Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A is for Apple

A is for Apple. It is also for Affluent.

I'm talking about the acronym APLS that I've been throwing around here lately. Affluent Persons Living Simply.

Everyone likes the moniker. It's cute. It sounds like a piece of fruit. It beats the pants off of Greenfluencers and YAWNs but it's got that one piece, that first letter, that we're just not quite sure about.

Our first reaction, including mine, is that we're not rich. We're not Oprah. Our home is small, our car old, our bank account dwindling. Our first reaction is to think of "Affluent" in terms of dollars and cents.

Financially speaking, though, we are affluent. Every last one of us living here in the developed world. We're loaded . . . relative to our friends on the other side of the globe. Three billion people live on less than $2 a day. 1.3 billion live on less than $1 a day. Check out the Global Rich List to see where you fall. I guarantee you'll be in the top tenth, or at least the top quarter, of the world in terms of material wealth.

Even if we hesitate at being labeled "Affluent" as an individual, none of us can dispute that the countries we call home are wealthy. Just living here, we've all benefited from the advantages only citizens of affluent countries enjoy - paved streets patrolled by police officers and firefighters, schools, libraries, parks.

Moreover, in the green movement, we spend a great deal of time discussing local living, supporting local businesses, eating locally grown food, and building a local support system. While all of those activities are fulfilling personally and meaningful in the fight against global warming, global warming is just that. Global. It is not a problem that will affect only us. Or only Africa. Or only South America. It is impacting us all and we must work globally to find solutions. If our nations, the ones with the resources, do not step in, offer sustainable alternatives and help people in third world countries do more than just survive the day, we cannot win.

But wealth is not just calculated in terms of money. It is more than dollars and cents. Cars and clothes. Jets and jewelry. Much more.

Since I embarked on a lighter lifestyle, I've grown wealthy beyond measure. Today, I ate a home cooked meal from blackberries I picked with friends and potatoes I grew in my backyard. I watched butterflies cavort through my flower garden and my children scoot up and down the sidewalk. I hung clean clothes on a clothesline bordered by morning glories and raspberry bushes. I sat under a tree and read library books to my boys. My last medical check up with smiles and congratulations on healthful living. I have a calendar so full with events with newly found friends - APLS most of them - that I can hardly find time to garden.

I am living richly. I am experiencing real wealth.

No matter how you look at it, I am affluent.

A is for Affluent.

Continue the discussion on the APLS facebook group that Melissa set up.


Heather @ SGF said...

Living is simply life truly is richer. I had a simple dinner last night too, but it was fabulous (yogurt and toast, but every bit of it was homemade - the bread, the butter, the yogurt). I believe happiness/richness in life is about being aware/alive/awake for each moment; savoring all it has to offer. All that other "stuff" just gets in the way of us seeing what's inside those moments. Savor away, girl! Savor away!

Bobbi said...

Wow - I liked your definition. I didn't consider myself APLS becaue our family is definitely on the low range of middle class. But we do live a rich and happy life, and we are trying to do our part for the environment - and for ourselves.

Nicely put!

Joyce said...

Great post GB-friends and family, that's what it's all about!

Green Resolutions said...

Well said.

I was thinking about how we balk at the "affluent" label last night. And I thought about your description of the metaphor in "Radical Simplicity" (in a comment on my blog).

I believe that "affluent" is a crucial part of the acronym. I think that the global view of wealth is important to the APLS perspective because it does help us realize how much we have, and it makes us (me, at least) feel like I have enough to give to those that have less. And the perspective helps me to appreciate what I have instead of working harder to have more (that I don't need).

Bugs and Brooms said...

Perfect Green Bean! I completely agree!! I am just average in this country; maybe a little above, in terms of income. But compared to most of the world, I am truly RICH! And not just in terms of money or materials. I live freely, I am healthy, my family is healthy, we are NEVER hungry! We are definitely AFFLUENT!

Green Bean said...

Heather: You are absolutely right. I am so much more alive, every day more meaningful and truly richer in all senses of the word.

Bobbi: Thank you. I know so many of us have a knee jerk reaction to Affluent. I had the same one when my husband came up with the acronym but really we are affluent, every way we look at it.

Joyce: Do you mean that the newest fashions don't really matter? Getting a new iPhone? Having a bigger home? You are one wise woman, Joyce.

Green Resolutions: Love your last paragraph! That is absolutely where it's at!! At first, I felt that we could change Affluent to something else but the more I think about it and the more I discuss it with you, and Arduous and Melissa in the Facebook group, the more convinced I am that it is a key part of the definition. One of the things an APLS does is give to charity (time, things, money). If we don't appreciate what we have, we'll stay on that wheel trying to get more stuff that we don't need.

