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Pathological consumption

Written By: - Date published: 2:23 pm, January 5th, 2017 - 84 comments
Categories: boycott, business, capitalism, climate change, disaster, Economy, Environment, sustainability - Tags: , , ,

George Monbiot writes,

There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder; a “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frame; a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle; or – and somehow I find this significant – a Scratch Off World wall map.

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

Researching her film The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Even the goods we might have expected to hold onto are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (breaking quickly) or perceived obsolesence (becoming unfashionable).

I find the 1% figure unbelievable and was going to go fact check it. Then I realised it doesn’t matter, because at what point does the % become acceptable? Is it 20%? 50%? 95% Which of those is ok and of those which are even remotely likely? Humans now design and manufacture with the intention of passing items through the consumption chain quickly so that new consumption is needed. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Which leads us inevitably to this,

When you take account of the fossil fuels whose use we commission in other countries, manufacturing and consumption are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production(2).

So even if we decide that the people in eastern Congo who are killed so we can have the latest smartphone are expendable, we are literally destroying that which our own families’ lives depend upon (unless we decide that our grandkids are also expendable, a possibility I’m increasingly less willing to dismiss as real).

Monbiot goes on to talk about social and economic inequality and the massive degree to which governments, the media and corporations are spearheading that and the pathological consumption. Which is all meaningful and true and requires a political and humanitarian response. Yet I can’t get past the fact that it’s also us that are enthusiastic participants in the pathological consumption economy. There are people in NZ who cannot afford Christmas, so let’s leave them out of this for now. And there are low numbers of people who choose to not consume. But pretty much everyone else is actively endorsing the act of buying uncessary things that will shortly end up in the landfill. Think not? How many Christmas presents did we wrap in paper that then got thrown in the bin? And that’s not even getting to what was inside.

So while the politics need to be fought on the big scale, they also need to be fought in our own homes, workplaces and communities. We can choose to break our involvement in the parts of the consumption economy that we have control over. I’m not talking about food and shelter here, I’m talking about what is going on in our heads when we partake of eating the future. This requires resistance as much as anything, because what I am seeing is a whole bunch of justification to not change and instead blame someone else or at the least apportion responsibility to someone else. The problem with this is that no-one is coming to save us, it’s up to us now to change.

Lest the argument is made about the stupid greenie wanting to ban Christmas fun, or even the idea that wrapping paper is not a big deal in the scheme of things, I’ll make my own argument clear. We, the people, are actively complicit in the culture that is now destroying the planet. So yeah, a bit of wrapping paper in any household isn’t going to make or break climate change or prevent homicide-fueled manufacture of cell phones, but our refusal to break this madness is going to perpetuate those things, and that’s blood on our hands.

The other inevitable argument is that this requires collective politics and shouldn’t be framed at the personal level. The problem with this is that the middle classes in particular are holding on to the idea that we can consume and be ok. So while I think that we urgently need to shift from a growth economy to at least a steady state one (in truth, we need  to power down), and that this shift needs to happen at a governmental level, it’s not going to while a large proportion of the individuals in society don’t want to give up their stuff. When we change what we think about stuff, our lives and what is important, then we will change what we do and that includes voting and political action.

On a final note, The Story of Stuff (where Monbiot gets the above 1% figure from) was made in 2007. We’ve had a decade, we know full well what we are doing. Time to stop.

__________________________________________________________________

For those of us that enjoy a nice bit of musical satire, this turned up when I googled “christmas landfill’ looking for an image for the post. Perfect.

Oh Christmas landfill… fleeting joy will never decompose…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0JH1-58K4M]

 

 

84 comments on “Pathological consumption ”

  1. Tony Veitch (not the partner-bashing 3rd rate broadcaster 1

    So frighteningly true, Weka. We are sleepwalking to our own destruction!

    But hey, we set a record for spending this Xmas, so surely, it can’t be all bad! /sarc

    The big question: how do we turn round this insane consumer culture before it is all too late?

  2. esoteric pineapples 2

    One of the major problems is that the trading of goods is how most people manage to make a living. I remember seeing in Medan, Indonesia, people earning money by directing cars into parking places. You wouldn’t think this was a necessary task but it is a way for that person to take a (very small) slice of the pie. We have to keep on producing stuff, even if we don’t need it, for trade to continue so people make a profit.
    So what is required is a new financial system where people survive without having to make pointless crap. There probably needs to be a universal basic income as well as significantly reduced work hours for everyone.

    • weka 2.1

      “One of the major problems is that the trading of goods is how most people manage to make a living.”

      Such an important point. As well as working on a new financial system, there are immediate things people can do, all the way from Bill’s suggestion for people to just walk away from the unnecessary jobs that promote CC to things like making different career/job choices for those people that have that choice (and there are quite a few of those). This is what I mean about the shift in what is going on in our heads. It’s not only about what should happen out there (new financial system), but what we do right now. Our own radical acts. Imagine if those that have a choice stopped thinking about work in terms of what they get out of it and instead made choices around the health of society/planet.

