The Folly of Green Consumerism

In a world with a growing population, and with the third-world trying to emulate the first-world “green-consumerism” is the last thing we should be thinking of in terms of a solution to our ecological conundrums. It has been said that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as we do, here in North America, we would need three Earths. Consumption and standards of life that the West has set is not sustainable no matter how efficient our technology becomes. This should be poignantly obvious by the fact that we have finite resources coupled with an economy obsessed with growth, and that growth is pushed by buying and producing more and more stuff. It’s not just consumerism in general, but several factors all meeting at the nexus that is our culture.

Material possessions beyond what covers our basic needs, for most people signify identity, status, and also supposedly brings happiness. For anyone who lives long enough they quickly learn how meaningless consumerism is in terms of their lives. I have been reading on all the connected issues in this area, and for the purpose of keeping this more focused I won’t go into all the details here. Suffice to say that buying more things is not going to solve any of our long term problems.

Another issue that bothers me is what I would call car-culture and driver entitlement. People feel like cars enable them to be free and other things that they have been lead to believe by advertisement and their peers. They also believe in the convenience of a personal automobile. However considering the time spent at your job just to pay for your car, not to mention the upkeep, gas, insurance, and all the other miscellaneous fees it seems the consumer is the one getting stiffed. Also take into consideration the time spent sitting in traffic, and the fact that sitting for so many hours of your life is not helping your health. This is just a small, small tip of the iceberg as there has been books written about the subject. Here are a few other related topics in the study of car-culture: urban sprawl, the splitting of habitat by roads, water & chemical runoff from those roads which lead into our water supply, and so on.

Why do people like driving, are they escaping from something? Does it reflect a deeper problem, not just in their personal life, but in their community? If I had a say, our towns and cities would allow for maximum mobility for all it’s citizens, not just the auto-mobile owner. Looks at in a certain way, you can say it is exclusionary and by it’s nature elitist. Children and the elderly should have the security and freedom to move from one part of a city to the next without the need for a personal vehicle.

Green consumerism is an oxymoron, the funniest example is the Tesla electric car which comes with touchscreen controls on it’s dash. Most touch screen manufacturing uses rare earth minerals, and the aluminum used in the car is usually obtained by massive open pit mines which don’t do the environment any favors either. This doesn’t even take into account all the other resources that need to be gathered or manufactured to create a car.

I think in our current economic paradigm, capitalism has co-opted our desires to be environmentally friendly and sold it back to us. This only serves to perpetuate the status quo and does not affect real change. To me this is so obvious that is deafening, and also frustrating. I cannot say my hands are clean of this however, I have been lured in by the idea that we can buy our way out of this mess, for example most of my clothing is made from hemp or organic cotton. However that is the nature of the beast when you are subsumed in an overarching system that doesn’t allow for much alternatives.

If we are to work our way out of this, I think a small part of the solution will be a focus on consuming less, not more. We need to find out a way to make ourselves and others happy, to infuse meaning without using materialism. Honestly I believe one of the strongest methods for doing this will be a refocus on community, and the commonwealth that belongs to us all and should be protected from over-exploitation. It means transition-towns dialogue between neighbors, re-localization of our business community, better regulations and laws in our local and ultimately federal government. I think it should start where you stand, and grow outwards. For that is how movements are created and sustained.