The Causes of Mass Consumption
With the full encouragement of their governments the developed world has essentially started to embrace consumerism and greed as though they were religious doctrines. However, ironically it appears that in creating a society with infinite wants, we have also created a society which can never be satisfied.
The shape of our towns and cities has changed dramatically. The independent and local shops have long since disappeared to be replaced by large out of town “shopping experiences”. The media is continually bombarding us with messages about the latest “must have” item. We have allowed ourselves to be defined by material objects. People have become increasingly isolated, and are losing their connections to their friends, families and neighbours, and ultimately to themselves, and then attempting to replace the resulting emptiness with material things. We all need to stand up to consumerism and realise that we are not our cars, or our clothes. A handbag or pair of shoes says nothing about who we really are.
As consumers we can now vote with our wallets as our purchases make a statement to manufacturers about how we want them to behave. “Green” products are alternatives to standard products that can be considered less damaging to the environment. Increasingly we are able to purchase not just green products, but ethical products – ones that go beyond minimising environmental impact and also look to encourage responsible trade and abolish the exploitation of others.
However it has become apparent that green is big business. Consumers appear to be getting what they demanded, with an ever increasing number of companies touting the green-ness or ethical nature of their products and services. But this is in fact an extremely worrying situation as so far consumers have little in the way of evidence to back up these green claims. Whilst some companies are genuinely making huge strides forward in terms of recognising their responsibilities and minimising their impacts on the planet and its inhabitants, others are simply jumping on the green bandwagon; they may make a lot of claims but do not necessarily live up to them. This is what is known as greenwash. Carbon offsetting or neutralising is perhaps the area which is suffering most from greenwash. As awareness of climate change increases there are a growing number of people who wish to do something to reduce their impacts and minimise their carbon footprints. These people are willing to pay to have some, or all, of their annual carbon footprint offset by the planting of trees or the development of renewable energy. However consumers have little guarantee that their money is going to the right place and not just lining the pockets of a greedy company. The problems surrounding bogus green products or offset schemes are two fold. Firstly, people are being duped into selecting these goods or services over other potentially more environmentally friendly choices, and secondly there is a danger that people simply feel absolved of responsibility by selecting green items or offsetting their carbon output. Perhaps the real solution needs to be a more radical approach. Instead of continuing with the consumerist, resource greedy lifestyle that we are accustomed to and then paying for someone to plant some trees somewhere to make us ease our conscience, we should really start to address what is actually important.