Green Bean said...

Bugs: Hear, hear. When people in the developed world worry about the economy, they don't actually worry about going hungry. For those of us here, it is not a real possibility. You look at photos of family on the other side of the globe and that is not only a possibility but a daily reality.

eco 'burban mom said...

I am an APLS, and certainly affluent by my definition. No, I don't have all the trappings of a suburban life - no fancy cars, I wear the same jewelry day in and day out (my wedding ring and my watch!), my furniture is used, my house is small and incredibly old, my vacations are frugal. Though, I feel extremely wealthy. I have healthy kids, who get good grades, go to excellent schools and have loads of friends. My husband and I can afford doctors, dentists, laptops and local food and our electric bill. There are days when I feel myself slipping back to "keeping up with the Jones" and then I rejoin the APLS blogging community and I am reminded of how lucky I am. Chile's series of post on hunger left me feeling sad last week, as I realize how many are simply struggling to feed their families. Nothing could compare to the feeling of not being able to feed my children. Yes, I am affluent, I am living lighter, I am proud to be an APLS. Thank you, Green Bean, thank you!!

Chile said...

I've struggled with this since it was introduced a while back. As the resident blogosphere cynic and contrarian, I have chosen not to display the moniker on my site.
It's not that I disagree with the description and purpose. It is certainly true.

My concern is that I get a lot of hits from people in countries that are not affluent or individuals within affluent countries that are not personally affluent. I make this assumption based on which posts are being read. I worry that the moniker would be offensive to those people.

Trying to put myself in the mind of someone struggling to find daily food, I think it would piss me off to see some rich bitch bragging about how she lives sustainably. "Yeah, she can go buy her food in bulk and worry about packaging when I can't even find 10 grains of rice to eat today."

I may be way offbase, but I don't want to risk turning off folks who may be able to learn something helpful, or even better, leave me a comment that educates me.

With apologies,
Cynical Chile

arduous said...

Chile, I see your point. I guess, my feeling with the affluent thing is that if I claim that I'm "poor" because I can't afford an iPhone, that's really insulting to the actual poor person who can't afford 10 grains of rice a day.

The point is, I can afford most of the things I need: food, rent, health insurance, etc. And, I am lucky enough to live in a country where the majority of people do not have to worry about hunger. Where most people are literate. Where we have all the things GB talked about like roads, and schools, and fire departments and sanitation.

To me, the APLS moniker serves as a reminder of all that. So the next time I'm feeling squeezed for cash, I can sit back, and reflect, and realize how much I DO have.

Now you are right. APLS is not totally inclusive. If you are a villager in India living on less than a dollar a day, you are not an APLS. But frankly, there's also nothing I could teach you about sustainability. Those people live sustainable lives because they have no choice. But I think that what I would hope is that eventually all of us, even those of us in the third world, will become APLS.

Moreover, and sorry, this is long and rambling, I think the reason I like the "affluent" bit of "APLS" is (and I've said this before, so please excuse me if you've heard it) because it reflects the dichotomy of living a lower impact life in a higher impact world. Again, those villagers in India live a lower impact life by necessity. They have no other options. We, in first world countries, do have a choice. So I think the point is that, most all of us CHOOSE to live sustainably. We could live much more unsustainably, but for whatever reason, we do not.

Okay, sorry for being long-winded.

Chile said...

Arduous, I definitely understand the appeal of the APLS and reminder it provides. To be honest, I frequently think, as I sit at my own personal computer in a nice office chair with the evap cooler blowing on me in a nice house, sipping my tasty coffee, "Damn, I am so lucky to have all this."

Many times, this thought is followed up with, "But will I have these luxuries in 10 years?" Not to get doom n' gloom on ya, but the answer in my mind is "probably not." The experience of having all these riches now, though, and choosing to scale back does perhaps give a different perspective on living with less impact -- which is part of the point of your APLS.

So maybe my blog would only serve as warning that they shouldn't crave the entire American lifestyle. The basic necessities of life, community, yes. But the wasteful ridiculousness of the American Way, please save yourselves!

I wish more of the people living sustainably because they had no choice had the resources to document their lives, but of course then they would not likely be in the dire straits they are. I had significant epiphanies from reading books such as "Nickel & Dimed in America" and one written by a young girl that survived the Khmer Rouge. I really want to read some Depression era books as well to learn more.

I'm rambling, I know. And not even making a good argument for my position. Now who's being arduous?!

arduous said...

