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Post No.: 0914consumption

 

Furrywisepuppy says:

 

Capitalism has raised many people out of poverty. But materialism and excessive consumption bring environmental problems like resource depletion and pollution. You could argue that Soviet-style socialism eventually decimates itself but unfettered capitalism eventually decimates the whole habitable world.

 

If you stick your hand in a fire, you’ll receive an immediate feedback of pain, which should successfully teach you to never do it again. But we don’t learn so well from things that produce a delayed feedback, like how our excessive consumption leads to pollution – especially if these costs are passed elsewhere, like our rubbish being exported to other countries to make huge stinking landfill sites there, and especially if the consumption gives us an immediate feedback of pleasure too.

 

The longer the time between an action and the feedback of its consequences, the less likely we’ll connect the two, hence making learning from individual experience harder. Our own individual experience can thus fail to teach us to change our behaviours for our own good.

 

As sellers, it’s about making money, and no number is defined as enough. Most products or fashions are hyped up as ‘the next big thing’ in order to tempt us to buy them (e.g. 3D TVs, curved TVs). They’re seldom truly life-changing purchases but the marketing preys on our insecurities. Credit can be useful, such as to fund a higher education, new business or to get onto the property ladder, but much of consumer credit is to just fund raw materialism. People are brainwashed to consume. The desire for repeat custom conflicts with reducing consumption, reusing things, making products last longer, growing/making your own things, or making do with whatever we’ve already got. People keeping their appliances or clothes for a long time isn’t good for business profits, even though it’s good for the planet.

 

Industry journalists are also incentivised to hype up ‘the latest things’ because they want to show that their industry is constantly generating fresh stuff to be interested in and to subscribe to their publications every month for.

 

As consumers, we hedonically adapt to the things we’ve got and so we feel like we continuously need new things. We want a new phone even when our existing one still works fine. The grass appears greener on the other side. We’ve got things we should protect but we take them for granted and want new things because we like to explore and invent (hence curiosity is a double-edged sword).

 

We should try to make our goods last as long as possible, but fear that we’ll be judged negatively for our old clothes or old phones – when we should really be judged positively for caring about the environment and our ability to fix and maintain things.

 

‘Equipment-as-a-service’ is a useful concept, but there’s potentially a worrying trend of features, like heated seat functions or extra car engine power, being sold through a subscription-based model. This is hugely wasteful because the hardware is already there – it’s been manufactured, sold and delivered – but the customer needs to unlock it via an extra monthly payment to make the most of it. It’s wasteful to have a product that one will not or cannot utilise to the fullest. It’d be better for all concerned (except for the business) if one simply bought and got less if one isn’t going to use anything more. Then again, many consumers already buy plenty of stuff they’ll hardly make the most of even when they’ve fully paid for it all – most users hardly even know about every function on their smartphones, or we own automobiles that can go well over the highest legal speed limits on public roads but that’ll never enter within sniffing distance of a race track, for instance.

 

Do most people even need to own their own cars? Most are parked and not utilised for over 22 out of 24 hours/day, with much of the rest of the time spent looking for a parking space if one drives to or lives in a city.

 

Individuals have aspirations to get personally rich, and these aspirations seldom put the environment first, regarding both howl the money be made and howl it be spent. It’s about the conspicuous consumption of expensive bling as status symbols in the game of sexual selection. The extravagant and wasteful, inefficient lifestyles show others that we’re able to afford it. Status is always relative too thus conspicuous consumption and the competition to hoard more land and stuff than someone else has no limit except dire environmental and inequality ones.

 

In nature, some sexual selection strategies work against natural selection efficacy, like bright colours that attract mates can also attract predators. The point they’re trying to make is that ‘in spite of these hindrances and flashy behaviours, I’m still alive, which infers that I’m really good at surviving and thus great mating stock’. But like we could fund a stronger army if only we didn’t spend on vanity projects – they’d logically be even better survivors if they weren’t so profligate or flashy. But howl they show this to potential mates who judge mainly shallowly?! We therefore need to be less shallow judges of others. Woof.

 

Expressing extravagance improves our individual chances of getting our genes (and thus genetic instincts) passed on, but extravagance harms our collective survival.

 

It’s one example of how evolution has led to a crude instinct that worked okay in the past but not so well in today’s world. Early humans couldn’t practically individually hoard that much stuff without it getting rotten or stolen, but now we have currencies and property laws. While food consumption has a limit, material hoarding does not.

 

We need a total cultural shift from coveting material goods because even if 99% of the population cooperated to conserve limited environmental resources and other public goods but the rest did not – that 1% will win in life, which would make that 99% look like mugs.

 

When the super-rich spend lavishly on themselves, it encourages people at every income level below to spend lavishly too in order to try to keep up, including those who’ll enter financial debt to do so. And people cannot always opt out of this behaviour because not keeping up with relative spending can have real social consequences, including not being able to get one’s children into good schools.

