During these past couple of weeks, we’ve learned about a host of new environmental improvements: alternative energies, new technologies and green products. We were shown all the different things that we, the consumers, can invest in or purchase to reduce our impact on the environment.
The truth of the matter, however, is that these innovations all take for granted our current level of consumption; and the current level of consumption is not sustainable. By focusing on what we should buy, we avoid asking whether we are buying too much.
Our economy, and those who seek profit within it, is leading us over the cliff of Earth’s carrying capacity. Instead of thinking about how to extract more profit from consumers, the great creativity of the human mind would be better put toward developing new power structures where people, not profit, are put first.
We used to assume that we had an endless supply of natural resources and an unending waste-basket capacity on Earth. Now, however, we are beginning to recognize that we indeed live in a world of finite resources. Oil and metal supplies are stressed. Drinking water and arable land are scarce. We’ll never produce energy clean enough, a car efficient enough or a Clorox that’s green enough to maintain our extravagant level of consumption.
The disconnect between our levels of consumption and the world’s limited resources can be seen on campus. Last week, Lauren Keith, Wichita junior, writing as a guest columnist expressed her dismay about how environmentalists have become stuck in a rut of consumption by tapping into a growing consumer movement.
But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that reducing consumption is not profitable. Thus, the invisible hand cannot point us in the right direction. The underlying forces that perpetuate our ecological problems are our capitalistic economic system and our culture of individualism. By channeling the money into the hands of the few and inducing high levels of consumption, we have laid the groundwork for most of the environmental degradation that we see today.
To move forward, we have to break from the status quo and put our creativity toward developing new systems of organization, which democratize our resources and put the modes of production and planning in the hands of the majority instead of the minority. Focusing on the underlying causes of our environmental problems, and not which “green” products to buy, is what environmentalism is really about.