Chile says: The experience of having all these riches now, though, and choosing to scale back does perhaps give a different perspective on living with less impact -- which is part of the point of your APLS.

Yes, exactly. I don't know what the world will be like 10-20 years from now, and whether or not I will or will not have the luxuries I have now. But the point is that right now I do. I HAVE a car, but I choose to drive it less. And I think that's a slightly different view point, and one worthy of being shared.

Melissa said...

I really like your point about how we all benefit from the general affluence of the society we live in. I was just filling out heating assistance paperwork for the tenants that live in my old condo back east, and thinking how true it is - the tenants are certainly not affluent by US standards, but they receive almost free housing and the same for heating, and social security income every month. Despite the fact that they are probably in the bottom 10% or so of US incomes, they are still able to live what is an affluent life on a global scale. They don't worry about being homeless or freezing to death in a New England winter, and they are provided money to buy food with - and there's always food on the shelves when they go to the grocery store. I'm certainly not saying I'd want to trade places with them either, but it did remind me that as a country, we are all incredibly well off from a global perspective.

Somebody posted on no impact man the other day about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and I think that's very relevant to this discussion. The idea is that some needs must be met (food and water) before we can worry about other needs ("self-actualization" being the very last need we worry about). I think what makes most of us who don't live in the third world "affluent" is that very very few of us have to worry about that first level of needs anymore, and are free to move on to the next levels, towards self-actualization.

eco 'burban mom said...

As the mom weighing in, I relate affluence to being able to comfortably provide for my children, while still being able to make choices. If I were on food stamps, WIC etc., my choices would be made by the government. While I would still have all of my basic needs met, I would have my freedom of choice taken away. I don't believe I would consider myself affluent at that point.

Chile makes a good point, will we have the luxury of choice in the next 20 years, or will our existence be ruled by only what is readily available? Or worse, what is sanctioned by the governement? I can only hope my children as adults will have the luxury of the choices I have today. Scary to think of it, but we need to prepare ourselves.

Carla said...

For myself, I like changing the A to stand for "abundant" or "ample"

Maybe EPLS would be closer to what we want to say, the E being for "Enough"...?

Just my (brief) thoughts...

Melissa said...

eco 'burban mom, good point. there is a difference between not being totally destitute and being affluent. Maybe that is where some of the resistance to the use of the word affluent was coming from? There's no measure that says now you've moved from simply having your needs met to being officially affluent.

And again, I think it is a totally different question depending on whether you look at it from the context of national or global. Although it would be interesting if there was a site like the globalrichlist that took purchasing power into account (I'm not an economist by any stretch, so I hope that's the right term).

Joyce said...

Wow, this a terrific discussion! I think what I like is that people are truly recognizing how blessed we are compared to so much of the world.

Stephanie said...

Your house (or rather, the plants surrounding it) sounds heavenly. I think that is part of the reason why I'd love to join the APLS movement: feeling at peace outside and inside, an overflowing calendar of events. Just gotta get out and go though! And wow, that's such a hard part to do. But I'm working on it. Slowly yet surely.

I do wonder though, do you have to water your flower garden often? With the current worries about drought in California, it seems like a bad idea to put in plants that need a lot of watering...

Green Bean said...

Looks like we also have a "rich" marketplace of ideas. This is such a thought-provoking, thoughtful discussion, I'm intimidated comment on my own blog! ;-) But here goes:

Chile and Arduous: Chile, we love you for the cynic you are and for the realism you bring to the debate. I think you make important points and hope that, even if you don't display our cheery little apple, you'll continue to participate in the debate. We can only benefit from multiple and diverse viewpoints.

I was reading Deep Economy this morning. In it, McKibben refers to our current state of living as "mass affluence". It struck me in light of the debate we are having here. McKibben used the term in an argument as to despite how wealthy we are as a culture and how many material objects we own, we are actually less happy. I think that all jives with the APLS movement.

As Arduous pointed out, it also highlights that while we can afford to live unsustainably, we CHOOSE not to.

It is true that many people have a knee jerk reaction to AFFLUENT. I feel it an important part of the movement though - of realizing how wealthy we are in comparison to the rest of the world . . . even those who, like Melissa said, require tenant assistance. As a country, we must recognize our place in the world - at the top wealth-wise. If we focus inward too much, we may adapt to climate change, personally, but I don't think we stand a chance of slowing it down.

Melissa: Great points. Even the poorest of US citizens are wealthy compared to inhabitants of countries in the developing world. I remember reading about Maslow's heirarchy of needs in Break Through. The authors used it to make the point that we do legitimately need to raise the standards of living of people in non-affluent countries so that they meet basic needs. I wish I could articulate it better but I think it is a valuable part of the discussion - the separation of first prong needs from subsequent material and post-material needs.

