Not a fan of APLS

Logo for Affluent Persons Living SustainablyArduous recently helped set up an APLS carnival, which sounds like a great idea. That is, it sounds like a great idea once you know what an APLS is. Apparently, APLS is a replacement for YAWNs, another acronym I’d never heard of.

YAWN stands for “Young And Wealthy, but Normal.” As news rags are prone to do, especially in election years, the London Telegraph and the San Francisco Chronicle made up a new demographic. In this case, it’s 20-30 year olds who have high incomes but live below their means.

Arduous thought this was a dumb name (and I can’t blame her) and suggested a contest for a better one. The winner was APLS, “Affluent Persons Living Sustainably.”

It’s not bad, and it’s certainly better than YAWNs, but it rubs me the wrong way. To nitpick first, I’m not a fan of “persons,” which sounds… elitist. The ‘s’ on the end also makes it awkward to talk about in the singular. It sounds fine to be a YAWN, but wierd to be an APLS.

More importantly, and I’m not alone in this, “affluent” doesn’t ring true to me. It matches the original meaning of YAWN, which is fine, but it definitely cuts out many who don’t consider themselves wealthy (like me and Maggie).

To try and salvage “affluent,” Green Bean and Arduous linked to the Global Rich List, to show everyone that they’re rich compared to the rest of the world. This is one of my pet peeves, so I’m going to bold it. Watch out!

Income isn’t wealth. The Global Rich List looks exclusively at income when determining how “rich” you are. This is a huge misconception that has serious repercussions. Lots of people feel like they must be rich because they have a high income and ignore the fact that they also have high costs, with disastrous results.In this case, it doesn’t make much sense to talk about income without talking about cost of living as well. Here in Indiana, I could live comfortably with $10,000 (top 13%). In Manhattan, I’d probably need $50,000 a year to live in similar conditions (top 0.98%). That’s a huge difference for the same standard of living.

Of course, here in the US I have a much higher standard of living than the vast majority of people living in, say, Haiti. But on the other hand, a lifestyle that would cost $1 a day in Haiti would probably cost several orders of magnitude more here in the US.

I don’t want to pick on Arduous and Green Bean too much. APLS sounds much better than YAWN as an acronym. It’s also nicer to include more people than just the young and wealthy. And the income/wealth correlation is a problem with our society in general.

And, in the end, everyone reading this is perfectly capable of making green moves. In most cases, reducing and reusing are cheaper than the alternative, so there’s always that opportunity even if you can’t afford much organic food.

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10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Green Bean said,

    July 28, 2008 @ 11:42 pm

    Yes, it is true that we have different costs of living. I’m in the SF Bay Area – potentially one of the most expensive places on the planet. What we live on very modestly here would make us rich in most other places of the country, much less the world. Even here though, where our existences is modest, we’re rich. We have a car, a home, a computer. I can feed my kids every night.

    Even if you do not want to think of yourself as affluent as a “person”, I think it pretty tough to deny that we live in an affluent country. Got a fire department? Public hospital? Schools? Library? Police department to keep you safe? You are enjoying the benefits of living in a wealthy country but with those benefits come responsibility – the responsbility to live a more conscious life, to try to use something more closely ressembling “our fair share,” to help others who are less fortunate whether they be on this continent or another, and to lead the world into a more sustainable future.

    I don’t want to get hung up on the Global Rich thing, though, because – here’s where we agree – it is the least compelling piece of the Affluence argument for me. Surprised you, didn’t I? ;-)

    For me, the word is not about money – though interestingly every objection to the term I’ve heard stems from the monetary meaning. When I embraced the term initially I did so based on the alternate meaning of “Affluent” – the real wealth that can only be found in a simpler, more meaningful life. One where we have time to spend with our family and friends. Where we cherish experiences above things. Where we have our health and the abillity to keep it up by eating wholesome food and the time for exercise. It’s an argument I’ve made before though most people skip over it for the financial aspect. Isn’t that one of the key reasons we urge people to live a less material life? Because once we let go of things, we are able to find true treasure?

    I’m surprised by the vehement response of many to the term Affluent. To me, it is not much different than the widely accepted saying “Life Richly” which refers to living more simply.

