Friday, December 3

It’s consumerism, stupid

Since Bill Clinton used it in his campaign against George Bush Sr. in the 1992 presidential elections, the slogan “is the stupid economy” and its variants, have made their fortune as an expression to highlight what, despite being evident, is not perceived as such by some of those affected. Therefore, seeing the statements and decisions that world leaders are considering in the framework of COP26, you want to shout at them: “It’s consumerism, stupid.” And not with the intention of insulting, but simply of warning something that is obvious, but that neither they nor, in general, most of the public recognize. We have an elephant called binge drinking inside the room, but we don’t want to see it.

One of the main explanatory keys for the current climate crisis we are suffering is that we have made an economic model normal in which rich countries consume well above our needs, using production systems that generate emissions and waste far beyond our needs. above the possibilities of nature to assimilate them. Consuming is necessary to survive and to achieve a sufficient degree of well-being, but falling into an irrational consumerism that makes consumption itself a priority vital objective, not only does not improve our well-being, but also harms us while deteriorating the planet and societies that inhabit it.

Although people are beginning to talk about a circular economy that should promote reuse and recycling, among other things, for the moment we are still installed in a linear economy in which we produce, consume and dispose of in large quantities at an increasingly rapid rate. Installed in a culture of abundance, as soon as we can, we replace objects before their useful life ends, in an unconscious exercise of waste. We do it with food and clothes, with cell phones, computers and televisions. Companies encourage us to do this by constantly offering us products with small technological improvements that are sometimes more apparent than real, but we fall into the trap. And it is not uncommon for those who may also abuse energy consumption by using excessive heating or air conditioning even at the cost of reaching very unnatural temperatures. The worst thing is that these behaviors do not seem to make us happier, because the consumption of anxiolytics and antidepressants is also skyrocketing.

Even the information we handle is affected in part by consumerist vices. Right now we produce and consume vast amounts of messages and data related to the Glasgow climate summit and the need to reduce emissions so that the planet’s temperature remains within reasonable limits. But in a few days we will have discarded most of that information and we will enter the maelstrom of marketing related to Black Friday, one of the consumerist bacchanalia to which we are pushed annually. Does anyone really believe that these types of events are compatible with serious emission reduction planning?

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is quite right when he says that our addiction to fossil fuels is leading us to the abyss, but it would be important to go one step further and recognize that the prevailing pattern of consumption is one of the main causes that feed back that addiction. It is all very well that world leaders agree, as they have, to end deforestation and reduce methane emissions. But we know that both phenomena are inextricably associated on a global scale with the maintenance of intensive livestock farming that will continue to be there as long as we do not reduce the current voracious consumption of meat, totally alien to our physiological needs. It is obvious that the interests to hide this type of links are many and powerful, but if we do not reveal them we will not attack the root of the problem, and well-intentioned statements will surely remain only in that.

And if we talk about consumption we have to consider, of course, inequality. According to data from the World Bank, in 2020 each inhabitant of the United States of America consumed on average in a single week what an inhabitant of India consumes in 11 months, or what an inhabitant of Mozambique consumes in two years. These data correspond, of course, to large differences in the carbon footprint associated with each level of consumption. Inequality is also transferred to the interior of each country with very different consumption according to the different levels of wealth. It is also proven that as the income level increases, the propensity to consume products with higher energy content and needs also grows. In other words, the responsibility of the rich and the poor when it comes to generating emissions linked to consumption is very different, and the efforts required of both should be different when reducing their respective footprints.

If we want to reduce the increase in temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions, we must act on many fronts. The COP26 agreements can help something, but much more will be needed. To think that clean energies and technological change together with donor aid are going to get us out of the quagmire while leaving everything else intact is a chimera. The ecological transition requires profound changes in the ways of producing, but also of consuming and distributing wealth. Giving up irrational consumerism individually and acting collectively to promote less consumption, more conscious and responsible and better distributed, can help a lot. The good news is, moreover, that if we did it well, we would not only be helping to curb climate change, but we would also be improving our real quality of life.

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