Consumerism – do we need prohibitions?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

consumerism1We are living well above our means, in more than one way. Thus the question as to whether we need prohibitions that will halt our over-consumption? Maybe we do need someone who raps us over the knuckles when we go too far? That maybe the only way that the Planet can be saved. But this is not going to happen, not from the side of those that think they are in charge as economic growth is what they are on about and growth – according to them – can only be achieved in that people consume more and then still more. Only growth on a finite Planet does not compute.

But do we really need some higher authority to tell us. Should we not be able to restrict ourselves?

On the other hand most people, even many who think of themselves as as having a high degree of eco-consciousness, are into consuming. Fair enough, we all have to eat, need clothes, etc., and thus we consume and are consumers, obviously, but with consuming in this context I mean the many, often unnecessary, things that we buy, thus consume, just because we are lazy, we believe we need them, and because our friends have them.

Coffee to go, obviously in the one-way cup, because it is so convenient. Coffee from the pod, the most wasteful and expensive way to make and consume coffee. Another new cellphone or even smartphone though the old one that we have is still perfectly good and does what we need it for. But, hey, there is a new version out that has more bells and whistles, not that we will ever use any of those bells and whistles.

Using the car to go to the shops – even though you only live a few minutes away from them on foot or by bike – because it looks like rain. Take out pizza or whatever simple because we can't be bothered to cook. OK, there are people who are so busy and work so many hours just to sustain a lifestyle nowadays who really do not have the time to cook at home, I know, but. And so on and so forth.

But would prohibitions really make a difference. OK, with prohibitions people could not do this or that but is it really so hard for us as individuals, as people, to understand that we must change for the good of the Planet and also for the good of our own finances.

Unnecessary driving costs fuel and unnecessary purchases cost money, but at the same time both have an impact on the Planet in many ways. The prepackaged salads and all the rest generates a great deal of packaging waste, more often than not in the form of plastic, some of which is, while others is not, recyclable and it then ends up in landfill or, via the not so environmentally-minded, in the countryside and eventually in rivers and the sea.

For a change to come about industry, especially, will have to play its part and reduce the amount of packaging, and that includes food producers and supermarkets as much as online retailers like Amazon. Legislation could come into play there in that packaging could be regulated and a reduction demanded by government because we, as consumers, can do little there except shop where we do not have everything prepackaged – and that is not all that easy – and sending a message to industry and supermarkets that way.

Waste or squander is no peccadillo, no trivial offense. Nobody has the right to take more than what he/she needs.

I can hardly see, however, government legislating against consumption per se. That is definitely not going to happen. A change in that department will only come about when the mindset of people changes and you cannot do that by degree and prohibitions. Most people will rebel against any kind of prohibition and unless and until industry actually changes its manufacturing processes which are designed that products break down after a relatively short time or, in the case of PCs, for instance, that software (updates) is no longer compatible with old sets (and that also applies to smartphones, for instance) we have little choice to buy new products every year or every couple of years or so. If products would, like they used to, last for a long time and can be repaired, ideally by the user or in small shops, then we would not have this waste that is generated by having to continually buy new.

On the other front, that of packaging, we don't need to look much further back than half a century or so and we can see that things were not over-packaged in the way they are today. Fair enough, that was also the time when the so-called convenience foods were not about. There were no ready-made salads in plastic bowls and such to be found in the isles of the supermarkets. Produce was sold predominately loose, and was packed in brown paper bags, other things came in simple cardboard boxes, tin cans or glass jars, and almost nothing was double or triple packaged, as today.

There was also once a time when packaging, such as glass jars, and others, had an obvious – obvious to all but the very dense – second use and some manufacturers still do so today. Let's get back to that and maybe, just maybe, we have less of packaging waste. We can hope, can't we?

But when one sees that even people who think of themselves as green and environmentally-minded throw away glass produce jars into the recycling and then go and buy recycled glass jars, in the believe that they do good for the Planet doing that, rather than using the glass produce jars as storage jars then one has to wonder where we have gone wrong.

I think no one can deny that we have to stop this malarkey but can we be made to stop with and by government intervention and should that be done?

Most of us know that much of what we buy and consumer is not good. With that I do not mean that it makes us fat or gives us all manner of diseases. Our consumer behavior does hurt us, but mostly it hurts others. Others who also live with us on this Earth and who we do not see because the live far away, those that still would like to live on Earth after we have long gone, and also the Planet as a whole.

While no one can deny that we have stop (with) this madness of consumption – for the sake of it and the economy, as our respective governments keep telling us – the question is how many of us, of our contemporaries, are prepared, voluntarily, to give up this mad pursuit. But, if we want to sustain ourselves and the Planet we will have to do just that for, as I have said above, our governments are not going to do all that much in that department as it would interfere, as they see it, with economic growth. However, perpetual growth – economic or otherwise – is not feasible on a finite Planet with finite non-renewable resources. And, no, the good Lord is not going to put more oil and whatever into the ground for us, as some, including some American lawmakers, believe and declare from the “pulpits”.

As I have said while legislation might be a way to go I don't see it happening. For one the powers-that-be (but really should not be) won't do it because it fuels economic growth and that is all that they seem to be able to think about and on the other hand legislation often does not work because the mind of the people per se rebels as soon as they are not allowed to do something. Persuasion towards a voluntary reduction appears to me the only way. Though disallowing the use of plastic bags or taxing the use of them might just do something.

© 2017