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Posts Tagged ‘consumer culture’

Or so Honda would have you believe.  Their newest Lexus campaign hitchhikes upon positive environmental developments in the world and links them to the latest Lexus hybrids.

An ad for the campaign — built around the slogan ‘Good things are happening today’ — in this month’s Wired features four newspaper clippings.  Two herald advances in environmental science, another trumpets a deal to preserve a part of the Amazon basin and the last is one of the many recent reports documenting the rise in popularity of guerilla gardening.  ‘The same spirit that drives these,’ says the ad of the news reports, ‘drives these,’ meaning the new autos, one of which has a base retail price of $105,000.

Nice try.  And, sure, hybrids are better than non-hybrids.  But it’s a mighty jump from greening blighted urban landscapes at the cost of a pack of seeds to gathering, shipping and processing the enormous volume of materials that go into even the greenest of cars.

It reminds us, as we’ve said before, that the greenest form of consumption is to avoid consuming wherever possible.

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We must restructure our economy from a foundation built on consumption to regeneration and maintenance,” say Rebekah and Stephen Hren in the Huffington Post this week.

It’s a plea for ‘ecological economics’ — and one we EarthQuakers pretty much share.

Any hope it will come with the Obama administration?  Not a huge amount, but we might move a hair in that direction and that momentum — such as it is — may actually be something to build on.  EarthCare, Sustainabilty, Stewardship, Ecological Economics: we’re at least now putting names to visions that don’t so much want to do away with conventional global corporate capitalism as radically refine it.

If we can just get economists to add environmental impacts when they calculate costs, for example (and it’s insane that governmental economists, at least, don’t do that when they consider policy alternatives), we’d be a long way towards an economics of regeneration.  There would be new corporate winners and losers for sure, but the capitalist system wouldn’t need to end while the planet and its people would sure reap the benefit.

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What, exactly, is the world coming to? How worried, precisely, should we be about the state of our climate, our energy system, our food supplies, our water, the air we breath? What really is — or might soon — be the problem with any of these?

It’s hard to keep track and easy to feel overwhelmed.

A good place to start feeling a little less swamped and a little more informed this Earth Day might be this useful round up from the folks at AlterNet: “Eight Reasons Our Changing World Will Turn You Into an Environmentalist, Like It or Not.” To quote the editors:

Alternet picked eight topics — water, global warming, food, health, energy, pollution, consumption and corporations — that pose real dangers to the future of human life and selected a series of recent essays that illustrate these problems, along with links to organizations and further resources that address these issues.

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Every week some 32 million copies of Parade Magazine — the popular (and populist) insert to many US Sunday newspapers — get printed. So it’s hardly a paragon of environmental sustainability. As wikipedia notes, one of its signature features is also “a significant amount of advertising for consumer products.”

So we say ‘God Bless’ to Parade for this week running an article that points out a truth rarely acknowledged in the commercial press: that truly green activities are often more about not spending than buying something new.

In describing some ‘better ways to go green,’ author Christie Matheson reminds us that while you might feel good about redecorating your home with eco-friendly furniture, it would be better to reupholster and refurbish what you already have. Better to drive less than buy a new Prius. Better to drink tap water than water from plastic bottles that you assiduously recycle.

None are earth-shatteringly original ideas. But thanks to their emphasis on restraining consumption as opposed to enabling more of it, they’re ideas that get aired all too rarely in commercially-supported media — including a great many outlets designed specifically to appeal to people who see themselves as environmentally aware.

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It’s good to see critiques of consumer capitalism getting more common and attracting more attention.

Here’s a smart analysis of the idea that consumer cultures reproduce — indeed require — addictions. In talking about Sally Erickson’s 2007 documentary What a Way To Go: Life at The End of Empire, writer Charles Shaw says:

industrial civilization — and its end product, consumerism — has disconnected us from nature, the cycle of life, our communities, our families and, ultimately, ourselves. This unnatural, inorganic, materialistic way of living, coupled with a marked sharp decline in society’s moral and ethical standards — what the French call anomie — has created a kind of pathology that produces pain and emptiness, for which addictive behavior becomes the primary symptom and consumption the preferred drug of choice.

Shaw references the connection that environmentalists (and spiritual leaders) are increasingly making between the drive to consumption and spirituality. He sees it as the main hope we have against self-annihilation as a species.

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Salon has an interview this weekend with Pamela Paul, author of the new book, “Parenting, Inc.” It’s a must read for anyone interested in the consumer culture of affluent Western parenting.

Paul tells Salon:

“I think that we have professionalized parenting, and in a consumer society that becomes translated into buying a lot of things. Parents aren’t as worried about spending too much as they are about not spending enough. It’s what I call the anxiety of under-spending.”

Especially enjoyable are her takes on Baby Einstein (“If Baby Einstein had been called “Couch Potato Kiddie,” . . . that would have been honest marketing”), doulas (“in the U.K. and in France the government provides people to do that, state paid, and it’s considered the natural course of things”) and Gymboree (“It’s not for your baby. It’s for the parents. You don’t actually have to spend a lot of money [to] expose your kid to massive amounts of stimulation”).

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Here at EarthQuaker’s suburban world headquarters we like to keep in touch with the world of hip, urban parenting, so we receive a daily email digest from Babble.com, the New York-based online parenting magazine.

That’s how we learned recently that even hipster parents find parenting a costly business these days.

Quoting parent Allyson Mazer, writer Melissa Rayworth tells us in a lengthy Babble feature:

“My husband and I were just talking about this with friends. You can make $300,000 a year and you’re just getting by. You’re not saving anything,” says Mazer, all traces of enthusiasm draining from her voice. “You’re paying the bills, and it’s not like you’re living the highlife.”

The bind Rayworth sees such wealthy parents as being in is paradoxical, she says. Parents are spending on things “that are clearly unnecessary but that [they] now feel all but mandatory. The optional has become the inescapable.”

Among those mandatory expenditures are not just tuition and childcare but:

“truckloads of consumer goods — kid-friendly groceries, kid-centric versions of family staples like bath products, even furniture — much of it emblazoned with Elmo, Thomas, SpongeBob, Spider-Man and the rest of their intensely marketed brethren.”

So what’s to be done? Rayworth seems to suggest that the proper — and only — response is to throw one’s hands in the air. “Call it crazy, insane, ridiculous,” she says, but “When it comes to parenting and purchasing, the definition of “necessity” has expanded to include just about everything.”

The parenting culture Rayworth depicts appears to have no self-control, no ability to determine what experiences are truly worth giving their children (which perhaps needn’t include Elmo shampoo, a Thomas bedset, an iPod or a $500 birthday bash) and no ability to critique an economic culture that regards it as a triumph when people buy things they don’t need.

All this expenditure doesn’t even make the parents doing it feel good, reports Rayworth.

“The obvious answer is to stop spending,” she says. “But that’s something our culture, our economy — and, after 9/11, our president — literally beg us not to do.”

When your culture drives you into debt and brings you no joy, all the while depleting the world of resources, perhaps the answer isn’t to acquiesce. Rather,might it not be better to work actively to change that culture in a more positive child-affirming direction — whatever your president may say?

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