The biggest story of all

Could American lifestyles be changing?

by Guy Dauncey

t is easy to get overwhelmed by the bad news if you're concerned about the world and its environment. Everywhere you look, the signs say "trouble ahead," from the continuing assault on forests and fish stocks to the steady increase of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

At one level, the actions that are weakening the world's ecosystems are driven by the corporate desire for profits and the consumer's desire for material affluence.

Behind those desires, however, is the consciousness that guides them. And consciousness changes it is not just a passive responder to whatever happens to it.

"Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better ... and the catastrophe towards which the world is headed the ecological, social, demographic or general breakdown of culture will be inevitable."

Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic

Recent surveys indicate that this revolution is underway, with a power and thrust that give it enormous significance:

· 55 percent of Americans consider nature to be sacred and/or spiritual. (National Opinion Research, 1994)

· 19 percent of Americans say they have practiced meditation, 12 percent within the last year. (ABC News/Washington Post, 1996)

· A majority of Americans (63 percent) think that the start of the millennium should be a time for "prayer and reflection," rather than for "fun and parties." (17 percent). (Yankelovich, 1997)

In 1995, the Merck Family Fund commissioned a major study of U.S. citizens' views on consumption, called Yearning for Balance:

· 88 percent agree that "Protecting the environment will require most of us to make major changes in the way we live."

· 82 percent agree that "Most of us buy and consume far more than we need; it's wasteful."

· Asked what would make them much more satisfied with their lives, 66 percent said "If I were able to spend more time with my family and friends"; 47 percent said "If I felt I was doing more to make a difference in my community"; 21 percent said "If I had a nicer car" and 19 percent said "If I had a bigger house or apartment."

· 28 percent said that in the last 5 years they had voluntarily made changes in their lives that resulted in making less money, such as reducing work hours, or even quitting work. When extrapolated, this suggests that more than 50 million Americans have "downshifted" to simplify their lives.

The Trends Research Institute of New York described "global simplicity" as one of the top 10 trends of 1997: "Never before in the Institute's 17 years of trend tracking has a societal trend grown so quickly, spread so broadly, and been embraced so eagerly."

Duane Elgin, author of Voluntary Simplicity and Awakening Earth, has just coauthored a new study called Global Consciousness Change: Indicators of an Emerging Paradigm, from which this data is taken. ($5 US +$2 shipping to The Millennium Project, PO Box 2449, San Anselmo, CA 94979. It can be downloaded for free from He feels that "a new global culture and consciousness have taken root and are beginning to grow in the world. This represents a shift in consciousness as distinct and momentous as that which occurred in the transition from the agricultural era to the industrial era roughly 300 years ago" when we first embraced science, and the objectification of matter and nature.

Earlier this year, public television stations around the county aired Affluenza, which the producers define as "An epidemic of stress, overwork, shopping and debt caused by the dogged pursuit of the American Dream," with symptoms that include "the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from one's efforts to keep up with the Joneses."

A revolution is underway. In the United States, 10 percent of the population is consciously exploring new ways of living consistent with the paradigm, with younger women in the lead. A further 13 percent have high levels of ecological and social concern, but give a lower priority to personal growth, either spiritual or psychological.

Something is happening. As Margaret Mead said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So let's get changing!

 Reprinted from Guy Dauncey's monthly publication from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, available at:, email: