Jul 05, 2009

Sharing Revolution v. Big Grey Cloud

With all the excitement around the release of The Sharing Solution, I have been daydreaming lately about the sharing revolution. The sharing revolution. Hmm... that seems to merit capital letters: THE SHARING REVOLUTION!

That's better.

We are on the brink of something exciting, something with the power to transform our world. I love to imagine the near future, when people everywhere share cars with their neighbors, start local tool-lending libraries and childcare cooperatives, do regular mealsharing with friends, and form casual cohousing arrangements in every neighborhood. What's more, the value of all of these things is somehow greater than the sum of their parts, and the potential of it all makes me gasp.

First of all, I've seen all those tiny green sprouts popping up all over the place. They are everywhere: sprouts of hope, new technologies, new attitudes, social justice, green collar jobs, and community building. They are sprouts of community gardens, solar panels, bicycle lanes, buy-local initiatives, recycling programs, fair trade, microlending programs, restored creeks, and so many other beautiful things.

Okay, granted, there's a huge grey cloud making it hard to see these little sprouts. It's true that the economy, the environment, war, unemployment, evictions, foreclosures, homelessness, contamination, water shortages, businesses closing, and the disappearance of fish in the sea, to name a few, make for one very large grey cloud (VERY LARGE GREY CLOUD).

But the sprouts are most definitely there. What I'm wondering is: When are these sprouts going to grow enough to overtake the grey cloud? Seems to me that if they grow just enough, they'll create fertile ground for more growth, and more, and more! But for now, their growth is frustratingly slow. Too slow?

I could think of ways to speed them up, but many ways require change mostly beyond my control. There are top-down changes, like getting the government to put money into green-collar job creation, instead of, say, prisons. But I'm not holding my breath -- and I'm not expecting our government to catalyze the growth of the sustainability movement (though I truly appreciate that our President is on the right track).

What about all those millions of people with wonderful ideas, great intentions, and the will to change the world? The grassroots! Couldn't they (I mean, we) get this new green revolution going? Unfortunately, with the way things are going, I'm worried that we won't. So many of us are overworked, burnt out, struggling to make ends meet, and worried a lot about our own survival right now. It's not easy contending with a large grey cloud.

But I only say all this to emphasize the importance of the missing ingredient: Sharing! Or, perhaps I should say: SHARING! Sharing has the most potential to add momentum to the changes already taking place, getting us to the tipping point where a sustainable and socially just world is truly possible. Sharing is not just the fertilizer that helps those green sprouts grow bigger. Sharing is more like a catalyst -- one small ingredient that you can add to the mix that makes everything just explode.

The power of sharing is unique in a handful of ways:

