Consumption can never be sustainable

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Organic meat, “ecological” detergent, Fairtrade sandals, and so many more in this category; all aimed to give the appearance that each and every one of us can do his or her bit to saving the world by buying those. It is still consumption whether it is green products or conventional products. We cannot save the world by buying more stuff, even if the stuff is supposed to be “green” and many of the so-called green or eco products are not all that environmentally friendly at all, regardless of their marketing.

Consumption can never be sustainable and the solution lies in a personal abnegation and something other than capitalism.

We are living in a society that is geared towards perpetual economic growth which is continuously engaged in producing waste. In fact it can do no other than producing waste for it is impossible for the economy to be growing perpetually if we do not have a quick turnover of products and that means built-in obsolescence. The only way to guarantee this perpetual growth is to produce ever more products and ensure that the previous versions of those products break quickly and cannot be repaired or make them in such a way that it is financially not viable for them to be repaired. And this kind of system and sustainability simply cannot go together. In all honesty it is a paradox to demand perpetual growth and sustainability. The one is diametrically opposed to the other.

The so-called progress of our society is based on errors

We are now in a situation that is not far removed from a catastrophe. Everyone knows, or at least should know, that the crisis has already begun. We only need to consider climate change, even though some would like to deny its existence, the pollution of the world's oceans with garbage and toxins, the decimation of our fish stocks in those oceans, the destruction of the rainforests and others too many to list.

We have reduced our life essentials, all of them, to mere commodities, to be traded on the world markets, and to be exploited. Everything that the world has to offer us is being viewed only from the vantage point whether or not it is a resource for our needs. Then needs are – artificially – created in order for those resources to be exploited and for us to fulfill our “needs”. And this cycle goes on and on and on. Most of those needs are not needs and they are not even wants. They are created “needs” and people are made to believe that they have to have this product and that product in order to live a good life. Alas, and the same is also happening for some time already with the so-called “green” and “eco” products, which are sold to us under the guise that we need them in order to save the Planet.

The false needs are created in that something is offered to the people that is simply to good to pass up, so to speak, and thus creates demand via such offers. Then it is always claimed that the people are demanding those products and that is the reason that they are being made, but the truth is that the demand is being artificially created. In addition to that people become dependent as they not longer can produce things for themselves, be that in way of food or in way of things.

For more or less two-hundred years a veritable war has been waged against subsistence and also against the ability of people to sustain one another by their own power and means. The entire idea of progress in the course of industrialization and of capitalism is based on the notion to replace the actions of doing things ourselves, which appeared inconvenient, by products.

If we want to ever realize something of the idea of sustainability then we have to turn this notion of replacing doing things ourselves and making things ourselves with products made for us which we have to buy on its very head. This means also first and foremost that we have to try to make products that are made other than by ourselves as much as possible superfluous and have to replace such products again with making and doing things for ourselves. While there are some things that we may want and need that we will be unable to make ourselves we should look as self-reliance as much as possible and other goods and services we should exchange with others on a local level, the way it used to be before the advent of full-blown industrialization and capitalism. This is the only way that we can live a more sustainable life on a finite Planet.

The consequences of our perpetual consumption are not new. We all know of the exploitation of natural resources, of the pollutions of the oceans, and all the other issues. Why, though, can we not use all this knowledge and into positive action to find and create a more humane measure?

The reasons for this are many. On one hand the products with which we are being enticed with address many existential aspects of our lives. There is, for example, the promise that the more we produce and the more we can replace the making of our own with bought goods, machines, services, etc., the more spare time and time we will have. The next big promise that those goods and services promise us security, and finally the one that promises us that our possessions will give us a standing in society. Today it is less a case and question what someone does as what someone can buy.

The other problem is that though our desire to have our every need catered for we have become more or less helpless. We have become dependent on goods and services and having everything done for us instead of doing things for ourselves, growing things for ourselves and working with others in our community to make a life for all. We have been enticed by the industrial society that with it a paradise on Earth was being created and that we would no longer need to worry about anything ourselves anymore and thus we have become dependent and have been turned into consumers who are almost incapable of doing things for themselves. This, at the same time, aided and abetted by governments who want the people to be dependent on industry and government itself and incapable of doing things for themselves. Thus a dependency has been created of which we often are not even aware.

Sustainability in our time is also rather anchored in consumption. One only needs to buy the right things or less and then good quality, eat no meat or less, and so on, and sustainability is guaranteed. Is that actually the case? The answer is no.

Consumption can never be sustainable, net even the consumption of so-called green products. It is impossible and the green marketing many of us have no come to call greensumption, as it is still consumption, which has been given but a green color-wash. While many may not wish to hear the rest of the answer the truth is that we need to return to some kind of subsistence rather than wanting more and more of everything. Unless we do that we cannot crown ourselves with the diadem of sustainability. We also need to bring some kind of self-reliance back into play, of making things, of growing things, etc., rather than consuming only all the time. All that today is marketed and traded under the sustainability label is, to 90 percent a sham, as much of it is nothing more than greenwash, as it is also not sustainable to buy products that have been given an eco makeover, so to speak.

I know that this is rather a hard sell to get people to abandon and renounce all those things that are being dangled in front of them on a daily basis by advertising and also doing the voluntary poverty bit is not something that will be understood by many of our peers. Poverty is associated with failure and not with something that someone does out of their own free will for the sake of the Planet, for instance. But that is exactly the step that each and every one of us need to take, at least to some extent, if sustainability is to mean something in out lives.

Aside from that step, however, we need to, all of those at least who wish to see a different approach to the way things are being done, to go about to change the system. Capitalism will never be good for the ordinary man or woman in the street nor for the Planet. The only beneficiary of capitalism are the one percent at the top and there is no such thing as a trickle-down effect. It is a myth that is being conjured up to keep the masses quiet.

Time for a change, and that time is now.

© 2016