Consumerism - July 2
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China Watch: Plastic Bag Ban Trumps Market and Consumer Efforts
Yingling Liu, WorldChanging
China's recent plastic bag ban has been immediately accepted by consumers. In a country where billions of plastic bags are used each day, the government's top-down policy move will likely benefit the country's environment and energy security well before market forces or consumer-led efforts are able to achieve similar impact.
The ban prohibits shops, supermarkets, and sales outlets from handing out free plastic bags and bans the production, sale, and use of ultra-thin plastic bags under 0.025 millimeters thick. It took effect nationwide on June 1.
... China's plastic bag policy is instilling a proactive attitude toward energy savings and environmental protection in a country where public environmental awareness is chronically weak. Price is still the paramount factor guiding people's purchases nationwide, and the consumer "green" movement remains a novel phenomenon, often regarded as a pet project of idealistic environmentalists.
The consumer mentality takes time to change. But as pressures on the environment and natural resources continue to rise, it is better to have smart government policies that guide consumer habits, rather than waiting for the market to force these changes. Simply relying on the market and on individual behavior may bring too little too late.
Yingling Liu is manager of the China Program at the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-D.C. based environmental research organization.
(30 June 2008)
Gimme shelter from affluenza
Paul Syvret, The Brisbane Courier-Mail
WE ARE a selfish mob, we Australians. Nor are we particularly good at taking the responsibility for our own actions or, indeed, distinguishing between what constitutes a right and what is merely a privilege.
Take the heated debate about the soaring cost of living - the rise in the price of everything from fuel to food to housing.
Of course the first place we look for answers - and the first place we sheet home the blame - is the Government.
A recent Courier-Mail/Galaxy poll found that voters direct much of their anger over rising prices at the Rudd Government. Hardly a surprise is it really, given that nothing is ever in any way "our" fault?
... Perhaps it's time for a rethink. Yes, every Australian has a "right" to housing, but the sort of luxuries many of us take for granted when it comes to space and amenities are more of a privilege in what is still a very affluent society.
So what if our kids have to go down the road to common recreation areas to play cricket or footy, or we have to go (preferably walk) to the local park for a barbecue? Who knows - and this is a novel concept - we might even have to interact with our neighbours in the process.
This is not to say that governments shouldn't be playing a more active and forward thinking role when it comes to developing transport infrastructure and rethinking the tax component of new housing.
But it is also up to us to alter our behaviour - and indeed our expectations - when it comes to demanding cheap housing and fuel as a right when in much of the world the lifestyle we take for granted is a privilege.
Maybe if we demanded a bit less, the supply side of the economic model wouldn't be so stretched.
(24 June 2008)
Sex and the City and Handbag Insanity
Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
I had a rare visit to the cinema the other night, not with anything in particular to watch but just to see what we might fancy. The only thing that wasn’t a horror film or a children’s film was ‘Sex and the City’, so we went to watch that. I haven’t watched any of the TV programmes so I was a bit lost, but really, what a load of rubbish. I have never seen more product placement, more vacuous people and more costume changes in a single film in my life. Anyway, that, in essence is my film review, but the one thing that stuck with me about the film was something that came as a deep shock and which I thought was quite extraordinary.
In the film, the main character hires a PA, who is a poor (well compared to the rest of them who seem to be eyewateringly wealthy) but is as obsessed with fashion and labels as everyone else in the film. Anyway, the PA has a handbag, which is some revolting designer handbag, designed by Louis Vitton or some other designer person, of which she is extraordinarily proud.
As the film goes on, it emerges (oh the shame) that she can’t actually afford such a handbag, and that her handbag, because she is poor you see, is actually RENTED. Rented. This is all remedied in the film because the main character takes pity on her and buys her her own handbag, a deeply emotional moment as she now has her own £2,000 handbag. What I was left with though, was this new knowledge that in New York there are companies that rent out expensive designer handbags.
How all pervasive and pernicious is this consumer culture that these ghastly handbags, made in some grisly sweatshop somewhere, designed with any sense of taste locked firmly in a box, have evolved in such a way that one’s sense of self esteem and identity requires a handbag rental service? No sense of living within one’s budget or means, rather you simply MUST HAVE a designer handbag or you are nobody.
I guess this ties back to the discussion we were having the other day about solar panels and food gardens becoming the next ‘must haves’, and whether or not we can harness that same sense of desirability. I was impressed the other day with reading about a crowd in Cornwall called ‘Rocket Gardens’ from whom you buy pre-planted salads in a funky box, they come in the post, you pop them in the garden, and hey presto, instant salad! Anyway, I struggle to draw any intelligent observation from the handbag thing, I think I am just still in shock about the whole handbag rental thing. Did you know such a service exists?
(26 June 2008)
Rob delves into the bowels of consumer culture and experiences Culture Shock. -BA