  3. Siobhan 3

    Its a massive idea, cutting the drug of Consumerism, but to my mind one small step would be to bring back Government subsidised night classes.

    -Something to do in the evening other than getting bloto and buying shiny baubles off the internet
    -learn to actually make something with your own hands before they become mere texting and typing tools.

    -a great way for people of all social and economic groups to get together in a (relatively) equal relaxed setting. Not directly related to Consumerism I know, but an important step towards creating a more unified and caring community for adults, which in tern might offer individuals something to help ‘fill the void’ with other than endless buying.

    Shame we don’t seem to have any political Parties willing to resurrect this idea, despite the apparent angst and (well deserved) National Party bashing that went on when the classes where, for the most part, cancelled.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/3323417/Cuts-end-popular-night-classes

    • esoteric pineapples 3.1

      “To my mind one small step would be to bring back Government subsidised night classes.”

      This should be one of the very first thing any change of government should do. One of the first “nice to have” things that went. It’s almost impossible to learn sewing, welding or any other skills now. Where lessons for some skills are still available, they are prohibitively expensive.

  4. esoteric pineapples 4

    “In 2007, the journalist Adam Welz records, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. This year, so far, 585 have been shot(4). No one is entirely sure why. But one answer is that very rich people in Vietnam are now sprinkling ground rhino horn on their food or snorting it like cocaine to display their wealth.”

    Meanwhile in New Zealand we are putting endangered whitebait in our fritters and telling ourselves this is our right as kiwis. I can’t really see any difference.

  5. Corokia 5

    There is SO much ‘low hanging fruit’ lifestyle changes that could be made that we middle class consumers would barely notice. It may only be a small start but, it would be a step in the right direction.
    Christmas consumption bugs me and my kids are now used to no food wasted, no throw away presents and wrapping paper being used as many times as possible.
    I don’t see any warnings to the doomsday crowd weka, so I expect to be scorned for such actions when Guy McPherson says we are all going to die soon.
    If those of us living comfortable Western style lives started reducing consumption of fossil fuel and other resources by 5% a year for the next decade or 2 maybe our descendants won’t despise us so much for screwing the planet.

    • weka 5.1

      “There is SO much ‘low hanging fruit’ lifestyle changes that could be made that we middle class consumers would barely notice. It may only be a small start but, it would be a step in the right direction.”

      A small step maybe, but also one that has to happen if we are to change. I really don’t get it. The people with the privilege to do so, and who do understand something of how bad things are, are still actively supporting the very thing that is bringing us down.

  6. Pat 6

    good post and ties nicely with a link that DTB posted earlier in the day

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

    “Although the study based on HANDY is largely theoretical – a ‘thought-experiment’ – a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.”

    Pathological is right……but is it also terminal?

    • weka 6.1

      Because my area of interest is sustainability (in the true sense of the word) esp things like regenerative agriculture, I tend to see things like food, water and energy crises as being man-made and thus resolvable. We don’t have to go down that route. Irrespective of how much time we have left to make change, there are always better paths for us to take that create rather than destroy. So I don’t believe what we are experiencing is already terminal so much as Russian roulette (not quite the right analogy but we can choose to put down the gun).

      • Pat 6.1.1

        it need not be terminal but it likely will be, Unfortunately ,should a substantial portion of the community take the logical steps required without a reconfiguration of the economy/society then the immediate impacts would be disasterous…….we have created a system that will be very difficult to undo without great harm.

        It is not impossible but the level of co operation and selflessness required suggests to me it will be beyond us.

        • weka 6.1.1.1

          so a delayed, uncontrolled disaster when we have the least resource to deal with it?

          ‘Likely’ is about probability, and is a pretty abstract concept, especially when looked at through tipping point theories. I suppose I would ask you how that viewpoint serves change. Because the message ‘we probably won’t change, it’s too hard’, in my opinion doesn’t help things change for the better, so what good it is? (you may have a good reason I can’t see).

          “we have created a system that will be very difficult to undo without great harm.”

          I’m not convinced of that. I think there are many gradations between where we are now and a hard fast collapse. Best we take advantage of that.

          • Pat 6.1.1.1.1

            ‘Likely’ is about probability, and is a pretty abstract concept, especially when looked at through tipping point theories. I suppose I would ask you how that viewpoint serves change. Because the message ‘we probably won’t change, it’s too hard’, in my opinion doesn’t help things change for the better, so what good it is? (you may have a good reason I can’t see)

            Not quite what i said but in any case it wasn’t stated to help or hinder, rather it is an observation….likely=expected.

            • Clump_AKA Sam 6.1.1.1.1.1

              If we are to overcome these notions of job creators I think only notions of an unconditional basic income can do that.

              • Pat

                expect some form of UBI is going to be required in the near term for a number of reasons…..the structural change required for that could involve a pivot away from consumerism but to attempt to substantially reduce consumption WITHOUT such a restructure may do more harm than good, at least in the short term.

