Consumerism & its critics - Apr 16
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Andy Rooney Comments On The Changing Environment And Admits He's Part Of The Problem
Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes, CBS
... My grandfather once told me that we're ruining the earth by using up all the good things on it and sooner or later we're going to run out of them. He told me a lot of things I didn't believe and it turns out he was right about most of them.
The real question is: are we going run out of the things we need before we find substitutes for them? You know we're going to run out of oil and we're cutting trees down faster than we're growing them, too
It may be wrong to suggest impending doom, but if doom isn't
impending, it's out there somewhere. If we don't find replacements for all the good stuff on earth that we're using up too many of too fast, doom is what we're facing.
If running out of oil doesn't scare you, maybe an iceberg the size of Connecticut floating away from Antarctica and hitting the United States will get your attention.
A lot of people think we should just use everything we have because things will work out. Their attitude is, we can always pump more oil, chop down more trees, mine more coal.
A lot of people called conservationists want to save the forests and reduce our use of coal and oil before we run out of those.
I personally am a conservationist who uses a lot of oil and trees. I'm our problem.
(12 April 2009)
WWF Scotland boss calls for energy wasters to be prosecuted
The Herald (Scotland)
Wasting energy is an "anti-social act" that should be viewed in the same way as drink-driving, a leading environmentalist said today.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said there is a "rump of people" who will not take action in their homes to help prevent climate change.
But he said that a third of all carbon dioxide emissions in Scotland came from buildings, and called on ministers to penalise those who waste energy.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Morning Extra programme Dr Dixon said: "We should be viewing this as an anti-social act to be wasting energy needlessly.
"Even if you can afford it and you think it's your right to waste energy in any way you like, we should start to think of that as anti-social and the Government should start to crack down on that."
He argued that with all political parties pledging to tackle global warming, and with a Climate Change Bill going through Holyrood, society had stated that the problem must be confronted.
"Therefore it is anti-social for people to not take part in that, just as it is anti-social for people to drink drive or to smoke in pubs where smoking is now banned," Dr Dixon said.
"These are anti-social things and I want the same sort of attitude to wasting energy needlessly.
(15 April 2009)
The Gospel of Consumption and the better future we left behind
Jeffrey Kaplan, Orion magazine
... despite the apparent tidal wave of new consumer goods [in the 1920s] and what appeared to be a healthy appetite for their consumption among the well-to-do, industrialists were worried. They feared that the frugal habits maintained by most American families would be difficult to break. Perhaps even more threatening was the fact that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.
It was this latter concern that led Charles Kettering, director of General Motors Research, to write a 1929 magazine article called “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.” He wasn’t suggesting that manufacturers produce shoddy products. Along with many of his corporate cohorts, he was defining a strategic shift for American industry-from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones.
... By the late 1920s, America’s business and political elite had found a way to defuse the dual threat of stagnating economic growth and a radicalized working class in what one industrial consultant called “the gospel of consumption”—the notion that people could be convinced that however much they have, it isn’t enough. President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices . . . a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”
Today “work and more work” is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend.
... We can break that cycle by turning off our machines when they have created enough of what we need. Doing so will give us an opportunity to re-create the kind of healthy communities that were beginning to emerge with Kellogg’s six-hour day, communities in which human welfare is the overriding concern rather than subservience to machines and those who own them. We can create a society where people have time to play together as well as work together, time to act politically in their common interests, and time even to argue over what those common interests might be. That fertile mix of human relationships is necessary for healthy human societies, which in turn are necessary for sustaining a healthy planet.
(May/June 2008 issue)
Posted an excerpt from this essay last year, but EB contributor Marcin Gerwin recommended it again, and it is a classic. The original has some links to a great documentary on how Freud's theories helped move us to a consumerist society - "The Century of the Self" by Adam Curtis of the BBC.
Part 1: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8953172273825999151
Part 2: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-678466363224520614
Part 3: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6111922724894802811
Part 4: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1122532358497501036
Equality Needs to Be Our Organizing Principle
Johann Hari, Huffington Post
In the smoking rubble of market fundamentalism, we are all being forced to rethink the principles that order our societies - and one small, shining idea is rising from the wreckage. It is the idea of human equality.
