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Friendships make life and climate better

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Image: Jackson David/Unsplash

Recently I've been thinking about what a low-carbon life might actually look like.

We would drive and fly less and mostly cycle, walk and ride transit. We'd eat less meat and more plant-based foods. We'd heat our energy-efficient homes with electricity or geothermal and get power from the wind and sun.

It might also be a life that puts greater emphasis on friendship.

In the report, "Zeroing in on Emissions," David Suzuki Foundation policy analyst Tom Green writes, "many of the things that support well-being, such as time with friends and family … do not require much by way of material and energy use." We can have fun playing ball hockey, hiking or enjoying music with others.

If we spent more time building relationships, we would also enrich our inner lives, and that could reduce the consumption that drives carbon output and pollution. We might feel less need for things like overseas holidays, big cars, the latest devices and toys and more clothing than we actually wear. Why? Because the satisfaction offered by friendship is deeper than that offered by stuff.

Philosophers such as Aristotle knew that friendship is a major contributor to happiness. Friendship, said the great thinker, is "most indispensable for life. No one would choose to live without friends, even if he had all other goods." Our pals provide us with companionship, guidance and comfort.

Aristotle didn't view humans as consumers and believed acquiring possessions is not the core of our being. Rather, he emphasized developing virtues like courage and wisdom, in concert with beloved comrades. "No one would choose to have all good things all by himself, for man is a social and political being and his natural condition is to live with others," he explains in his book on ethics.

But if a life revolving around friends is more rewarding than one devoted to material acquisition, how can we cultivate it?

One thing we might do is set aside more time for it. We could create "friendship sabbaticals."

This would require employers and schools to give us a few days each year for friendship development, for creating new ones or rebuilding those we’ve let slide. Some organizations -- including credit unions and the David Suzuki Foundation -- offer employees time to volunteer at local agencies and strengthen the community. Why not also provide an opportunity to strengthen personal connections? Aren't they equally significant?

We seldom give this topic sufficient attention. When I attended school, I was taught how to calculate the area of a circle but never given a course in making a circle of friends. Teachers assumed we'd learn this on our own. But not everyone did. Surely if we need to understand circles, we need to understand and learn how to foster some of the most gratifying relationships in our lives.

This would be especially helpful for people less attuned to friends' importance, particularly in mid-career, when professional life is often central. Once a year, we could change our phone message to, "Thanks for reaching out. I'm on my friendship sabbatical now. If you're calling to start or deepen a friendship, I'm happy to talk this week. Otherwise, I'll get back to you when I return."

The sabbatical would, however briefly, make companionship our focus. In practice, this could mean many things: tracking down buddies we haven't spoken to in years and restarting the conversations; going to a high school reunion and making a point of staying in touch with former classmates; deepening bonds with co-workers by seeing them outside of business hours.

Years ago, I saw a subway ad showing a father with his children and the caption, "Play with them now." It suggested men should make more effort to connect with their kids. I'd argue something similar for all adults. We need ads showing a group of pals, with the caption, "Friendship: make time for it now."

Friendship isn't just a climate solution because it provides more satisfaction than consumerism; our companions also offer solidarity and help us develop the courage to undertake activism and speak out boldly.

Few of us could march in the streets year after year or continue to organize, petition and protest if we didn't stand beside people whose company we love.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation climate change and transportation policy analyst Gideon Forman. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

Image: Jackson David/Unsplash

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