                • Clump_AKA Sam

                  Some of the strongest advocates of a UBI are industrialists like Elon Musk who have differing views, one is he wants to find them other things to do when automation takes there job. In his Elons words, “it’s the machines that make the machines that mater.

                  • Pat

                    without humans machines have no function

                    • Clump_AKA Sam

                      I believe the saying is a robot with out energy is a statue and a factory with out energy is a sculpture. Which is expressed in the laws of thermal dynamics. Any business model that conflicts with the laws of thermal dynamics is a parasite

                • Nic the NZer

                  It seems very clear that one of the main goals of a UBI is to provide sufficient income to allow those without jobs to engage in consumption. I can see no aspect to the proposals where a UBI has a discouraging effect on this what so ever.

                  • weka

                    the proposals in NZ generally set the UBI at the rate of the dole. That’s not an encouragement to consume. I take your point though, most of the discussion around UBIs and the automated workforce are based in maintaining a growth and consumption economy.

                    • Clump_AKA Sam

                      We’ve already lowered wages as far as any one wants to go below the minimum wage. The final frontier in cost savings excercise is lowering energy costs so CEO’s can maintain bonuses.

                      UBI boosts asset prices with consideration to people who watch power.

                      The fallacy is that retirement programmes like UBI isn’t meant to be generate a wage, it’s supposed to take advantage of compound interest so you sell your policy on the seventh year to maximis profit.

                    • jcuknz

                      The purpose of UBI is to stop people starving to death when machines take their jobs.

                  • Pat

                    there is nothing clear about the goals of a UBi….particularly as there has yet to be any thing other then a few small trials. If and how any UBI operates has yet to be determined and there are likely to be as many variations as there are schemes.
                    That being so ,what the intent of any such scheme is entirely up to those designing/voting for it which means it can be tailored to reduce needless consumption or not……as previously stated there is little chance of successfully transitioning by means of bolt ons or isolated actions, any change will have to be fundamental and encompassing.

                    Pathological consumption is but one of many existential threats we face.

              • Nic the NZer

                The govt used to supply jobs to those who could not otherwise find them. Making this an alternative would quickly disabuse people of any belief that they were beholden to ‘job creators’. At the same time such a scheme needs only provide work and not profits. It could be done in such a way to address climate change, for example replanting and maintaining bush areas could be a job in the program.

                • weka

                  “The govt used to supply jobs to those who could not otherwise find them.”

                  Do you mean 80s job schemes?

                  I agree with the general premise, there’s so much good work needing done. How would that be funded?

                  • Nic the NZer

                    The funding would be done by the government. Its been known (and in some circles forgotten) that the government does not face a budget constraint, known at least since Keynes general theory was written. What the government faces is an inflation constraint (buying out stripping economic capacity may encourage inflation). However if the government is buying unemployed (otherwise idle) capacity then obviously this does not push against the inflation constraint.

                    This is similar to Labours proposed youth jobs program but they started balking (when challenged in the media) that more youths than estimated might like a job.

                    There were official job schemes but also just industries like the railways would be able to employ basically everyone in some capacity. These days it should be mostly an official jobs scheme so the public can see whats happening.

                    • weka

                      Ok, I didn’t follow the economics there, but basically you are saying that this could be done under current economic paradigms and conditions?

                      Something that would need some thought would be Tory-proofing any schemes and policies (whichever party is in power). I was on PEP schemes in the 80s and saw the changes over time that happened under both Labour and then National. The potential to monkey-wrench something good would need to be planned for.

                    • Nic the NZer []

                      Absolutely it could be done. The Labour parties youth employment program is more than credible, its too conservative.

                      I think the main protection against hijacking is publicity and transparency about what the scheme does. Since parliament is pretty much sovereign its hard to see any other way to discourage interference.

  7. Macro 7

    Excellent post Weka. And a very Happy Xmas to you as well.
    For xmas this year I gave a goat, literacy classes for young women, and safe drinking water in South Sudan through Oxfam, World Vision, and CWS. The small box of chocolates, and secondhand book my wife received from me was wrapped in last years paper (uncellotaped) so it can be used again next year. She gave similar gifts overseas as I did. The aid agencies were also asked to “hold the card” – no need for wasteful paper.

    We had a most enjoyable and relaxing Xmas shared with neighbours. We were going to help serve at our excellent community “A Place at the Table” Xmas dinner here in Thames, but there were so many people lined up to do that, we left them to it. On the day over 200 people who are single of unable to afford the trappings of xmas dinner, enjoyed a great dinner and companionship.

    It is a structural thing that somehow western society needs to undo. Our whole economy is based upon consumption. That is why so many “experts” worry about the “numbers” in particular the most nebulous number of all – GDP. We employ legions of people in marketing whose sole job is to work out ways to entice people to buy more! A nieces husband, with a degree in marketing, spends his day trying to get me and the rest of NZ to buy more crackers! It’s crackers.