  • Sharing, unlike recycling, is naturally contagious. Sharing opens up a pattern of generosity and mutual caring that breeds on itself. A lot of other things we do to change the world aren't quite so viral. One person reducing his or her waste, for example, may or may not inspire a neighbor to do so. But offering to let your neighbor use your basketball hoop or eat strawberries from your patch opens up the flood gates of generosity.
  • Sharing is self-serving, so we'll want to do it. Sharing helps us meet our needs more efficiently and cheaply, and sharing our snow blower with a neighbor might mean that she will let us use her hot tub. (Yessss!) Sharing builds community, which makes us happier people, and cooperation has been shown to release endorphins. So there's no need to force anyone to share -- people will naturally start doing it to enjoy the benefits.
  • Sharing reverses the drain on our time, energy, and resources. For those of us who are spread way too thin, sharing saves resources, money, time, and energy, thereby freeing us up to garden, compost, recycle, hang our laundry, ride our bicycle, volunteer, advocate for social and environmental justice, and do things to help ourselves and the planet. We'll all get a little more rest, the support of a community of sharers, and the strength we need to get all the sprouts growing. In short, sharing gives the grassroots the time, energy, and resources we need to grow a better world.
  • Sharing connects all of our isolated world-changing acts and boosts their potential. As I noted, the sprouts are everywhere -- people planting urban food gardens, composting their food waste, and installing solar panels. But many of these are things we do in isolation -- and when we can find the time and energy. Sharing adds the element of community, which boosts the potential and the impact of everything we do -- neighbors can get together to jointly purchase or bargain for solar power, or they can start a neighborhood compost project. It's more efficient, and each additional person who joins the effort compounds the benefit to the earth and to the others in the group. Much of what we do to save the world can be done better if we organize and cooperate, and it can be much more fun that way, too!
  • We don't have to wait for someone else to hurry up and do anything. We don't have to wait until our government starts a new program or provides needed funding. We don't need to change the laws. We don't have to wait until a scientist invents a solution. We don't even need to form a nonprofit or fundraise to get started. We just start sharing. Today.
  • Every single one of us can share. I've been known to say things like: "I can't afford to make a donation;" "I don't have time to volunteer more;" and "I don't know how to install solar panels." It's all true. But it's hard to say, "I can't afford to share," or "I don't have time to share," or "I don't know how to share." Sharing is something that everyone can do. Even a curmudgeon, even a poor person, even a busy person. I think the hardest part is getting started, then ironing out the details, understanding everyone's expectations, and figuring out the logistics. But my friend Emily Doskow and I just wrote a book to help everyone through that part. So otherwise, there's nothing stopping any of us from sharing.
  • Sharing is a clean and easy way to get rid of the big grey cloud. Somehow or another, we need to get rid of that cloud. Otherwise our future looks like, well, a big grey cloud. There are all kinds of approaches to this -- some folks reform the system, lobbying, advocating, and making changes bit-by-bit. This is an important thing to do, but it's way too slow. Others propose bringing down the system in one fell swoop, which usually involves an uprising, or a full-blown violent revolution. I can only imagine that this would be messy. Very messy. The system has very large weapons, and even if we do succeed in taking out the system, we will then be faced with the task of rebuilding something on top of a big mess. Fortunately, we really don't need to remove the system before we can start replacing it. Even while the grey cloud is still hanging out, we can start sharing, nourishing our local economies, going organic, and creating rewarding green-collar job opportunities. The spouts of our new system will simply overtake the cloud with time.

First, there's the "grow or die" economy -- where companies must compete in order to survive, grow in order to compete, and create increasing demand for their products in order to grow. And the best way for a company to sell a lot of a product is to create a culture of "self-reliance" and "convenience," convincing all people that they should have one of their OWN. This culture of "self-reliance" is so ingrained in us that it would feel awkward asking the guy in the neighboring apartment unit if he would like to share a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum manufacturers would want us to believe that we should each have a vacuum, or even two.

Second, there's the fact that, until recently, we could maintain this lifestyle without actually seeing the impact of it. Now we have seen how perpetual growth is eating away at the planet's natural resources, melting the icecaps, and undermining a stable economy. Now the images of factory farms and third world sweatshops have made their way into our minds, and we are all searching for a more compassionate and sustainable way.

In the meantime, we have gotten out of practice with sharing. Sharing and cooperation are arguably as old as civilization itself. But today, much of the sharing and cooperation we do are managed by the government or businesses via incredibly complex systems of global cooperation. As consumers, we mostly just experience the end-products, such as electricity, water, manufactured goods, and food. So while we benefit greatly from cooperation, we have lost the ability to do it directly and face-to-face. In this sense, we are a vulnerable culture. We are blinded to the harms that our consumption inflicts on the world, and we are not prepared to meet our needs if or when the complex system crumbles.

So we might as well roll up our sleeves now, gather our friends, family, and neighbors, and get creative. Solar power cooperatives, neighborhood rainwater catchment installations, a cooperatively owned water purification system, community supported agriculture, neighborhood fruit tree harvests... The possibilities are endless and they will completely transform our world. That's why it's a sharing revolution. Not a trend, not a movement, but a REVOLUTION. Goodbye grey cloud. Sharing is here to save the planet.