    That said, whatever your thoughts on the APLS thing, you can’t deny that it’s sparked a good debate and some interesting thoughts on all sides. :) In September, the APLS Carnival topic will delve into the controversial term Affluent. Even though you don’t consider yourself an APLS and don’t like the acronym, I hope you’ll participate in, at least, the Sept. carnival to share your view. I think it is a worthwhile subject to continue to explore.

  2. 2

    Will said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 12:37 am

    Thanks for the comment, Green Bean! I’m glad you’re willing to expound on things.

    We certainly do live in a wealthy society. I just don’t see sustainability as a responsibility only for the wealthy. Our responsibility to live better lives comes from the fact that we’re living on this planet. Wealth provides more opportunities to do so, but everyone should live sustainably no matter how much money they make.

    I’m glad we agree that the Global Rich thing isn’t a strong argument. :) Your point that wealth is more about experience than money is a much better one (which is why I didn’t cover it). Given that, talking about how income compares to others in the world distracts from that point.

    Perhaps part of my problem is that I’ve never heard ‘affluence’ used without a reference to monetary wealth. Saying its use in APLS is about experiential wealth thus seems like a redefinition to me. And that’s fine, but it makes the term confusing to people who aren’t in the know. Like… uh… me, before I read a bunch of blog posts about it. :)

    That’s why “live richly” seems very different to me. I often talk about richness of experience (or even flavor), so it feels to me like “live amply” or “live to the fullest,” which is much less focused on money. “Affluence,” on the other hand, is a synonym for “wealth” in my mind. You could certainly make the case that true wealth isn’t about money, but that’s not how the term is normally used.

    It seems to me that if you’re using affluence in the sense of “living richly,” then people making $1 a day might also be APLS, as long as they have a richness of experience.

    My impetus to urge less consumption isn’t because I think reducing material things lets us find true treasure, but that’s getting off-topic.

    Despite my dislike for the term, the APLS Carnival is a great idea that I hope to get involved with!

    Finally, and this isn’t something you’ve said but I see it in many of the comments, I take issue with the idea that since people in developing nations are poor they must be living sustainably. In some cases that’s true and certainly many types of sustainability are compatible with low-income situations. However, lots of times it’s easier to sacrifice long-term sustainability for short-term gains. Even subsistence farmers can focus on sustainability… or not, so I’d like them to be included in the eco-movement even though they’re not affluent by any standard.

    Thanks for letting me vent a little. :)

  3. 3

    Green Bean said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 1:37 am

    Okay, this is totally why you need to do the Carnival. Great back and forth.

    Here are my thoughts.

    1) I didn’t say the Global Rich list isn’t a good argument. I said it was not the most compelling for me. It does, however, seem to be very compelling for many other folks and I do think it is important to consider our wealth – individual and collective in relation to the rest of the world. Our country’s insistence of “India and China” first is absurd. It will get us nowhere. Not true, it will get us deeped into Climate Change. We are the ones with the resources. We must lead. We must share our knowledge, our resources (in terms of technical abilities, etc).

    2) While our responsibility to live sustainably does not come from our financial wealth but from our existence on the planet, it’s pretty hard to argue that people who are struggling just to make live through the day without being shot on the streets of Brazil or with enough to feed their kids in Africa can focus primarily on sustainable living. They cannot. Their first priority – as ours would be in their place – is short term. Can I live today? Tomorrow? What happens in 10 years? Doesn’t really enter into my thoughts if I’m in that position. But I’m not in that position. I’m rich enough, monetarily, to have the luxury of not worrying about today’s survival. I have enough money to meet my basic needs and enable me to focus now on the planet’s survival.

    3) The idea that good living means affluence actually was part of the very first post ever about APLS. Here’s a quote from a comment I made on the post, in response to someone else: “Further, don’t we want to get away from the idea that stuff is what makes us rich? I am affluent because I watched three squirrels scamper across the lawn this morning, I made dinner with fava beans and potatoes grown in my own yard, I watched a fuzzy black bee, greedily bury itself in a trumpet flower out front. Isn’t that the idea behind “living richly”?” I think the argument may not be heard as much because, while you and I find it compelling, others must not.