    We turned off TV some years ago, only listen to RNZ, and use the local paper solely for pet litter or mulch, so there is very little in the way of advertising we see or hear. As a consequence our desire for this latest gadget, or what ever, is low. We have more than we need, and when we do we need something, usually the local op shops have exactly what is required. We also know that we are reusing, rather than something being sent to land fill.

    Our community has a very good reuse centre located next to the “dump” called “Seagulls”. Here things that are no longer of use by one person can be dropped off, and sold on to someone else for a nominal charge. The centre now employs 40 people and turns over $250,000 a year. It has reduced the amount of stuff going to landfill by a huge amount. One thing they don’t want to handle however are old computers and printers. No one wants them. Similarly cell phones.Obviously an area where some form of legislation directed at manufactures is necessary. Too much planned obscelence in this area.

    • weka 7.1

      Nice one Macro. I was worried the post was too dismal and didn’t have space to write some proactive suggestions, so stories like yours are great.

      The things you describe are not difficult. I’m wondering if there should be social criticism for people that are consuming willy nilly. I know that’s not the best approach to effect change, but I’m thinking about what happens during wartime where social sanctioning or not plays a part in getting people to take things seriously.

  8. Glenn 8

    The food waste around Xmas to now must be incredible. Friends and folk that I have talked to are rapt that the fridge is back to it’s half empty state and the left over ham, turkey, chooks and lamb have finally been tossed out. Not to mention trifle, xmas pudding and pavlovas.
    The shit we eat at this time of the year and the money we waste on it..

    I’m a bit long in the tooth but I swear the best Xmas meals I remember were the ones when Dad headed over to the chook house with an axe and bingo next day we ate stuffed roast chook. Same thing happened at birthdays and Easter. Tegel and Inghams were unknown and the home chook was a very rare treat even if it had been a scrawny Leghorn.

    Kids gave us $30 dollar vouchers and strangely received $30 ones back this year. Son is a DIY guy so is happy with those sort of vouchers and Wife and I like gardening so we receive those. Then when we want to replace plants we can use them instead of our own money.
    Gives us what we want and sort of cuts down on extra consumption.

  9. Glenn 9

    May bought too much. Kids have left the nest and haven’t adapted etc or got sucked in by the supermarket whirlpool.
    Think folks are dubious about leftover meat after a few days in the fridge. I know I am. Did slice up the ham and froze after boxing day. Made soup from the bone.

  10. weka 10

    Ham has been cured and should keep a long time in the fridge. Lots of commercial ham will have preservatives in it, and those that don’t you do have to know how to store it properly.

    • The Fairy Godmother 10.1

      Yes, it does keep, and when the meat on our ham was nearly gone I boiled up the bones to make a delicious soup which was finished really quickly. Holidays are good in that I have more time and I notice less gets wasted. I am going to cook up some apples and pears which are going a bit soft and being ignored by the family and turn them into a dessert. One of the problems I think is people work too hard and don’t have time to compost and use food properly.

      • mauī 10.1.1

        What if the goal in life wasn’t to work extremely hard, which is the automatic mantra given by many people in our kiwi culture. To succeed in life apparently you have to work hard, the more you starve yourself of personal/family time the more heroic your actions. With less work and more time you could save money by repairing things and making things yourself (like food). Which leads to being more resourceful and thoughtful in what you spend your time on too. Unfortunately I think we will be forced down this track rather than go there willingly, which is sad.

        • jcuknz 10.1.1.1

          If you do not work hard and had time to save how many good folk would be out of a job … yes we need UBI.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1.1.1.1

            Four people working fifty hours a week take one whole full-time job away from someone else. Especially if they’re salaried rather than paid by the hour.

    • Corokia 10.2

      Finished the Christmas ham today. Bought it from the local butcher who sources locally. We’ve been eating ham sandwiches for lunch since Dec 25. The ham sits in the fridge wrapped in a cloth that has been soaked in very dilute vinegar solution. Bone into freezer for soup later.
      (Sorry to vegetarian and vegan friends, I’m an diabetic omnivore and animal products are an important part of my diet)

  11. It’s an escalating problem, and it’s very hard to break the cycle, especially when children are involved.

    I battled the escalation of present giving and Christmas dinnering a generation ago with limited success. More presents per person, and wider circles of present giving. And having to cater for increasingly mixed families – Christmas breakfast nearly became a part of the overkill to cater for different family groups.

    In my childhood grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews were rarely a part of the equations. Now there is increasing pressure to widen the present list.

    The problems have been made worse because of how cheap a lot of crap is – and how cheap a lot of very tempting and impressive looking things are too.

    It’s easy to say this is madness and we all should cut back, but when kids are involved it is very difficult to be the one to make the first move. I’m already the stingy grandparent (gift-wise) on both sides of a blended family -Ii won’t try to compete with a 3 metre Santa.

