Beyond Consumerism

by Khushi Shah

‘In nearly 100 cities, where a combined 700 million live, the consumption of goods and services ‘including food, clothing, aviation, electronics, construction and vehicles’ is responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gases. That’s nearly double the emissions from every building in the entire world..’’ – The New Republic

Bush fires, ghost jungles, endangered animal species going extinct, dubious weather, growing sea levels, wildfires, and acid spills, are only a few of the news flash releases we see so often as we mindlessly scroll through our media feeds. Why, you ask? When did the planet that was supposed to be our home become a threat to our well being? The spread of the consumerism disease. Climate change is its symptom.

Biodegradable, slow fashion, composting, recycling, reusing, and up-cycling are just a few phrases we see every brand consciously incorporating into their regular marketing vocabulary. The capitalist era that we live in thrives on consumer culture.

On a differing perspective, economic growth may be taken lightly by few, but to the massive population staying in conditions of extreme poverty, it’s  an urgency. For the long term balance of the world, the removal of poverty and monetary inequality will rely upon taxing the rich along with economic growth. But what can and has to change is the relationship between production and consumption and its effect on nature.

Consumerist cultures usually have linear economies, wherein products are manufactured, consumed, then discarded, without an attempt to recycle them. This is unsuitable, because eventually those limited resources are going to run out. We see geo-scientists and environmentalists emphasising the negatives of the situation. They highlight answers that communicate ideas about sacrificing things instead of focusing on the positives of a sustainable lifestyle. The ‘degrowth’ movement urged us to prompt a radical rethinking of economic growth. De-growth basically says that the government should try to make a livable world without economic growth fueling it. They believe that consumption is at a high  and we need to reduce it. A strong, even striking dream. But there are daring errors with it. It doesn’t fit right collectively and would be almost impossible to implement. What they fail to realise is when we stop the process of growth the entire process would stop. 

We see people forcing a genuine appeal to the concept of an end to “consumerism,” adopting a minimalist lifestyle, however the pandemic gave us a first hand experience of how a sudden drop in the rich world consumption would actually affect the developing world and the economy. The consequences of the pandemic and worldwide demand shock were combined with the decline in global consumption. Hunger rose, and child mortality followed.

Radicalism won’t solve the climate crisis. Diplomacy has constantly taught us that telling humans what they shouldn’t do is a failing game plan. Suggesting alternatives seems more useful. Continuing growth would need resources, and yes, they are finite but we won’t run out of the stuff. The waste will also be on earth and with the extravagant energy we will get from the sun for over 4 billion years, we can re-use them. Think solar energy, vegan amendments, green manufacturing, and non- cruelty products. The growing trend in the sustainable way of life has shown us that economic growth and climate solutions can coexist.Changing our ideology from the conservative nature of systems to renewable wouldn’t be de-growth. It would be good growth. Good growth is not a problem. 

Years ago, inexpensive solar panels were just a vision. Now they have become a primary method to combat global warming. Our laptops, phones and technology are being designed to be disposable, use and throw things which become slow after a new model update, does not mean it is impossible to make gadgets which are long-lasting. It only means that the cheapest production with the best deal has the most profit. Similar concept applies to the different causes of global warming. We use plastic in products for it to have the highest shelf life. We transform land into lavish neighbourhoods constructed from inexpensive and non-sustainable materials in a quest for ever-increasing land prices.

Along with those we are continuously and unendingly fed a barrage of marketing and advertising that are targeted at us to spend what we make on popularised products. The present day tendency is to buy feasible fixes for clothes, furniture, decor, anything you can possibly think of, and this was never our choice. They gave us a constant flow of supply that catered to what our desires might evolve into that altered our choices. We don’t need any of this. We all have choices around us to be sustainable but they are wasted because they oppose the prime principal of the capitalist consumer culture and maximisation of short term profits.

Considering the essential capitalistic nature of supply and demand and the bittersweet dependence we have as buyers with businesses, we additionally need to study the uselessness of our lifestyle by looking at the wealth disparity of billionaire companies compared to the common people. Billionaires especially benefit from a system that permits them to collect that wealth at the cost of workers who in the worst case scenario have unpaid institutional debt, battling the constraints of social regulations and are likely dealing with multiple jobs to survive. It’s not just the employees who struggle, it’s those companies who are forced to drop their costs to compete, it’s the demand for cheap and unsustainable raw materials, it’s pollutants from vehicles and the authority that has allowed consumer culture to thrive.This is a world created by governments in alliance with influential organizations, and we should call for responsibility from those that have pioneered the society we live in. Accountability starts with us but definitely can’t end with us.

Maybe we shouldn’t be investigating if the current economic system can continue to exist without the giving up of consumerism, it can’t. We should think about amending it, and whether the system we live in now is something we need to sacrifice the planet for?

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