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Juliet Schor on Consumption and the Environment

The Browser
The author of True Wealth suggests how we can rethink our patterns of consumption and approach our relationship with nature in a new, less damaging, way

Judging by the books you have written and your research, your two great passions are finding out more about consumption and the environment. How do you see the two as linking together?

At the most fundamental level we can think about all environmental pressures on the planet as stemming from consumption because production, after all, is only for the purpose of consumption. That may be a slightly simplistic way of thinking about it. But by consumption I don’t just mean households, I am also thinking about the whole chain of effects that lead to the appearance of a computer or a car or a house. All consumption has environment impacts and one of the issues I have been most concerned with in my work is the scale of consumption.

you would argue for lessening the scale of our consumption?

I think lessening is complicated because one of the things we know from a lot of the social science research and common sense is that getting people to give up what they have is very difficult. The bigger issue is getting on to a new path. The wealthy countries have been on a path of steadily rising consumption with parallel environmental impacts and that is what we really need to grapple with now. We have got a population of seven billion people, the vast majority of whom want to consume more. We are already consuming at a level which is beyond what the planet can tolerate, so wealthy countries need to figure out how to reconfigure their consumption patterns and they need to get off that upward trajectory.

Given that we have such a powerful culture of consumption how do you think we can realistically bring about that change?

I think culture is a great word to bring into this conversation. Since World War II our culture has centred on growth and material acquisition. Transforming that culture is at the root of being able to make the transition to an environmentally viable – I don’t want to even use the word sustainable – world. I think this involves giving people new outlets for creativity, new sources of joy, happiness, wonder and social connection…
(20 March 2012)

What Isn’t for Sale?

Michael J. Sandel, The Atlantic
THERE ARE SOME THINGS money can’t buy—but these days, not many. Almost everything is up for sale. For example:

• A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them…

NOT EVERYONE CAN AFFORD to buy these things. But today there are lots of new ways to make money. If you need to earn some extra cash, here are some novel possibilities:

• Sell space on your forehead to display commercial advertising: $10,000. A single mother in Utah who needed money for her son’s education was paid $10,000 by an online casino to install a permanent tattoo of the casino’s Web address on her forehead. Temporary tattoo ads earn less…

WE LIVE IN A TIME when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.

As the Cold War ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, and understandably so…

Today, that faith is in question. The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals, and that we need to somehow reconnect the two. But it’s not obvious what this would mean, or how we should go about it…
(April 2012 edition)

The Deadly Scramble for the World’s Last Resources

Julian Brookes, Rolling Stone
…The world is hurtling towards what author Michael Klare calls “a crisis of resource depletion.” In a new book, Klare drops the stunning news that the earth’s easily accessible supplies of oil, coal, gas, metals, minerals, rare earths and even water and food are disappearing fast, plunging governments and corporations into a balls-to-the-wall “race for what’s left.” And what’s left is, above all, hard to get at – it’s under the Arctic ice, deep below the ocean floor, in tar sands and shale, and in war zones, like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Getting at it is becoming more and more dangerous, both environmentally – we can expect to see more Gulf-style disasters as companies breach the “final frontiers” of resource extraction – and politically, as countries clash more and more over who gets what…

Rolling Stone recently got Michael Klare on the phone to talk about “peak everything,” the mad scramble for the world’s last resources, and our stark choice of futures.

You say we’re facing a “crisis of resource depletion.” Are we there yet? Are these must-have resources already disappearing?

They’re not disappearing, but many of them are facing rapid decline and depletion. Virtually all of the easily accessible resources are now gone, so were going to need to replace them with new sources of supply…
(19 March 2012)