    It’s an obvious problem that has escalated out of hand, but it’s very challenging to turn it around. I doubt whether much difference can be made overall.

  12. Adrian Thornton 12

    Very good post there Weka, thanks.
    I have always said that if I could change one thing in the country, I would end Sunday trading.
    We got rid of our TV, like Marco, when our kids where about 4 or 5, they are now over 20, I have never regretted doing that for a moment.

    Unfortunately I think you are right when you say there are no easy answers to this plague of rampant and uncontrolled consumerism. It really is something that just has to start in the home, around family, friends and hopefully into the community.

    This is a little off topic, but not really, here is the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef,
    author of ‘Bare Foot Economics’, a very beautiful story at about 07:40 ….
    although I do recommend watching the whole thing.

    https://www.democracynow.org/2010/11/26/chilean_economist_manfred_max_neef_on

  13. Jenny 13

    Two words:-

    ‘Shampoo bottles’

    One use throw away

    It is all about advertising.

    Dozens of designs, colours, shapes

    Mass produced and sold by the billion

    For a product tests show is basically identical

    Found on even the remotest island beaches in the world.

    If we want to go some way to get rid of unecessary plastic waste.

    Shampoo should be regulated to only be sold in bulk – Bring your own container.

    • grumpystilskin 13.1

      What, you still buy shampoo?
      I don’t own any or used it since 2012.. Use vinegar, it’ll take around 3 weeks for your hair to adjust then you only need a handful to rinse with once a week. I never use soap or underarm either, I’m lucky and not a stinky dude and make my own washing powder/ dish wash / house cleaner etc.
      Here’s all you need to keep you and your house clean:
      sunlight soap, washing soda, baking soda, vinegar (optional: tea tree or eucalyptus oil).
      Thats it.
      You’ll save loads by making your own products and it’s much safer!

      • weka 13.1.1

        Which is a really good example of what people are willing to do and what they want someone else to solve for them. Some plastics are hard to avoid, but some are definitely doable.

      • Jenny 13.1.2

        We are not worthy

        grumpystilskin, the belief that individual responses to plastic pollution, by those like yourself making your own shampoo and other house hold cleaners, will ever be a solution to plastic pollution is a joke, only serving to give a sense of holier than thou superiority to some, to look down your nose at the rest of us poor ignorant sinners for not being as virtuous as you.

        • corokia 13.1.2.1

          grumpystilskin told you what they do.

          It was you jenny who added all the “serving to give a sense of holier than thou superiority to some, to look down your nose at the rest of us” crap. That wasn’t in grumpy’s comment.

          We get the same shit from deniers when we try and explain ways to reduce fossil fuel use- its all “oh you’re so up yourself with your biking and cutting back on travel”. As if we are doing it to show off.

          So instead of a useful discussion on ways to reduce consumption, we end up with some people deciding to interpret the suggestions made as a personal affront and they turn on those who are trying to tread lightly on the planet. From previous comments you have made jenny, I think you care deeply about the environmental problems facing us now. I think you, me and grumpy are all on the same side.

        • grumpystilskin 13.1.2.2

          Jenny, you’re a fool if that was what you took from my post.
          It was an example of what an individual can do on a personal level to eliminate waste. Not only that but I suffer from allergies and most commercial products leave me in a rash for days. I’m no tree hugging liberal, just someone who who got extremely sick from using off the self cleaning solutions.

          Fuck you’re a bitter person.

  14. Jenny 14

    This is where you and I disagree, weka.

    In my opinon the the individulistice solution is inadequate to the problem.

    It lets the policy makers and the politicians off the hook.

    It lets the profiteers who make this crap off the hook.

    It lets the advertisers who currently have a free hand to manipulate and twist us, into buying this crap off the hook. Witness all the shampoo advertisiments that try to instil insecurity, that we need these products to be attractive or accepted.

    In my opinon the comment by grumpystilskin above verges on the sanctimonious. Look at me, look at what I can do, why can’t you do it too, I am a better person than you, you are a lesser person than me.
    Stilskin may be in a space in his life where he can do these things, but what he may not realise that it is not that simple.

    For many people consumer convenience is a small comfort in a stressful or marginal existence.

    The individualist response to plastic pollution ignores society. Plastic pollution is a societal problem, it requires a collective response. And that requires leadership.

    Don’t let the politicians off the hook over plastic polllution.

    • weka 14.1

      I said at least twice in the post that we need solutions at the bigger political and collective levels. How is that letting politicians off the hook? Or ignoring society?

      It’s only in your head that you equate personal action with not being able to act collectively. Many of us can do both. You also seem to have missed the point of the post, which isn’t to falsely dichotomise personal and collective action, but to say that both are necessary.

      “For many people consumer convenience is a small comfort in a stressful or marginal existence.”

      Yes, and for the people that is truly true for, that’s fine. But that’s not most of the consumers in NZ or the West, and I see too many people using various excuses to avoid personal change including that one.

