But what to do about it? We’ve been told we can become more environmentally friendly by making changes to our lifestyle by recycling, walking instead of taking the car, and holidaying locally instead of abroad.
In a turn towards conscious consumerism, people are now also buying ‘green’: ‘green’ food with a low carbon footprint, ‘green’ cars with lower carbon emissions, ‘green’ clothing and bags which are made from sustainable materials. All commendable actions.
However, I fear that the whole conversation about climate changes misses one fundamental and crucial point. That is, that the exponential change in the environment over recent years is due to increasing human consumption. We eat more, buy more, own more, travel more and do everything on an exponentially larger scale these days.
Quite frankly, the solution is not to buy ‘green’, but simply not to buy unless necessary. Don’t buy a green car – get rid of the car. Don’t buy a green handbag – do not buy the handbag at all.
The real solution to climate change is in going back to basics and focussing on our needs instead of our wants. Does anyone really need a brand new, 5 litre engine BMW? Do anyone really need to fly all the way around the world on holiday in order to spend quality with their kids? Nice as these things are, unfortunately they are luxuries which put an extra burden on the earth’s resources.
Modern-day Western society is a consumerist one. We are encouraged to buy as much as we possibly can. On a daily basis, we are fed messages through advertising and media that we are only as good as our latest possession or purchase.
As other parts of the world – China for example – become more developed, and inevitably latch on to the ‘all you can own’ mentality of the West, consuming will continue to increase and the effects of climate change will become even more destructive.
In order to combat climate change, there needs to be an about-turn in our cultural and societal values. This will mean a turn towards simplicity, contentment with what we have, with getting the most out of the many things that we do currently own. However, this is the anthithesis of consumerism, which is at the heart of Western society, and is a powerful economic driving force.
I personally do not see consumerism and a healthy environment as being compatible. Even ‘conscious’ consumerism is still consumerism and results in environmental damage. At present, schemes like ‘offsetting’ – which allow you to ‘compensate’ for your carbon emissions by doing things such as planting trees – are nothing more than ways in which people can continue to live the way that have always done and alleviate their guilt by buying their way out of it.
There has been much talk about simplying lifestyles. That is precisely what needs to be done. But it involves a significant and profound change in our mindsets, which has to be led by those who actually want our money in the first place, since they also spend so much of their resources on convincing us that we are natural born shoppers . The question is – would they be willing to do this since they may experience a direct loss in business/trade over time? I’m not so sure.
I’m no saint believe me. I clocked up over 100,000 airmiles last year and am pretty sure I have a huge carbon footprint. But I have been thinking about this more and more, and living from an ‘attitude of gratitude’ to me seems to be the way forward in doing my part towards saving the earth…
I’d love to see our society adopt an attitude of gratitude anyway, because I don’t think a consumerist mindset is a healthy one simply because it encourages you to feel dissatisfied with what you have, and to continually seek to fill internal needs with external wants.
But until this cultural/societal mind-shift occurs, I doubt any significant progress in reducing the way the climate is changing will be made.