Materials Economy is a system that consists of 5 levels, that of Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption, and Disposal. According to Annie Leonard in her book The Story of Stuff, this type of linear system cannot sustain itself in a finite planet such as ours. As of 2007, at the rate of consumption we are going, we would need 4 planets to sustain us. There is only one Earth.
Already, 80% of the world’s forests are gone. 75% of the bodies of water are being fished at or beyond capacity. In the past three decades, 1/3 of the world’s natural resources have been used up. In the Amazon alone, 2000 trees are felled in a minute. In the United States, 40% of municipal garbage is paper products–the deaths of hundreds of thousands of trees gone to waste. The disturbing statistics goes on and on.
What drives this system? The cogs of this linear machine is oiled and propelled by profit. In this system, the persons who do not have the financial capacity to consume, or to consume enough, do not count. They do not add to the profits after all. They do nothing to fatten up the coffers of the corporations.
There are ways to throw a chink in the well oiled cog of gross consumerism. Consumerism itself is not bad. It is what helps economies grow, gives people jobs and help provide opportunities for the betterment of life. However, one must always, vigilantly, be aware of the finite nature of the world and the necessity to find sustainable alternatives to provide us with the creature comforts and way of life we have gotten used to.
One of the key concepts discussed by Leonard is that of ‘planned obsolescence’ wherein products are literally designed, outside of the natural laws of entropy of course, to fail, to become unfashionable, or obsolete so that consumers feel the need to purchase newer products or services, upgrade as it were, yet again. There are five types of obsolescence, namely: technical or functional, systematic, style, notification, and obsolescence by depletion. This locks us in a cycle of consuming, feeding us with the belief that we need to continuously buy to be happy and/or fulfilled, not only with our purchases but also with our lives, and with ourselves. The ability for mere things to give us such a feeling is facilitated by media through carefully crafted advertising campaigns.
There are ways to combat this cycle and move towards a life built around the ideas of temperance, fairness, quality, real happiness, and sustainability. We need to make the choice to go green and realize that this requires not simply acknowledging that there is a problem but changing our lifestyle to fit. There need not be some grand gesture. The littlest things can make a big impact.
1. Conserve Energy
Even something as simple as turning off the lights when exiting a room can leave a big impact. So would choosing to use energy efficient light fixtures and appliances.
2. Conserve Water
Cutting your shower time by one minute lets you conserve 9 litres of water. Rinsing out vegetables using a filled basin instead of running it under a tap allows you to save 14 more.
Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. Such a simple alliterative concept but it seems most people find it too taxing to stick to. Again, you can start small. Simple garbage segregation can already be a big step in the fight towards conservation and sustainability. Be creative. Explore.
3. Choose Environmentally Friendly Products
There are now companies producing lines of detergents, soaps, bags, food, notebooks, cards etc., that have taken the step towards being more eco-friendly. By supporting these companies, we not only give them our approval but also the means to continue on and help them further their research in finding ways towards a greener future.
4. Be informed. Be Proactive
Earlier in the year, Apple chose to withdraw their products from the EPEAT registry — a set of environmental standards for tech products. After a week of being ‘questioned for their choice’, a letter from Bob Mansfield, Apple veteran and the soon-to-retire senior VP of engineering announced that they are rescinding their withdrawal. “We’ve recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system,” he wrote. “I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT.”
Our lives are a made up of a series of choices. Let us endeavour to make smart and informed choices. We as consumers are not simply a passive entity feeding off of the reality that corporations feed us. Let us appropriate their reality and bend it to our will. We have the power to do so. We are their clients and we need only exercise our collective will. Let us call for a sustainable way of life. The revolution has already begun. Let us help in making sure to see it through to its final, and rightful, conclusion.