      “Stilskin may be in a space in his life where he can do these things, but what he may not realise that it is not that simple.”

      That is true. For some people, not using shampoo isn’t an option e.g. those with jobs that require a certain look. But many people could stop using shampoo and be ok. They don’t because. Everyone has a rationale for why they have to keep consuming at the level they do, but many of those reasons are not valid IMO when weighed up against CC.

      You also seem to have missed the other point of the post, which is that politicians won’t change until they have the support of the people. The collective is made up of individuals, and too many of those individuals currently still want a growth economy. The question is what are you willing to give up in order to save the world? I’m getting that you personally aren’t willing to give up much.

    • Banjo 14.2

      There is a newish NZ company – Ethique – that makes solid shampoo and conditioner bars. There are convenient options. They claim to have prevented 50,000 bottles from ending up in a landfill so far, their target is 1 million by 2020. I agree that the problem won’t be solved by individual responses but it’s a start. There does seem to be a growing awareness of this problem. The documentary minimalism on Netflix has got people talking about excessive consumption on my social media feeds. Maybe if there is enough change at ground level we can get to the point where manufacturers and politicians will have to take notice and make changes.

      We’ve obviously got a long way to go though, this Christmas those air loungers seemed to be very popular and I imagine most of those will be in a landfill sometime soon.

  15. Jenny 15

    Blame the system not the victims.

    I clearly remember weka that you put up a similar post on climate change. Pretty much saying the same sort of thing that it was all about individual irresponsibility. When I challenged you on it. You said you would do another post, about what government could do about climate change. You never did, and when I pulled you up on this you gave me a lengthy ban.

    The Blue Green Liberal line on environment is line of the ACT Party. The Association of Consumers and Taxpayers also say that environmentalism is an individual responsibility, and that we should use our power as Consumers to create change.

    ACT oppose all restrictions on the polluters. Or business. The ACT mantra is we must protect “individual choice” and “personal freedom”.

    I am old enough to remember a time when (almost) all containers had to be refundable by government stipulation. And it was packaging industry that lobbyied the Muldoon government to remove these laws, which has led to the massive increase in the waste stream that goes straight into our landfills, and often into our streams and oceans.

    The abrogation of leadership

    Where once Scout groups and football clubs could once raise substantial amounts of funds by doing bottle drives.

    How far we have come, that our political leaders are too timid to put even the slightest amount of government regulation on business.

    It may be fine for the liberals at the top of the capitalist food chain to be able to exercise their personal choice to build a sustainable solar powered home, and drive a Tesla but it will not solve climate change.

    But for many New Zealanders the majority now who have to live in rental accomodation, on low incomes and buy a gas guzzling oil burning monster to get to work because there is no reliable and affordable public transport, system. This is a failure of public policy and leadership not individual bad decisions like the ACT people would have us beleive.

    Middle class liberals on good incomes have more choices than most people they should be using that privileged position to influence the policy makers, not guilt tripping those who don’t have as much economic freedom of choice as them.

    The abrogation of leadership.

    “You also seem to have missed the other point of the post, which is that politicians won’t change until they have the support of the people. The collective is made up of individuals, and too many of those individuals currently still want a growth economy. The question is what are you willing to give up in order to save the world? I’m getting that you personally aren’t willing to give up much.”

    weka

    Respectfully weka I can remember a time when politicians still led from the front.

    We can play the blame game, and guilt trip the public as much as we like but it won’t change anything. All that will do is spread despondency by reinforcing people’s sense of powerlessness.

    [I’m not blaming you Jenny, I’m holding you and me and everyone accountable. We are not victims here. And I clearly excluded people living in poverty from that, so your whole argument appears to be based on things I haven’t said. I wonder if you even read the posts. You appear to be fundamentally incapable of understanding the argument, or you aren’t paying attention. Nevertheless I am not willing for you to keep lying about my views, my posts and my politics. You have been warned and moderated for this repeatedly and not just by me. Banned 1 month for this lie (and others) “I clearly remember weka that you put up a similar post on climate change. Pretty much saying the same sort of thing that it was all about individual irresponsibility.” I’ve never said that, in fact in each post I point out that I am not saying that. Read the posts properly, and if you are having trouble understanding what I mean, then ask for clarification. – weka]

    • corokia 15.1

      “Respectfully weka I can remember a time when politicians still led from the front.”

      Really??- how about a few examples

      We’ve all seen how Key changed his position on issues when he saw which way the wind of public opinion was blowing. Politicians act in response to public opinion, they don’t break new ground.

      The problem IMO is that the 1% control the media and the message going out is all about consumption and growth.

      • weka 15.1.1

        I’m struggling to think of any in NZ that have led on the environment*. Obviously Rod Donald, Jeanette Fitzsimmons etc, but NZ didn’t choose to put them in enough power, which takes me back to the original point. Until we the people are willing to change, we won’t have the leaders that do the right thing in terms of CC or the consumptive economy.

