I’ll give an annecdotal answer. A book called “The Real Diary of a Real Boy” was published in 1902. It was about boyhood in America in the 1860s. Without giving away the plot, one of the happiest times of this boy was Christmas Day. This was his take:
A new knife, a red and white scarf and a bag of Si Smith’s goozeberries. “pretty good for me”, he writes.
In my family, for many years, it took so long to open the presents Christmas night that people got headaches, and we had to continue Christmas morning.
150 years ago, a kid was happy to get a knife, a scarf and a bag of berries. Two of those were probably local, handmade products.
Now, thanks to consumerism, kids (and others) want the latest tech, the latest clothes, the latest toys. Mostly to replace perfectly good clothes they already own, toys they’ve hardly played with, tech they barely have learned to use, replacing devices that do very largely the same thing. All at terrific ecological and energy cost, as minerals and ores are mined from a dozen countries around the globe and manufactured in hundreds of steps, each requiring energy.
The kid in 1860 had almost no environmental footprint. The kid in 2012 has a big a footprint as his parents, relatives and friends can afford.
Is consumerism the only problem driving Global Warming? No. Is it a self-made problem that we could easily control or stop, just by changing our value system? Yes.
The increased role consumerism has in the cultural life of the industrialized world definitely contributes to global warming. freedsmooth is right in suggesting that people in 2012 have as “big a carbon footprint as [they] can afford.” Especially since in 2005, “the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption” and the poorest 20% “just 1.5%” (Global Issues).
In terms of how to improve the value system freedsmooth suggests can be changed, there are many ways people try to consume more intelligently. The locavore movement is one example of how people try to lower their carbon footprint. Many companies hire other businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, which is in some ways a cynical ploy to maintain or even increase consumerism, while simultaneously creating positive PR. Although suspicious in its market aims, “going green” is a step in the right direction, although the smart consumer should always be wary of “green-washing,” the tendency of companies to pretend to “go green” in order to impress consumers who would not buy their products otherwise. Like freedsmooth says, our entire value system needs to change, which is a long, slow process.
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