EcoBurbs: As another mom, I understand completely where you are at. If my choices of what to feed my family are made by the government, I too wouldn't consider myself affluent BUT that is still relative affluence. Here in the US, it would not be affluent. Elsewhere, it would still be quite well off. I agree with Chile's point. Things may be quite different in 10-20 year (or less). I fear for my children's future in that regard but, that doesn't mean that, as of today and, likely, tomorrow, I'm still affluent.

Carla: Thanks for your thoughts. As much debate has stemmed from Affluent, I can see why it would be a good idea to change it. I can also see though why it would be a good idea to keep it - I think this is a valuable discussion we're having. I actually really like EPLS but, dang it, then we lose the whole cuteness of the apple thing.

Melissa: Important to raise the difference between national and global. Even so, though, your point (I have no idea) brought to mind that most of us balking at being labeled "affluent" (and again, I first balked when my husband came up with the term) are no where near destitute - even by national standards. We all seem to own a computer with some sort of internet connection in a rented or owned home. It seems that the resistence is not that we'll soon not be able to feed or clothe our families but that we think of "affluent" and we think Mercedes, big home, expensive watch, flat screen TV. That is, we think of non-first tier needs. Things can change and I suspect they will as the economy continues to tumble but all the more reason to act now while most of us are relatively secure.

Joyce: It is a terrific discussion, isn't it?? I love that we are able to have this sort of a debate, get input from lots of folks and grow and learn together. AND appreciate our fortunate place in the world.

Stephanie: Phew! Finally a non-intimating comment to respond to. ;-) I have three separate areas of my front yard - lawn, flower garden and edible garden. A year ago it was all lawn. The lawn section still gets the most water - even though I let it grow long and it is sort of a brownish color. My flower garden is basically a couple packets of seeds with a few perenials that I tossed out in the spring. I've put in some more seeds here and there. It does not require much water at all. In fact, during a recent heat wave, my husband commented that he couldn't believe how well it withstood the heat and seemed to be the only area of the yard that didn't require any extra water. The edible garden requires more water than the flower garden but I have micro-sprinklers and keep only the ones immediately adjacent the plants on. It's pretty efficient. I'm sure we could reduce water usage more but we've done pretty well. We're a 1/3 of where we were at last year and I was being careful last year.

Anonymous said...

Hey GB,

I'm a first time commenter. I'm shy. But I've been reading your blog for quite a while and am inspired by your recent APLS posts. Interesting stuff! I'm not offended or put off by being labeled 'affluent'. First of all, I own a computer and have an Internet connection, which is how I'm leaving you this comment. That's gotta put me up there in the 'affluence' category relative to the world population. But, the part about labeling myself as 'affluent' that resonates more with me is the fact that in most societies and in most histories, the 'affluent' (by which I now mean rich) were supposed to be the ones who looked out for everyone else. They were supposed to lead by example. They were supposed to help make the world a better place for all...because they could afford to do so. I may not be rich in money, but I aspire to be affluent - to serve to make the world a better place for myself and others through my words and my actions.

abbie said...

I was thinking, I'm not affluent! But probably compared to the rest of the world, I am. So I went to the site and punched in my salary. I'm not afraid to say that as a 6th year teacher with a M.S., I'll be making about 49,000 next year. (It's public record, if you really wanted to know you could find out, so I don't care about sharing it.)
It came back that I'm in the top 0.99% richest people in the world. Um, What??? My money gauge must be WAY off from living in such an affluent state. I mean, my husband and I can barely pay for our house. And we both make about the same amount of money. We're not having kids yet because we can't afford them. I have an 11 year old car because I can't afford a new one. I'll always have to work because the benefits (insurance, etc.) come from my job, so bye bye stay at home mom. Yeah... So how is it possible that we're in the top 0.99% of wealth with just my salary? I have to say that I'm utterly shocked!
I agree with you that living a "rich" life often has nothing to do with money. My question is this: how can I be so rich globally but feel so poor locally?

abbie said...

By the way, it's my understanding that first, second, third-world designations are outdated and even offensive. (Since the second-world was USSR... that's the outdated part). More appropriate terminology is "developed" world and "developing" or "underdeveloped." You could also use "industrialized" for developing. That way, nobody is first or last, they're all just different. At least that's what I teach my students.

abbie said...

I'm sorry, it should say that "industrialized" can mean "developed," NOT "developing." Sorry, I guess it's bed time! I had a busy night.