 

The economy matters, but countries wish to maximise their GDPs because they’re competing with other countries in the game of relative wealth and power. If we cannot satisfy both, the environment surely must take priority over the economy because what’s the monetary cost of not preventing the worst effects of global warming (e.g. more tropical storms, wildfires, floods, droughts, coastal erosion, rising sea levels)? We need to breakeven with nature to be sustainable. Rich countries have long reaped the benefits of growth whilst passing negative externalities onto others, thus they must now prioritise the environment. Poor countries may have fair reasons for pushing forwards their economic development, and rich countries should help them do this by supporting renewable sources of energy production.

 

Countries need to somehow cooperate as well as compete with each other. As long as material possession and consumption are associated with status and power, there’ll be conflicts over ever-dwindling non-renewable resources, like precious metals.

 

Increasing consumption for the economy conflicts with reducing consumption for the environment. Voters need to care about the long-term collective environment and not just their short-term individual jobs. We need better foresight with our choices and behaviours.

 

But people get used to a high-consumption lifestyle, and even if those in the ‘Global North’ curbed their consumption down to world averages (people in the ‘Global North’ on average consume much more than the world average per head), they’ll perceive this as ‘unfair’ or a ‘hardship’(!) Therefore the public generally doesn’t wish to give up on any luxuries (which they now believe are necessities – but luxury means ‘beyond necessity’) despite the public’s general rhetoric about caring about the planet.

 

Those who live the most luxurious lives are the worst environmentally (e.g. at the extreme, craving a specific meal from another country thus ordering a concierge to get it flown in especially for oneself just because one wants it and can afford it).

 

Much waste comes from trying to solve ‘first-world problems’, like using a straw to drink soda; albeit straws are small compared to packaging like cups or bags, hence ditching plastic straws is hardly enough for ‘doing our bit’ for the environment. However, alternatively, people or countries might state the excuse that, even if they did their bit, it’d not be enough if others didn’t also do their bit, hence they argue there’s no point in trying. Neither ‘saving a little is enough’ nor ‘a little isn’t worth saving’ is correct.

 

An average human at rest operates at the rate of energy consumption of nearly a 100-watt light bulb. But when you add in all the food production, transport, heating, luxuries and everything else an average American person uses, that comes to ~10,000 watts/person.

 

We globally collectively use multiple times more than what’s sustainable for the planet. We’re not replenishing at the rate we’re taking. According to some figures, we overshoot our ‘sustainable yearly quota’ increasingly earlier each year – we currently use ‘an Earth’s worth’ by early August. We may look like we’re doing fantastically right now but the environmental debts are catching up with us – or really it’ll be future generations who’ll pay the bulk of these costs.

 

We don’t want our living costs to rise to pay for environmentally-considerate measures. Or we hate it when living costs rise supposedly for this measure yet we see private corporations post massive (record) profits!

 

Modern humans are such greedy, wasteful and inefficient organisms! Capitalism hasn’t been around for that long, and is unique to the human species in the animal kingdom. (It’s strange how some people appeal to nature to argue for a laissez-faire economic system yet cannot see that capitalism, currencies or the concept of legal property ownership are themselves unnatural when we look across the rest of nature!) No other creature selfishly and greedily claims such mass personal ownership of under-utilised resources. In its current form at least, capitalism hasn’t proven itself over millions of years to be sustainable.

 

After only ~200 years of industrialisation, and once nuclear weapons were invented – we’re already pondering about the grave and real risks of a human-engendered apocalypse one way or another.

 

However we want to cut it, this is still a finite resource planet. Current carbon-offsetting efforts are insufficient. Space mining and/or space colonisation – in a big way – aren’t going to happen soon. (Exploration is a contributory reason for the success of the human species. But the dark fuzzy side of exploration is that the ends have historically been for exploiting all the resources people can find regardless of the destruction left behind.)

 

No nation wants to be the chump that curbs its own economic productivity while others are maximising theirs by any means. It’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma. The aim is for economic growth to be completely tied to activities that are sustainable or positive for the environment, like clean energy technologies. Some governments try to subsidise green activities in order to incentivise them.

 

Yet too much hope is said to be placed on ‘saviour tech’ that doesn’t exist or hasn’t been proven to be feasible at scale or isn’t even energy efficient yet, and for which the potential long-term side-effects of employing these technologies aren’t yet known.

 

Some even still hold hope on greed and the idea of infinite economic growth pulling us out of this problem, after putting us into it. Post No.: 0832 underscored this folly.

 

Woof. Humans inherited a healthy planet that was fit for and full of life (they certainly didn’t earn it through their own hard labour) then proceeded to plunder it through over-consumption as if they solely owned the place.

 

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