The extreme focus on materialism and its impact on the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The extreme focus on materialism is having a disastrous effect on the environment and biodiversity, but it is also affecting our communities with lower levels of trust and a general lack of concern of the well-being of others.

materialismSomething seems to be very rotten indeed at the core.

Our values, at both the collective and personal levels, are misaligned with a sustainable future. Greed, conquest, acquisition, power, control are values that not only are prevalent but are also rewarded and valued throughout Western society.

These values are reinforced through the media and pop culture with programming that essentially tells us we aren’t good enough if we do not and cannot buy this, that or the other, leading to an epidemic of apathy, despair, and depression.

This hardened world compels many us to erect walls and barriers to protect our hurt feelings, most of us at a subconscious level. And the talk is even of sustainable economic growth and such like but there is no sustainable growth. Perpetual growth does not compute with a Planet that cannot grow.

Governments have even, including the British one, likened people who are not on the consumption bandwagon to being “domestic terrorists” as they are not supporting the economy.

When 7 billion people are encouraged to take and consume as much as possible and are being told that it is good for the economy, after all, rather than just what one needs, it leads to infinite material demands.

With a planet, however, which is finite, we have a problem. The question we must ask if we are serious about creating a sustainable society is, “what are the sustainable values that form the foundation of a society that can sustain itself over millions of years?” It obviously cannot be a society that predicates well-being on exponential growth of the economy, natural resource use, and pollution. So just what are sustainable values?

Instead of consumption of material goods we must realign our values and we must learn to make do with what we have and look at making as much as we want and need ourselves. It can be done and is not hard at all. At least I do not think that it is.

We all must stop trying to keep pup with the Joneses or even outperforming the Joneses in regards to material possessions and learn to be content with what we have and only buy “new” when we really have to.

What is needed is an understanding, also and especially by economists, that we need to look at a post-growth economy, a constant economy, and not one that is based and demands a constant perpetual growth, which cannot be sustained on a finite Planet whose non-renewable resources are almost gone.

People will need every now and then new stuff but what we need first and foremost once again are products that are made to last and that can be repaired, the way it used to be. The world must get away from being a throwaway society to a reuse and repair one.

The majority of all goods produced in the world today are made in such a way that they (a) cannot be repaired and (b) have obsolescence built in, often about three years or less. But it definitely does not have to be that way as can be seen by products that were made in the “old” days when things were made to last and repairable and even in countries such as the German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany, and the Soviet Union. I can vouch for that having a number of products from those countries that still work well today even though they were made thirty or even forty years ago. And there are still products made like that today in some places, Germany being one of those, by companies who care about their products, and where spare parts are available even decades after, many decades after, to enable repair and refurbishment of the products.

But, it is true, those products, made at home and not in China, Vietnam, or other cheap slave labor country, are expensive and cannot be had for cents. On the other hand, however, one gets a product that will serve for many, many years to come.

Electronic gadgets are the greatest culprits and computers are in the lead here and that also very often due to the fact that software makers, such as Microsoft, ensure that an old computer cannot work with the new systems. All designed in such a way as to keep selling more, more, and still more. This is not sustainable.

We must change and we must change now and we can create this change by demanding that things are made differently and by using the things that we have, by reusing, by repurposing, by upcycling and by making our own, as far and as much as possible. The makers will soon get the message and will have little choice but to make the changes that we demand. Unless, that it, “our” governments make our ways illegal, and that too is a possibility.

© 2014