From the publishers

Time for a New American Dream

by Carolyn Chase

e need to build a new American Dream. The local Sierra Club is being asked to endorse developments in the "North City Future Urbanizing Area" between I-5/Carmel Valley Road going east to I-15. Developers, landowners, environmentalists and neighbors have fought over plans for this area for years. A city-wide vote is required to approve much of the development in this specially designated area.

I had the chance to tour and view the open spaces proposed to become subdivisions. I consider it a moral duty to personally witness the plants and habitats we are condemning. Our purpose was to review the latest proposed encroachments into carefully negotiated open space areas. These areas were to attempt to provide enough habitat and movement corridors for remaining native plants and animals. If you don't leave enough space, and the right layout of space, then it risks becoming just an "urban amenity" that increases property values but does little for wildlife.

The end of the tour was a visit to Carmel Mountain, the largest remaining stand of coastal maritime chaparral and the only one actually left on a mesa top. Saving this area is the linchpin to the deal for environmentalists. Compared with the pending destruction, it looked pitifully small. It also looked utterly unique.

Knowing that the mesa top was home to some terribly endangered species, and with a professional botanist along, I requested to be shown one of the most endangered plants in San Diego County: dudleya brevifolia, or short-leaved dudleya. I had heard of this plant, but actually wanted to come face-to-face with what we were trying to save.

We drove along a dirt road cut out of the chaparral. We stopped to look in an area where it had been seen in the past. As we got out, those who knew what to look for started scanning the ground. "Look very carefully," they said. "It's hard to see because it looks just like the little rocks in the road." And there it was on both sides of the car and underneath it. We had parked our sport utility vehicles right on top of one of the last remaining patches of one of the most endangered plants in the world. The irony was not lost on me.

We need to build a new American Dream. Not because the old one is bad, per se, but because it's literally consuming the earth on which we all depend.

Our society consumes an inordinate amount of land, materials and energy. As 5 percent of the planet's human population, Americans consume 30 percent of the materials, 35 percent of the energy and produce 35 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution, pushing our planet to the brink of catastrophic global warming and mass extinction.

Approximately one-fifth of the world's population uses up four-fifths of the world's resources, mostly for making luxury products. Yet, Chambers of Commerce and Madison Avenue continue to push consumption on the public without a thought as to the impacts on the Earth or the future. Haven't we all had enough? Nature just about has.

I'm basically not a much of a doomsayer. But the list of scientifically noted problems with the global environment is formidable even for the most optimistic: unprecedented species extinctions, fisheries crashing, forests declining, pollution of water, ozone holes and climate change. We may be insulated, but we're not protected. And we are a big source of the problem.

We need to build a new American Dream. Polls show that Americans are less happy today than they were in 1970. Studies indicate that striving for material wealth and consumption may be decreasing our well-being. Are they decreasing yours? Would you like more order, clarity and purpose in your life? Are you tired of being defined by what you do for a living? Aren't you much more than that?

Our time calls for simplification of consumption, work patterns, entertainment and our relationships. "Voluntary simplicity" has been identified as one of the fastest-growing trends in the country as more and more Americans downshift to less hectic and more rewarding lives. "Downshifters" are spending more time doing the things they find meaningful and less time keeping up with the Joneses.

Voluntary simplicity can help us change our relationship with money, work and community, foster a greater sense of satisfaction with who we are and what we have, and help us take steps to change our lifestyles to need and want less and to bring our consumption habits in line with environmental constraints. VS discussion groups will meet once a week for seven sessions.

Earth Day is a good time of year to consider the true sources of true long term happiness and sustainability and to start your new American Dream. If you are interested in organizing a group at your office, church or home, or simply taking the course, contact me via email to or call me at (858) 272-0347.