From consumerism to sustainability
Saving the planet is no longer solely an environmental issue…
Culture is created by systems that shape and constrain people growing up to perceive what is accepted as “natural”: norms, symbols, values, traditions, institutions, belief systems, customs, economic systems and political systems. To change the negative impact we have on our environment, we need to transform many aspects of our culture and each of us needs to become more aware of our individual responsability for the state of the planet and act upon this awareness.
Consumer cultures find meaning, contentment and acceptance primarily through the consumption of goods and services. High consumption levels are associated with well-being and success.
Sustainable cultures are characterized by individual and societal choices which sustain or at least cause minimal damage to ecological systems.They are something more than new technologies and government policies but above all they require the transformation of key culture-shaping institutions: education, business, government, media, religious organizations and other social organizations such as health authorities, trade unions, professional associations.
From 1960-2006 while population grew by a factor of 2.2, consumption expenditure rose by almost three times. Humanity’s “Ecological Footprint”[its ecological impact compared to the amount of productive land and sea area available for key ecosystem services shows that we exceeded the maximum capacity in the late 1990s and are now using the resources and services of 1.3 earths.
Problems associated with Consumerism
Biodiversity: The loss of biodiversity represents a chain reaction contributing to loss of habitat and damage to ecosystems, pollution, climate change and imbalance in the use of all resources. The human activities of farming, forestry, hunting, fishing, extraction of metals and construction materials, tourism, transport, use of energy are all major players.
A World Out of Balance: Apart from consumption levels being overall excessive, they are not homogeneous. In 2006, 65 high-income countries accounted for 78% of consumption expenditures but only 16% of world population. Even at middle income levels of 2006 [$5,000 per capita] typical of countries such as Jordan or Thailand, the world could only sustain a population of 6.2bn, already less than the actual planetary population. If everyone lived like Americans [$45,600 per capita income] the world could barely sustain 1.4bn people.
Insidious consumerism: The symbols of different brands are often more easily recognizable than wildlife species or other elements of nature. Cultural norms for example on how to spend your leisure time, diet, and clothing are now increasingly oriented around purchasing goods or services. Traditions such as weddings and funerals as well as Christmas and other recurrences are increasingly oriented towards consumption. Values such as the belief that wealth and more material possessions are more essential elements of the good life than developing a meaningful life philosophy have taken root.
Business Interests:support consumption by consumer credit and installment payments, physical and psychological obsolescence, pay rises rather than more free time, direct marketing and product placement.
Media Interests: the media [television, radio, movies, internet] are a powerful tool for transmitting cultural norms, symbols, myths, stories and customs. Media exposure consumes up to a half of people’s waking day in large parts of the world. The media is controlled by a restricted group of people. Entertainment to distract, news as propaganda and marketing and advertising to support the powers that be.
Government Interests: encourage consumerism through subsidies to particular industries, notably transportation and energy sectors. Where manufacturers are not required to internalize environmental and social costs of production, the cost of goods remains artificially low. Government policies are influenced by campaign “donations”. In the hands of power brokers, the bankers.
Education Interests: schools accept materials sponsored by business interests. Schools do not focus on media literacy, environmental education, nutrition education and are work rather than play oriented. They promote norms and values which support a vision of the world to be accepted without question.
TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE WORLD
Business: Create new measures of well-being – GPI [genuine progress indicator] rather than GDP, ecological footprint. Shift emphasis away from growth and expansion towards sufficiency and sustainability. Take care of common global assets. Better distribution of work and working hours among the global workforce. Reassess the role of corporations [100 multinationals employ 15.4m people with sales of 15% of total global product] – essential that sustainability is put at the heart of corporate cultures.
Government:Choice editing to support sustainability rather than consumerism – eliminate offending choices, make offending choices less attractive, encourage sustainable urban design, encourage preventative health care and recognizing Earth’s rights in law.
Cultural Malfunctions: A monetary and financial system creating debt, scarcity, exploitation, dependence and poverty. Control of the energy supply by self-interested business cartels largely ignoring renewable energy sources. Outdated social structures and belief systems based upon superstitions.
An innate concept of a static society biased against change with a closed vision of the world
Actions for Social Transformation
- Stop supporting the multinational banking system
- Turn off the TV and use and protect the internet
- Refuse all military propaganda and justifications for war and aggression
- Get off the energy grid & make your home and car self-sustainable
- Work to dissolve the outdated political system
- Create critical mass
- Be open to new solutions
Some Words of Wisdom from Krishnamurti:
What we are trying to do is to see if we cannot radically bring about a transformation of the mind…..
Not accepting things as they are..but to understand, to go into it, to examine it..to give your heart and mind to it, to find out a way of living differently.
But that depends on you and not on somebody else..because in this there is no teacher, no pupil, no leader, no guru, no master, no saviour… You yourself are the teacher, the pupil, the master, the guru..you are the leader..
You are everything!
And to understand is to transform what is.
- The Eleventh Hour 
- Supersize Me 
- The Story of Stuff 
- March of the Penguins 
- An Inconvenient Truth 
- Home 
- The Age of Stupid 
- Zeitgeist 
- Zeitgeist Addendum