We cannot just consume our way into a more sustainable world

by Michael Smith (Veshengro) 

Let's talk about consumption (for starters).

The modern world we live in demands, due to its capitalist ways, that we consume on a huge scale, whether that be products, clothes, stuff – but where does it end? Only this kind of consumption in today's capitalist society keeps the economy actually growing and maybe even going.

But we cannot consume our way into a more sustainable world; it just is not going to work. Anyone who claims and believes that either is in greenwash marketing or has fallen for the ploys of the “green” marketeers, the greenwashers, as I shall be calling them here.

The only way to go is for us all change to the way we consume products and only buy things that we can take care of and that will be kept for years. But there comes the problem and that is that such products are few and far between in today's society and world. They still exist but they are not cheap and they are few and far between.

The greenest and most environmentally product is the one that you already have even though it may have a lower score on the ratings than the latest one. Why? Because you have already got it and it will take many years, in fact, before the environmental benefits of the "better performing" new one will actually make themselves felt as it has cost the Planet a great deal in its manufacture. Something that is often not considered and which the greenwashers will not tell you. they want you to buy their gear.

As an example, to offset the CO2 caused by manufacturing, a washing machine's optimal lifetime is 17-23 years. Most people keep theirs for only 11.5 years. In many cases the machine actually fails well before that time – can you say built-in obsolescence? – and hence more CO2 is being produced for the new machine. We need washing machines, refrigerators, and other products that do not have to be replaced but which can be repaired and we, as “consumers”, can vote for such products with our pocketbooks or debit or credit cards.

In a way this is the same with the electric bicycle for instance where a new battery will be required about every two to four years and I very much doubt that the CO2 caused in the manufacture of the battery will have been offset by that time. So what is the best bicycle ten if not an e-bike? Any good old-fashioned pedal bicycle and the sturdier made the better.

Now let us look, for a moment, at cars. Your current older car of whatever make, if you have a car (I don't), may have higher emissions than the newer ones but, and here comes the big but, before you break even, so to speak, as far as CO2 is concerned, the new car may have to be driven for many, many years. You old car has, maybe, already cleared its original CO2 output caused by manufacture.

In many cases your old model, whether car or whatever, is the greener one because it has already been manufactured and used for some time.

It is part of reuse, to be honest, even though it is not a proper case of reuse but a case of continued use. All too often people throw away their current, still perfectly good this or that simple because a new, or claimed to be greener, version is available.

Buying “green” products to replace perfectly good existing products, regardless of what they may be, is not being green and buying such products we are beginning to fall for greensumption and greensumption is also consumption though maybe, but only maybe, of products that are slightly better on the environment than the old version.

We must get away from consumption, or better over-consumption, because there will always be products that we have to “consume” because they are truly consumables, instead of changing from one kind of consumption to another.

As already indicated we must vote with our pocketbooks and cards to force producers to make goods that have a long lifespan and can be kept going by being repairable, ideally even by the user him- or herself, instead of the way they are presently where most products cannot be repaired or otherwise fixed in any way, shape or form.

While there are still some such products available most nowadays are not and yes, products that are made to last and are repairable do cost somewhat more to buy initially but such cost can be recouped, so to speak, sometimes several times over the lifetime of the product that can be kept going than over those that break after a year or even five and have to be bought new again and again.

There was a time when one would save up to buy such products, if necessary, but today we want instant gratification and because of that products are made – in the Far East mostly nowadays – to make them as cheap as possible but it is neither cheap for us, the consumer, in the long run, and definitely not for the Planet. Those products impact heavily on the environment as new ones have to be made all the time, have to be shipped more than halfway across the world, followed by how to dispose of the broken products or those simply tossed out because people can afford to buy the latest version (with more bells and whistles) simply because they are relatively “cheap”.

© 2021