Current consumption patterns are unsustainable and inequitable and must be changed. But changing consumer behavior isn’t enough. Yes, when we shop, we should buy the least damaging product available and affordable, but consumption is a systems problem, meaning our choices at the supermarkets are pre-determined and limited by political and institutional forces beyond the store. To change these, we need to step beyond our role as consumers and reclaim our identity as engaged citizens in a democracy.
In much of the world, consumption rates are soaring, with more people using more resources and energy, and creating more waste and greenhouse gasses than ever before. At the same time, millions of people consume barely enough tot survive. While poverty is often blamed for environmental degradation, this tends to affect local environments whereas the over-consumers are threatening the entire planet.
Over consumption impacts our mental and physical health. We have more stuff than ever before, but we’re also more stressed, less happy and working longer hours to pay for it all. We’re trashing the planet and overworking ourselves to buy stuff that is so toxic it contaminates our homes and bodies and, on top of everything, all this consuming isn’t even making us happy.
Workers caught in the work-watch-spend treadmill are working more hours than at any time in recent history. There is no inherent reason that workers need to work so many hours, especially when overall labor productivity has increased significantly over the last generation. Longer work hours lead to more consumption, less life satisfaction, less time for building community and a bigger ecological footprint.
The U.S. exports its extractive industries, its polluting production plants, and its dirty disposal facilities, but the most hazardous export of all is this consumption-mania that is trashing the planet and our communities. Globalization facilitates the spread of this economic and cultural model, persuading other countries to follow suit. If everyone consumed like those in the U.S., we would need three to five plants.
While more stuff doesn’t bring happiness, we know what does: family time, health, community, collective action towards shared goals. As we replace time spent getting and maintaining more stuff with these things, life gets sweeter. There are a lot of strategies to move in this direction, but there’s no ten simple steps because the level of change needed at this point just isn’t simple.
NGOs to Contact
Click the HERE for a list of organizations working on the issue of consumption. This list is not exhaustive. At this stage, we have limited the list to organizations in the U.S. Many more internation, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be found at wiserearth.org, an online community directory and networking forum that maps and connects NGOs working on critical environmental and social issues of our times.
To add your own organization, please post your profile on wiserearth.org in order to connect with others around the world with shared interests.