Melissa said...

abbie, check out the APLS facebook group...we have a discussion of this going on!

kale for sale said...

I've had a sting with the word affluent too even though I totally understand and don't disagree with the way it's being used. Abundant is a better fit for me. It's funny how a word can have so much charge.

Thanks green bean for shining a light on the discrepancies of how we are living on this planet.

For Chile - The book about the Khmer Rouge was First They Killed My Father and she wrote a sequel that's also worth reading. I remember the author when I drop a grain of rice. I think about Nickel and Dimed quite often too. It was an eye opener.

Chile said...

Thanks, Katrina. I couldn't recall the title because it has been so long since I read it. Glad to hear it made an impact on others, too.

Some years ago, I really got into sushi. When I researched sushi restaurant etiquette (yes, there is special etiquette!), one thing mentioned was that leaving any rice on the plate was considered an insult. That reminded me of the Khmer Rouge book, too.

abbie said...

Hi Melissa, Thanks for the invite to the Facebook group. Unfortunately, I can't do Facebook. A teacher at my school got fired- yeah, FIRED- due to his Facebook account. Granted, it was inappropriate and he was warned numerous times, but I say "No thanks!" to Facebook.

Carla said...

or...we could keep the A and pronounce it "anuff" (har-har-har)

Green Bean said...

Anonymous: Thank you for the comment! I am always so happy to hear new voices here. I think you raise a very valid point. We are fortunate to live in an affluent society, to have a roof over our head, food in our bellies and much more - computers, cars, an education. It is a gift but with that gift comes responsibility - the responsibility to lead, to make change happen. Beautifully put.

Abbie: Thank you for your posts. I'm sorry that you can't be on Facebook - though I obviously understand why - because I think you raise a lot of important questions and have some real insight to lend.

As to your question about being rich globally but poor locally, it is an interesting dichotomy and one I think most of us face. World-wise, my family is VERY well off. Here, in Silicon Valley where a tiny house requires giving up an arm, a leg and your firstborn child, I don't feel so rich. I don't know how to overcome that feeling. I read about families in Africa, I see photos of kids who haven't eaten in days, and I realize how rich I am. Then, back in my own world, I gnash my teeth over our tiny tiny yard and the homes on my street all squished together. I'd love to hear how other people deal with their global affluence? Do you just keep reminding yourself how lucky you are?

And, this is unrelated to the topic of the post, but, Abbie, your comment about not being able to give up your job due to benefits and such reminds me of Arduous' discussion about the need for universal health care, about how many of us long to live "the simple life" but cannot because we cannot leave our jobs, work part time or jobshare without losing benefits. The Nordic countries, I believe, have systems in place that allow people to work less and live more because they know they are taken care of. Break Through also devotes a chapter or so to this topic.

Katrina: It is interesting, isn't it, how a word can cause such a gut reaction in us? I'm fascinated by the response. The etimology of the word actually had nothing to do with finances and, instead involved flow. The alternate definition relates to living richly (e.g., simply).

Carla: Now that is the kind of thinking out of the box we can all use! ;-)

Jill said...

Just stumbled across your blog for the first time today- so true how you define affluent- great post, and blog- I'll be returning!

Melinda said...

Ok, ok. I'm affluent. I guess, to be honest, affluent has always seemed like an elitist term to me. That's why I've avoided it! Compared to many of you all here, I am not affluent. But you're right, compared to others in the world, I have a lot more money, and how I choose to I put that money into society is very important.

Ok, I have a crazy suggestion you can take or leave. If the apple in the logo had the reflection of the planet, I think I would be more apt to understand affluent in terms of my relationship with the rest of the world...

Melinda said...

Not to in any way infringe upon your very awesome idea and logo, by the way - just a crazy thought from someone who is a bit too sleep-deprived this week!

Melinda said...

Americans with Plenty Living Simply
Americans with Prosperity Living Simply
Anyone Prosperous who Lives Simply
All Prosperous People Living Ethically and Simply

Food for thought. ; )

abbie said...

Thanks for the thoughts, GB. I've been thinking a lot about the "poor locally" feeling, and I may be posting about this sometime next week. I have too many thoughts to share here!

Green Bean said...

Melinda: Thanks for the ideas. Look forward to your help. :)

Abbie: I am looking forward to your post. As much as Affluent has triggered a lot of unhappy reactions amongst us all, I think it has also sparked a really important discussion. Your situation is VERY valid and I thought about you today while reading Deep Economy. A section addressed just the point you raised in your earlier post. Read you soon. :)


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