        *hmm, maybe Kirk on not raising Lake Manapouri and Lange on nuclear-free NZ, but both of those had substantial grass roots movements that enabled the politicians to act. That both those PMs were philosophically aligned was of enormous benefit. Yet we have had grass roots activism around the need to change from a consumption economy for a long time, and it hasn’t reached critical mass. IMO that’s because we don’t want to give up the privileges.

        • Carolyn_nth 15.1.1.1

          I agree that it will need a lot of public pressure for politicians to take a stronger line on sustainability.

          I don’t think it is about all people not wanting to give up privileges. A lot of working people work long hours for meagre pay. Access to cheap consumer goods generally can be, or seem an easy option when they have limited time and energy.

          There needs to be a whole related change to the paid work system. Some people working long hours, with little spare time but money to spend. Some people with too little, or lowly paid work with not enough money to spend on essentials.

          • weka 15.1.1.1.1

            “I don’t think it is about all people not wanting to give up privileges. A lot of working people work long hours for meagre pay. Access to cheap consumer goods generally can be, or seem an easy option when they have limited time and energy.”

            I think this is true, but it’s not the whole truth. I know people on low incomes who take personal action to lessen their impact on the planet. Likewise people that work long hours. So these things are possible and I think the reason why some people do them is because they are ideologically aligned with the idea already so they make it a priority.

            Many people want something done about climate change but are not willing to make sacrifices to have that happen. There is a cultural sanction currently against giving things up or being expected to give things up, so let’s just focus on the people who have adequate income and ask why they are not changing, esp those that know that the situation is serious. I don’t see them as being worse than working class people, or that those working class people you refer to would become better on this if they had more income. Which is to say, yes the economic inequity is an issue, but it’s not sufficient in and of itself to explain what is going on.

            Also, there are many people who make choices to work long hours to support a consumer society. Those are the people I am suggesting take responsibility and start making ethical decisions instead of self-interested ones. I think there are enough people in that category who would cause a tipping point were some of them to change. And you know, I’m not really talking about ‘them’, I’m talking about ‘us’.

            We don’t have time to wait for a revolution or reform around economics. Yes, let’s keep exploring and promoting ideas on that, and we also need to take radical actions that sidestep that because that process is dependent on time and we just don’t have it any more.

            • Carolyn_nth 15.1.1.1.1.1

              Fair enough about middleclass people having the resources to make some useful changes.

              I wasn’t talking about me, because I do have the time and sufficient income to keep making changes.

              So, I was thinking, there are a lot of other people caught in a cycle of long hours of work and relatively easy consumerism. This is a pattern that was accentuated with the 1980s+ escalation in consumer capitalism. A broad cultural and economic change, including a change in work and income patterns also does, IMO, need to be part of the necessary changes.

              • weka

                Yes, I agree that those changes are imperative, it’s just that we don’t have time to wait for that to happen. We just don’t. The thing that will allow those changes to happen is when enough NZers get too uncomfortable and then the left better bloody well be organised to offer something useful. In the meantime, as well as working on that, I am suggesting that we need to change the culture around our own personal support of the consumption economy.

                • Carolyn_nth

                  I agree that the time to change the culture will be slow. And I understand that changing one’s personal culture, and working to influence those around us gives us something we can work on, and that is under our control.

                  However, change via those sorts of efforts is also slow. So I think a multiple approach is necessary.

                  When middle-classes feel guilty about their consumption patterns, many opt for an individualistic “green” consumerism. And predatory capitalism is very quick to pick up such changes in consumer patterns. So we get electric cars in bus lanes, driverless cars, etc, instead of intensive moves to public, mass transport.

                  So, as well as changing our individual daily culture, there needs to be support for those kinds of collaborative efforts that many people here advocate: community gardens, group efforts making/preparing our own cleaning products, etc.

                  And, with elections coming up, it’s a good time to be putting pressure on candidates, from the Mt Albert by-election to the general election: writing to MPs to make the case for a move from consumer culture to a sustainable one; asking questions to candidates online, and at on-the-ground public meetings, etc.

                  Elections are a time when the MSM tends to try to be more even-handed in presenting the policies of all/most candidates/parties.

                  Let’s see which candidates truly support a move from individualistic consumerism, to collaborative sustainability?

                  • Clump_AKA Sam

                    It doesn’t mater that middle class wages have been surpressed because it’s offset by cheap goods sold at the warehouse.

  16. Carolyn_nth 16

    I’m constantly amazed when I go into shopping malls, at the array of shops I never enter. There just seems to be so much waste there.

    And there have been a few times when the thing I really want – a curtain for a window that isn’t the size of pre-made curtains for instance – that I end up making what I want myself. I’m grateful I learned how to sew, and how to knock together something with some wood hammer and nails, when I was young. Basically I learned how tosome DIY improvisation.

    I also recall that in the 1980s, the MSM and some politicians led the cheer teams in promoting the idea that spending money is good for the economy – too any of us at time, that seemed to be total madness. That was in the pre-www world. Now I think it’s a good idea for people to keep promoting the benefits of sustainable living.

