Month 2, Day 8: Help! I am Trapped in a Consumerist Fortune Cookie Factory!

I just sat down and wrote this thing, and then spent the next hour wondering who to send it to. For the moment, faute de mieux, it’s going to my local newspaper. If anyone has any suggestions, please pass them along.

If humanity as a species is to survive, we must change the way we treat our environment. But for this to happen, we must recognize that the ongoing destruction of our planet’s biodiversity, atmosphere, and oceans is the result of a disastrously misguided conception of economic values. Americans have been told over and over again that our contribution to the common good is to consume. After September 11, then-President Bush famously instructed Americans to go shopping.

When we go shopping, what do we do? We buy thousands of dollars’ worth of plastic merchandise, manufactured in the Third World and packaged in vast quantities of plastic armor which is immediately torn off and thrown away. The products themselves are likely to get used up, destroyed and discarded before too many months have gone by; a trip through an American suburb on “garbage night” shows innumerable trinkets and appliances destined for the landfills. From this perspective, our economy appears to be entirely based on buying things and turning them into trash as quickly as possible.

And, obviously, this economic model is bad for the long-term health of our society. Aside from the fact that ultimately we’ll run out of resources to destroy (the most immediate of which is “peak oil,” the point where our store of hydrocarbon fractions begins to dwindle inexorably), a consumerist model is bad for our mental health. We exhort our children to give back as much as they take, but unless we exemplify these values in our own lives, it’s just moralistic prattle for the youngsters — another example of grownup hypocrisy.

The next few decades will determine whether we live in a world that offers our children and their children the hope of a meaningful future, or a blighted, poisoned landscape clogged beyond recognition with toxic trash. We can’t fix the climate unless we transform our economy. And the way to transform the economy is to focus all (that’s ALL) our power and attention on living in ways that give back more to the Earth than we take out. Americans are woefully ignorant of how to do this; I know I am. But for our grandchildren’s sake, we’d better start learning.

Warren Senders

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