Sustainable consumption

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The idea of sustainable growth and sustainable consumption is about the same as having sex to preserve for virginity or having a war for peace. It does not work. You cannot have sustainable growth and neither can you have sustainable consumption.

Yes, we all consume and will have to consume but we do not have to consume more, and more, and more, of the Planet's non-renewable resources just because someone is trying to sell us something.

Today's problem as regards to products is that they are designed to break down just after the warranty expires and we are forced to buy new, as repair, more often than not is way too expensive or not even possible. There was a time, however, and that was not all that long ago, that everything could, be repaired, sometimes even by the user doing it himself. Not only could everything be repaired, it was actually designed in that way so that it could, although there were stickers on radios and TVs, and such, that stated “no user serviceable parts inside”, but that did not deter us from doing our own servicing. And, in addition to that, there were repair shops around almost everywhere, from cobblers to electrical repairs, and everything else in between.

You simply did not go out every time something stopped working to the shops (or on line, though there was no on line back then) and bought new; you went to have it repaired or even, as said, did it yourself. And still the economy did not fall down. But most people only bought new if the old product really could no longer be repaired, or if they – such as in the case of young people leaving the nest – were setting up a new home, though there were times, obviously, when people bought a newer version of a product simply because it was better than the older one.

The repair shops had their own part in the economy and they thrived because people had their stuff repaired and because it was repairable. In the German Democratic Republic, for instance, those repair businesses, were part state economy even in many cases, and were big companies.

Sustainability and economic growth do not, actually, go together, especially not the capitalist idea of perpetual growth of wanting to sell more and more and then still more (of the same product). You just simply cannot have perpetual economic growth on a finite Planet and the Earth is a finite Planet. The non-renewable resources are just that, non-renewable. None, no god or whatever, is going to put more oil, more gas, more minerals, more rare earths, and what have you, into the ground after we have exploited was has been there. It is not going to happen even though some people, including some US legislators seem to believe and “teach” that. Once it's gone it's gone.

Then we must ask ourselves as to whether consumption, the hunt for more and more, can actually ever be sustainable and the short answer to that is a simple and firm no. It simply cannot and is not. Even buying more and more green products to make us feel to be good eco-warriors is not sustainable. And to top it all many of those “green” products are not very green at all, be that in the material they contain, such as bamboo fiber products, or many others. When a company is not willing to tell me what the ingredients are that supposedly make they dishwashing liquid “green” in comparison to others and which still have a questionable ingredient, which is even listed, such as, for example, 1,4-Dioxane then the “green” credentials are, in my view, rather sketchy to say the least.

There is no such thing as sustainable consumption and never will be or can be. We can make it a little more sustainable by

  1. buying only what we really need

  2. buying second-hand

  3. making things for ourselves where and when we can

  4. reusing what we have, mending and making do, as well as reusing and repurposing items of, say, packaging, such as glass jars, etc.

Our grandparents and their parents we masters in this, and especially in reuse, repurposing and in making their own things, and we must become such masters again ourselves if we are to become sustainable. We also have to rediscover wherever possible to grow our own food again.

© 2016