Consumption Myths

Section
2. Reduce Consumption
Page
2.10

It seems a strange thing to do to finish the section on consumption with a word of caution about the topic. The last thing I want to do is to undermine this vital area of impact and agency, but it must be said that it is an area of considerable smoke and mirrors that runs the risk of distracting and diverting good intentions.

The first trap in attention to consumption is that of trivialisation and displacement of concern and action. Political, corporate, and, sadly, even on occasion, environmental, interests have been guilty of abusing the opportunity presented by the personal immediacy and understandability of domestic consumption to present activity in this arena as ‘the answer’. Author Charles Clover (webpage 2.5) asserted, acerbically, that the modern generation thought the banning of plastic straws was the most important thing in conservation, and many people I meet seem to think that environmental care starts and finishes at the recycling bin. Politicians and corporates have not been slow in ‘selling’ their green credentials through very minor environmental improvements and programs, while the big picture remains untouched. (Think so-called ‘green-purchasing’ programs where one is encouraged to consume yet more, but it is ‘good’ because it’s ‘green’!). Australians Liz Minchin and Donna Green got so sick of this displacement of effort and concern that they wrote the refreshing ‘Screw Lightbulbs’1, the title lampooning a government program of the time to replace incandescent lightbulbs in the home.

Closely aligned to these distractions and diversions is greenwash, where entities dress themselves in flimsy green ‘clothes’ while carrying on their business-as-usual environmental destruction. We have all been subjected to a great stream of advertisements by car companies, the mining, forestry and seafood industries, power companies, supermarkets, finance and superannuation businesses, amongst many others, extolling their environmental virtues while doing little, if anything, of substance. It is difficult to be specific here for legal reasons, and quantifying the extent of deception is hard, but even in the seemingly straightforward area of financial investment it is estimated that “5-10%” of funds purporting to be green are nothing of the sort2. (I have included a satire on Australia’s banks and their advertising here, for your amusement: https://www.facebook.com/thechaser/videos/nob-bank/4364478663643209/ ).

Displacement of all environmental problems into the consumption sphere is a manipulation by some to avoid addressing all the necessary, and often fundamental, topics listed by T10, e.g. habitat destruction, or population, or the economic and political systems. It is an arena that the right thinks they can control and ‘solve’ through technology and divestment of responsibility to the individual, and the left through attacks on First World greed. Of course, technology and personal responsibility can and should play a very important part, as should major improvements in global equity and the acknowledgement of gross overconsumption by Developed nations, but none of this will be enough in itself. While thoroughly and honestly addressing the deep problems of overconsumption, we need to be on the look out for those seeking to manipulate responses to fit their narrow parameters of power, ideology or awareness.

Two ideas have been developed in the last 40 years or so that serve as examples of the above, even if they were created with good intentions. Sadly, these two concepts are now so twisted, misused and hollowed out that it is perhaps better not to use them, so significantly have they been co-opted to the cause of ‘business as usual’. The two are:

  • Sustainability, and
  • De-coupling (of growth from environmental damage)

The two terms have been sprinkled about over virtually all and every human activity like magic dust, so much so that one would think one was back in the land of ‘The Magic Pudding’ (see 2.2). They will be examined in detail in the next section, ‘Replace the God of Growth with the God of Quality’.

 

1 Green, D., Minchin, L. 2010. Screw Lightbulbs. UWA Publishing, Perth, Australia.

2 Ohlsson, M. 2021. Funds Pushed to Come Clean on their Green Credentials. The Age, October 13th.

 

Explore Other Pages Reduce Consumption

2.1 Context and Clarifications

“I consume, therefore I am”   Poor Reneé Descartes couldn’t have known how wrong he was in 1637 when he penned “I think, therefore I am”. I am not being facetious at all when I write the above; I really think that the majority of the worl...

2.2 Consumption Fever

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2.3 Introducing Ecological Footprint Analysis

Dealing with the natural world is daunting, such is its size and complexity. Getting a fix on humanity and its blizzard of activities and effects, is similarly daunting. It’s no wonder, then, that it is so hard to get any sort of perspective, any ...

2.4 Using Ecological Footprint Analysis

Hopefully, webpage 2.3 has introduced the ‘Footprint’ concept sufficiently well to enable readers to be ready to apply it, both personally, and to cities, regions, countries or sectors, of interest. Footprint’s ‘home base’ is the Global Footpri...

2.5 Food

While webpages 2.1-4 have attempted to provide some overview on consumption, it is time now to focus on specific significant areas. Food, accounting for up to a third of our consumptive impact, well and truly qualifies as ‘significant’. On clos...

2.6 Housing/Shelter

The next, ‘big ticket’ item, is housing, or shelter, which – depending on the measurement system – ranks alongside food as the major personal consumptive impact. Shelter consumes enormous resources in its construction, maintenance and operation, b...

2.7 Transport/Mobility

Global Footprint Analysis tells us that, worldwide, this accounts for 15% of our personal impact1, and this is much higher in First World countries. At its simplest, it comes down to: How far we travel By what means we travel ...

2.8 Goods

Where to start? The Developing World can’t get enough of them and the Developed World is drowning in them. Our Footprint Analysis in 2.1 tells us that they comprise 14% of our personal consumption impact1, ranking just behind transporta...

2.9 Other Scales: Institutional, Governmental, Corporate

It has oft been stated that T10 focusses, or at least starts, at the personal scale, for reasons of understandability, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the importance of consumption – and drivers - at larger scales. Domestic consumption is ...

2.10 Consumption Myths

It seems a strange thing to do to finish the section on consumption with a word of caution about the topic. The last thing I want to do is to undermine this vital area of impact and agency, but it must be said that it is an area of considerable sm...

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

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2. Reduce Consumption
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3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
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