    I agree it will, in the end, need a ground swell of public pressure for enough politicians to move more towards a strongly sustainable ethos.

  17. jcuknz 17

    “I’m constantly amazed when I go into shopping malls, at the array of shops I never enter. There just seems to be so much waste there.”

    Me too I went through a department store today and was struck by the amount of gitzy ‘junk’ that is discounted post Christmas … I was after some underwear.
    BUT
    without adequate income support how do the countless folk employed in them continue to exist if their employment ends.
    It is nice to be idealistic but when considering moves what are the consequences?
    It is not a problem for me since I am retired and got fairly well organised for it … but for the average worker it is very serious to put it mildly
    Could be a devastating block to hopes and desires.

    • Clump_AKA Sam 17.1

      Any lose in income by offshoring jobs is made up by selling goods from those lost factories cheaper. Reseve bank policy of low interest rates fuels this speculative behaviour.

      If you want to reverse that trend it makes sense to raise interest rates and reward savers,

    • Carolyn_nth 17.2

      Yes, various measures are needed to change work patterns. Basically, the neoliberal ethos has been to promote private enterprise, cut back on public services, and outsource essential caring services to NGOs or just leave them to be done by un/underpaid carers in the community.

      There’s plenty of essential work to be done to maintain society, rather than promoting non-essential, profiteering enterprises that siphon money away from communities.

      So, re-build public services, bring in regulations to curb the financial and speculative enterprises, and support and promote businesses that bring essential products and services to communities.

    • Draco T Bastard 17.3

      BUT
      without adequate income support how do the countless folk employed in them continue to exist if their employment ends.
      It is nice to be idealistic but when considering moves what are the consequences?

      So, what you’re saying is that we need to continue to make and sell cheap disposable crap and destroy the environment so that everyone has a job?

      • Pat 17.3.1

        “So, what you’re saying is that we need to continue to make and sell cheap disposable crap and destroy the environment so that everyone has a job?”

        or perhaps have a plan to deal with the fallout BEFORE triggering it.

        • Clump_AKA Sam 17.3.1.1

          You could set energy output at zero and still have over consumption with any of those ideas.

          My view of labour and capital means to take advantage of free energy, and GDP is a guide for useful work. Meaning unskilled labour has less effect on automation than skilled labour

  18. Carolyn_nth 18

    Audio via Mihingarangi Forbes on RNZ – about eliminating waste on Marae – including how they stopped using glad wrap.

    • Carolyn_nth 19.1

      Thanks. Good points about the usage of material resources to maintain a highly digitsed lifestyle…. (she says typing a comment on a laptop and psoting to the Internet).

      But the conclusion is important about the power of collective action. I have been known among family & friends for a long time as someone who lives a fairly frugal lifestyle, and an anti-materialist/anti-consumerist outlook – but I don’t see anyone copying me.

      Changing that lifestyle must be the fundamental focus. This is not impossible; modern history is one rich story of successive lifestyle changes. But these have rarely been the result of individual choices. States and social movements played critical roles, harnessing the power and moral authority of collective opinion. If we are to bridge the gap between aspiration and achievement, this must be their task again.

      • Clump_AKA Sam 19.1.1

        What does that mean? Slave societies existed with out challenge but that doesn’t justify them. If you want to be serious about it, slave owners gave justifications rather like yours. Southern Soave owners would protest every time northerners called them slave owners and would reply, we treat slaves niceley, today we do that on economic grounds because labour is capital. Said in another way, if I buy a car and you rent one, after a year, my car is in better shape because I own it, not yours because you rent it, and can just throw it away and get another one. That fits slave owners arguments, they say we own capital you rent them there for well take better care of them, you just treat them as tools (under wage slavery)

        Apologies for linking your idea of the share economy to slavery but it’s the best I can do to explain a complex theory in under 2 minutes. We do need to figure out or understand how large scale state expenditure can save a morbid capital economy from destruction because we need to get the economy booming again.

        • Pat 19.1.1.1

          the whole point is the last thing we can afford to do is get the economy “booming again”….its what caused the problem.(and I know I shouldn’t interact with bots, but sometimes i can’t resist)

          • Clump_AKA Sam 19.1.1.1.1

            New Zealand can’t go after the big stuff that the big players enjoy because of reasons of economies of scale. If we are to boost productivity/employment while minimising our carbon foot print. It makes sense to produce stuff like T shirts or plastic widgets used in medical supplies, you could do that in a 400 square metre building, you wouldn’t have to clear cut a forest or disrupt the water table. And kiwis do this every day

  19. Pat 20

    Walking the talk

    “My culture made a Faustian pact, on my behalf, with those devilish tyrants Speed, Numbers, Homogeneity, Efficiency and Schedules, and now I’m telling the devil I want my soul back.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/19/no-fridge-no-tv-send-your-questions-to-the-writer-ditching-technology

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