part by
proclaiming an "ownership society": "The
more ownership there is in America, the
more vitality there is in America."
Even as Bush was announcing its birth
though, the ownership society was rotting
from the inside out. Its demise began with
Napster. The digitalization of music and
the ability to share it made owning CDs
superfluous. Then Napsterization spread
to nearly all other media, and by 2008 the
financial architecture that had been built
to support all that ownership — the
subprime mortgages and the credit-default swaps — had collapsed on top of us. Ownership
hadn't made the U.S. vital; it had just about ruined the country.
(See our best shots for tackling our worst problems.)
Maybe we're all learning though. You're not likely to be buying big-ticket items if you're out
of work, and even if you have a job and a house, good luck taking out a second mortgage to
help you scratch that consumerist itch. That's especially true for the young, who've borne
the brunt of the recession, with a jobless rate in the U.S. of about 20%.
And it's the young who are leading the way toward a different form of consumption, a
collaborative consumption: renting, lending and even sharing goods instead of buying
them. You can see it in the rise of big businesses like Netflix, whose more than 20 million
subscribers pay a fee to essentially share DVDs, or Zipcar, which gives more than 500,000
members the chance to share cars part-time.
(See how motivated youth will change the world.)
Those companies, however, while successful, are essentially Internet-era upgrades of old
car- and video-rental businesses. The true innovative spirit of collaborative consumption
can be found in start-ups like Brooklyn-based SnapGoods, which helps people rent goods
via the Internet. Or Airbnb, which allows people to rent their homes to travelers. There's a
green element here, of course: sharing and renting more stuff means producing and wasting
less stuff, which is good for the planet and even better for one's self-image. And renting a
power drill via SnapGoods for the one day you need it is a lot cheaper than buying it. It's a
perfect fit for an urban lifestyle in which you have lots of neighbors and little storage.
Carta da Terra
"Estamos diante de um momento crítico na história da Terra, numa época em que a humanidade deve escolher o seu futuro. À medida que o mundo torna-se cada vez mais interdependente e frágil, o futuro enfrenta, ao mesmo tempo, grandes perigos e grandes promessas. Para seguir adiante, devemos reconhecer que, no meio da uma magnífica diversidade de culturas e formas de vida, somos uma família humana e uma comunidade terrestre com um destino comum. Devemos somar forças para gerar uma sociedade sustentável global baseada no respeito pela natureza, nos direitos humanos universais, na justiça econômica e numa cultura da paz. Para chegar a este propósito, é imperativo que nós, os povos da Terra, declaremos nossa responsabilidade uns para com os outros, com a grande comunidade da vida, e com as futuras gerações." (da CARTA DA TERRA)