    4) Monetary wealth is only one of the definitions for Affluence. See here. But you are right. Clearly, the term seems to trigger dollar signs in people’s minds or we wouldn’t have the knee jerk reactions that we are having.

    As fun as this has been, I really really need to go to bed! I’m delighted that you plan to participate in the carnvial. There, you can shout your un-APLS-dom to the world. I also think it would be great if you joined the APLS facebook group. The thing I really like about the group (my first ventures onto Facebook) is the free flow of ideas and debate over topics. It’s much like this little back and forth here but magnified by the number of people participating.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. :)

  4. 4

    Linnea said,

    July 29, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

    I’ve noticed a few instances of reverse economic discrimination from “eco-snobs”, and it really doesn’t encourage folks to explore their own responsibilities. For example, the bus was packed today (as it often is at rush hour), and those of us who were standing in the aisle were trying to use the space as efficiently as possible, in order to accommodate more people. There were gaps between people, and two elderly women were commenting loudly about how ‘those people’ don’t know how to ride a bus, probably because they’re still so upset about having to give up their cars. In reality, my arms are too short to reach the overhead bar comfortably, so I stood near an upright pole. I’ve been riding the bus since well before the gas hike. The idea of criticizing people for their lack of ‘absolute efficiency’ is absurd to me, and seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t it more effective to acknowledge people for making the adjustments they’re making, rather than making snap judgements about their motives for not achieving what you are?

    Maybe I’m just too sensitive. People seem so surprised that I bought a car when gas was so expensive, but in actuality it’s allowed me to go to doctor’s appointments without having to miss a day of work (account for metro being late, transit time, transfer time, missing the bus you’d intended to take…etc.) It’s a convenience, for sure, but financially necessary. $60 in gas a month is significantly less than the $120 in lost wages each month. I don’t think I’m being ignorant of the environmental consequences of owning a car, it’s just not a sacrifice that I can afford to make for awhile. That said, I agree with Will about sustainability and poverty. No matter what my economic situation, it is my responsibility to do as much as I can afford.

  5. 5

    arduous said,

    July 30, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

    Frankly, Will, Green Bean and I have thought about taking out the “affluent” word because it IS so controversial. But the truth is, it has sparked so much good debate, that we’d rather keep it in.

    I agree with you that “APLS” aren’t inclusive. If you are a villager in India living off the grid, barely surviving, with no health care, and no means of transportation save your legs, your carbon footprint is next to nil. But to me, such people are not APLS. To me, there is a distinction between those who choose to live sustainably, and those who do so because there is no other choice.

    My little log line for APLS is people who embrace the dichotomy of living a lower impact life in a higher impact world. APLS have benefited from carbon resources via education, health care, public transit, etc. I think we’re mindful of the opportunities afforded us because we live in an affluent society. (And if we’re not, we should be.)

    As to your point about how subsistence farmers can focus on sustainability, I respectfully disagree with you. They can’t. They’re too busy trying to subsist. I think you and I have discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but my uncle works in the villages of India and I have been fortunate enough to see his work. My uncle’s organization teaches the villagers how to farm sustainably, and it’s wonderful work, but frankly, the villagers only care that they now have more food and more water. They don’t give a damn about the environmental consequences. Not because they’re not good people, but because they are too busy trying to fulfill primary needs to think about things like self-actualization.

    There is a lot of discussion among environmentalists about how everyone in the world can’t live a first world life. I refuse to accept such a notion. We need schools in every village, we need doctors and hospitals in every district, we need police and firefighters. And I don’t give a damn about the carbon footprint of building thousands and thousands of high schools. I don’t.

    Now, do I think we can afford for everyone to live like a typical American? No. But I think that what we aspire to is a world populated by APLS. A world where the bulk of our carbon emissions are going to things that are for the societal good: hospitals, schools, mass transit, etc.

    My connection to living lighter is tied very closely with my connection to India. I want to live sustainably so that others can have some of what I have. So, no, I don’t think APLS is an inclusive term, but I dream of one day living in a world where APLS includes every last person on the planet from Bill Gates to a 7 year old in Neem Kheda, India.

    P.S. It’s interesting to me how much people chafe at the word affluent, since it seems to me that I hear from my friends how poor they are all the time, even though most of my friends make about the median income for California. Why is it that we are okay with calling ourselves poor even when we’re clearly middle class?

