In this country, we live with the assumption that we must have continuous growth and that consumption to produce that growth is good and very, very necessary. In fact we define ourselves by what we consume and how much money we have to consume with.
I still remember visiting Washington D.C. as a thirteen year old in the 1950s with my class and being talked to by someone in some department who revealed to us the concept of planned obsolescence, which meant it was not only acceptable but necessary and official economic policy that stuff be manufactured with its falling-apart aspect built in to guarantee that people would not only want, but need to buy new stuff and thus keep the economy growing. We were shocked at the idea: after all, our parents were the Depression generation and one of their favorite mottoes was, "Waste not, want not." We laughed uproariously at what this idea of endless consumtion and its consequent growth could mean: we imagined ourselves surrounded by junk , by acres and acres of land and even special buildings that would have to be built to hold the junk, by the giant caverns and pits resulting from the need to dig up material to make the stuff, by endless power plants needed to provide energy to make the junk, and so on and so on.
We need to break away from the paradigm that shapes societies so that they are supported by economies based on endless growth. One of my favorite websites, run by a single person, I think, has a particularly useful section on problems of consumption and consumerism. Check it out: www.globalissues.org. Below is a list of questions about consumption taken from this site.
From www.global issues.org:
We consume a variety of resources and products today having moved beyond basic needs to include luxury items and technological innovations to try to improve efficiency. Such consumption beyond minimal and basic needs is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, as throughout history we have always sought to find ways to make our lives a bit easier to live. However, increasingly, there are important issues around consumerism that need to be understood. For example:
- How are the products and resources we consume actually produced?
- What are the impacts of that process of production on the environment, society, on individuals?
- What are the impacts of certain forms of consumption on the environment, on society, on individuals?
- Which actors influence our choices of consumption?
- Which actors influence how and why things are produced or not?
- What is a necessity and what is a luxury?
- How do demands on items affect the requirements placed upon the environment?
- How do consumption habits change as societies change?
- Businesses and advertising are major engines in promoting the consumption of products so that they may survive. How much of what we consume is influenced by their needs versus our needs?
- Also influential is the very culture of today in many countries, as well as the media and the political institutions themselves. What is the impact on poorer nations and people on the demands of the wealthier nations and people that are able to afford to consume more?
- How do material values influence our relationships with other people?
- What impact does that have on our personal values?
- And so on.