With instructions from the airline to check in four hours prior to departure I had ample opportunity to explore the various nooks and crannies of the international terminal at O’Hare. On the north side of the terminal there was an exhibit of photographs from the “Material World” project commissioned by the Sierra Club in 1994. Sixteen photojournalists were sent world wide to interview families from thirty nations. After spending a week with the families the final project was to take all their belongings, all their “stuff”, outdoors for a photo-op with the family. Reviewing statistical data and looking for those families who fit the “average” category in terms of material goods for each country was the method of their selection.
I didn’t have access to the book but looking at the pictures it seemed as if the clear winner in the “stuff” category was the family from Kuwait with a close second being either the family from Japan or the family from my country, the United States.
I got to wondering how they would look if these pictures could be updated to reflect the “stuff” breakdown of 2005. One thing seemed clear to me was that the family from 1994 Iraq would definitely be well above the average in terms of “stuff” in 2005. With an estimated 30% unemployment rate recent economic surveys have shown that what was before the U.S. invasion in 2003 one of the more prosperous countries in the region is now ranked in the bottom 10% in the world in terms of economic output. Iraq is now in the same category with Haiti and Bangladesh.
I also wondered if families from the top three have more “stuff” now? I noted the U.S. family in 1994 didn’t have a computer, cell phones or a DVD player. I would expect a 2005 average U.S. family might have all of those plus the second car in the photo might have turned into an SUV.
We in the United States comprise 3% of the world’s population yet we consume 22% of the world’s natural resources. The word jumps to my mind when thinking about that statistic is “greed”. Does my president’s stated goal of “spreading freedom and democracy” really mean getting other nations to borrow, spend and consume like us? That goal is fine as long as we can find a way to replicate the earth five or six times and use these replicated earths just as a source of natural resources and not try and live on them.
While I’m convinced that there is an infinite amount of spiritual resources in the universe there is clearly a finite amount of material resources. How we share those finite resources is a critical part of creating the Peaceable Realm. Unless we in the U.S. can find intentional ways of letting go of some of our “stuff” so that others have enough “stuff” for the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter a world of peace will continue to elude us.