    P.P.S. Re: the persons, I guess it should really be person(s). We’re probably unveiling a new logo in a few weeks, so maybe I’ll see if we can tweak it. What makes it elitist exactly? I’m so tired of words being elitist just because Ryan Seacrest wouldn’t use them.

  6. 6

    Iris said,

    August 5, 2008 @ 11:45 am

    Yay! I’m glad to see someone else say what I’ve been thinking. The APLS thing kicked off back when I was just a wee lurker on Green Bean’s and others’ sites, but it just felt wrong to me from the start. To me that news article about YAWNs was about seriously wealthy people (millionaires anyway) living somewhat eco-consciously. That wasn’t me, so I didn’t really care. Then everyone decided the demographic needed a new name and came up with APLS. Well, it’s cuter, sure, but why redefine something that wasn’t about you to start with?

    And if you just want to expand beyond the rich, move it out to people of all incomes who are living sustainably, then why “affluent”? It seemed unnecessary. And a bit exclusionary to me, considering I’ve spent my entire life from cradle to age 26 as “upper-class poor”. Working class, blue collar, first in my family to graduate from college, etc., etc. Even with the degree, I make less than $25k/yr, in an area where the median is $75k. My initial motivation for going green was to save the planet and save money at the same time. Watching your electricity use helps keep your lights from being turned off at the end of the month, ’cause you’re more likely to be able to afford the bill. Yeah, I have more and live better than refugees in Sudan, but I’m still not going to voluntarily identify with a label that doesn’t speak to anything in my life’s experience and was originally derived from a story about freakin’ millionaires.

    But all that said, I still have mad love for GB and Arduous…I’m just not jumping on the APLS cart. :)

  7. 7

    Wil said,

    August 6, 2008 @ 11:56 pm

    Green Bean: regarding point 3, I didn’t run across APLS based on your first post (and, in fact, didn’t find that first post about it until this conversation), so I missed it.

    Affluence does have several meanings, but I think your link makes it clear that it’s generally used to mean “an abundance [of wealth].”

    I’ve joined the APLS group, but I don’t use Facebook much so we’ll see how that goes.

    Linnea: Yeah, it’s hard to deal with other people’s judgements on either side. You can be looked down upon for driving a car but you can also get weird looks for riding the bus “wrong.” It’s discouraging, which is the last thing people need.

    arduous: I think the reason people tend to feel poor (or rich) rather than middle class is that people always feel above (or below) average. Nobody thinks they’re an average driver, so why would they think they live average lives especially given the emphasis on the ultra-rich in the media?

    Iris: You said it, and much more succinctly than I did!

  8. 8

    A worm in the APLS | GreenCouple.com said,

    August 7, 2008 @ 12:19 am

    [...] hadn’t planned to talk again about YAWNs and APLS but Green Bean, arduous, and Iris left such good, meaty comments that I felt I couldn’t do [...]

  9. 9

    Living better | GreenCouple.com said,

    September 10, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

    [...] month’s APLS Carnival is about affluence, a suprisingly controversial topic–at least with [...]

  10. 10

    jennconspiracy said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

    I agree with you: salary is not an indicator of affluence or wealth. Affluence is a relative term, and relatively speaking, this is an affluent country. However, I am not a wealthy person and will not voluntarily take a label as “affluent” for any academic exercise.

    Also, living sustainably is not “only for the rich.” The rich can afford bigger and better “green” toys — but that is an important part of what they can do to help move everyone to a greater goal — the rich can spend money on expensive solar products and that helps the industry move forward, improve, and gradually lower costs.

    The poor can live sustainably because it is in their interests to do so – it is more cost effective and it often is the only realistic route.

    Sure, I forage mushrooms from parks and fruit from people’s yards — it’s fun, it’s thrifty, and it gives me free food that tastes better than what I can get from the grocery store. I couldn’t afford to pay $20/lb for golden chanterelles but, without a car, I can go pick 10# of chanterelles every 2-3 days from any number of spots here in the East Bay. This isn’t owing to the salary or education — I wanted to learn, sought out friends who had the knowledge and learned from them.

    Truly, I think that the enemy is “conspicuous consumption” and waste rather than affluence.

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