The need for us to return to this, our best and most basic instinct, is spelled out in a new book by Professor Richard Wilkinson and Dr. Kate Pickett called 'The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.' It is the culmination of twenty-five years of scientific research. The truths it contains provide us with a compass to rebuild our societies - and a reason to be profoundly optimistic. There is a way we can make our societies dramatically better - and the impulse to do it is hard-wired into each of our brains.
It starts with a stark realization. For millennia, there was one obvious and necessary way to improve human life: raise material living standards. If you are hungry, you will be made a lot happier by food. If you are thirsty, you will be made a lot happier by water. The human impulse for self-improvement was simple: give us more, and give it to us now. But we now know from reams of studies that once your basic needs are met - once you pass the magic number of $25,000 a year - something changes.
We carry on accumulating and accumulating, because it's what we've grown to think will give us happiness, but it works less and less. And after a while, this unhindered chasing of More More More by the very richest begins to make us miserable - and corrodes some of the other basics we need as humans.
One of our most basic psychological needs is for status - to feel that we are a valued member of our tribe. We evolved in small, very egalitarian tribes of hunter-gatherers, and have only lived outside them for a few minutes in evolutionary terms. So when we feel our status is threatened - or there is no way of becoming respected by the rest of the tribe - we begin to malfunction in all sorts of ways.
Indeed, other than being chased by a wild animal or worrying that our supplies of food, water and shelter will be cut off, nothing makes humans more anxious than panic about our status. Endless clinical trials show what happens to our bodies when we feel we are going to lose our status and could end up being looked on as inferior. Our bodies lock into a "fight-or flight" response, where our heart and lungs work harder, our blood vessels constrict, and we burn up our energy stores fast. Our systems flood with a hormone called cortisol.
If this lasts only a short period, it can be good for us: it helps us escape that growling lion, or pull ourselves out of the wreckage of a crashed car. But if it goes on for weeks or months, we begin to suffer all sorts of dysfunction - as we'll see in a moment.
(14 April 2009)
Consumption dwarfs population as main environmental threat
Fred Pearce, Yale Environment 360
It's the great taboo, I hear many environmentalists say. Population growth is the driving force behind our wrecking of the planet, but we are afraid to discuss it.
It sounds like a no-brainer. More people must inevitably be bad for the environment, taking more resources and causing more pollution, driving the planet ever farther beyond its carrying capacity. But hold on. This is a terribly convenient argument — "over-consumers" in rich countries can blame "over-breeders" in distant lands for the state of the planet. But what are the facts?
The world's population quadrupled to six billion people during the 20th century. It is still rising and may reach 9 billion by 2050. Yet for at least the past century, rising per-capita incomes have outstripped the rising head count several times over. And while incomes don't translate precisely into increased resource use and pollution, the correlation is distressingly strong.
Moreover, most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population.
...I do not deny that fast-rising populations can create serious local environmental crises through overgrazing, destructive farming and fishing, and deforestation. My argument here is that viewed at the global scale, it is overconsumption that has been driving humanity's impacts on the planet's vital life-support systems during at least the past century. But what of the future?
...Even if we could today achieve zero population growth, that would barely touch the climate problem — where we need to cut emissions by 50 to 80 percent by mid-century. Given existing income inequalities, it is inescapable that overconsumption by the rich few is the key problem, rather than overpopulation of the poor many.
But, you ask, what about future generations? All those big families in Africa begetting yet-bigger families. They may not consume much today, but they soon will.
Well, first let's be clear about the scale of the difference involved. A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and her family will still do less damage, and consume fewer resources, than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota or Munich. In the unlikely event that her ten children live to adulthood and have ten children of their own, the entire clan of more than a hundred will still be emitting less carbon dioxide than you or I.
And second, it won't happen. Wherever most kids survive to adulthood, women stop having so many. That is the main reason why the number of children born to an average woman around the world has been in decline for half a century now. After peaking at between 5 and 6 per woman, it is now down to 2.6.
...In any event, it strikes me as the height of hubris to downgrade the culpability of the rich world's environmental footprint because generations of poor people not yet born might one day get to be as rich and destructive as us. Overpopulation is not driving environmental destruction at the global level; overconsumption is. Every time we talk about too many babies in Africa or India, we are denying that simple fact.
EB contributor billhook says:
The nonsense propagandas that blame overpopulation in poor countries for the global outcome of wealthy nations' ideology of maximized consumption-growth has long needed a clear refutation.
Thank God for Fred Pearce.