A Consumer Society

My neighbor and cohort in TTP Dean Gooding has provided me with this excellent post on “Stuff”.

Can’t we learn to get by with less and still enjoy life?

Energy descent is a term that refers to scaling back our seemingly insatiable appetite for consuming energy to maintain our current lifestyles.  Hence, we need to transition toward lifestyles requiring much less energy.  Below are some comments from Michael Almon (Transition Town Lawrence) related to various reductions:

NATURAL RESOURCES  –  As for overall resource use, you know about  the three R’s, no its not reading, riting and rithmatic, it’s “reduce, reuse, recycle”.  So you’re on the right track, because the most important of the three is “reduce” – use less – conserve.

A further clarification is very important, which is – conservation is the objective, not efficiency, which often has a very different outcome.  Conservation means simply using less, overall.  Efficiency most often means using the same amount of a resource, but stretching it to accomplish more.  Take auto fuel efficiency: in the 1970′s when cars were made to get better gas mileage, people didn’t end up using less gasoline; instead they drove more and vehicle miles per year went up.  Another example is lighting efficiency: more efficient bulbs don’t necessarily result in lower overall electricity use; instead homes, businesses, parking lots, etc. just illuminate more space and for longer periods.  They use the same amount of electricity as before, and sometimes even more.

FOOD –  Approximately 20% of U.S. fossil energy is devoted to putting food on our tables – fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, field cultivation, transportation, processing, refrigeration, etc.  On average, our food travels 1500 miles from farm to plate.  This article from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is often referenced in support of local food – Checking the 1500 mile food odometer.

Click to access 2003-07-checking-food-odometer-comparing-food-miles-local-versus-conventional-produce-sales-iowa-institution.pdf

And with energy depletion, particularly the peaking of oil extraction, all the petroleum inputs are getting more expensive.  At some point, the global supply chain will become prohibitively expensive.  The commodity most vulnerable to energy cost inflation is food.  Various alternatives exist for most other things (not necessarily optimal, but there), but we absolutely need a continuous supply of food (and water).  Most grocery stores have no more than three days of back stock, and rely on “just in time inventorying”.

And of course, climate disruption also factors in, such as causing crop failures (corn in the U.S. this year; wheat in Russia last year).  All
this makes food security problematic for a greater and greater segment of the populace.  Add to that the tendency to direct the limited supply of corn to (highly inefficient) ethanol production over food – US farmers urge Obama administration to suspend ethanol quota amid drought.

A community will be more resilient in proportion to how much food they can grow locally.  This applies mostly, however, to fruits and vegetables.  Beans and grains are a different story.  It is nearly impossible for a community to supply all their beans and grains because of the acreage required.  Wes Jackson of The Land Institute in Salina, KS, has noted that if the entire north-eastern states would grow as many beans and grains as their agriculture land would allow, they could not supply New York City.

Community and home gardens are an essential part of having a resilient food program.  For those with poor soil, composting and fertilizing will be needed to provide amendments to improve the soil and its resultant crop production.

WATER –  Vandana Shiva has said “Water must be free for sustenance needs.  Since nature gives water to us free of cost, buying and selling it for profit violates our inherent right to nature’s gift and denies the poor of their human rights,” and “water is a commons… it cannot be owned as private property and sold as a commodity” – Navdanya – about us.

However, the World Bank is pushing water privatization, and a number of U.S. communities have privatized their public water utility.  When a public service becomes a private commodity, the system maintenance goes down, service is poorer, water costs more, and the capital squeezed from the operations becomes private profit – Water Privatization is as Benign as Lucifer.

Fresh water lakes and streams are becoming more polluted as industry uses them to externalize their toxins disposal costs.  Atrazine taints rural groundwater, the carcinogenic brew of fracking chemicals pollutes whole aquifers, and the Canadian tar sands pollute five gallons of water for every gallon of oil extracted  – Water and Tar Sands.

Irrigated agriculture is the biggest user of fresh water, accounting for 70 percent of global water withdrawals, and an anticipated increase of 14-17 percent is expected over the next two decades Water and Tar Sands.  In the U.S., bottled water accounts for about 8 billion gallons, is up to 1000 times more expensive than tap water (half of which actually comes from tap water), uses the energy equivalent of 86 billion barrels of oil to produce and transport, and is not safer than most tap water – Bottled Water Costs Consumers and the Environment.

STUFF – What the heck do we do with all the stuff we got?

“The Story of Stuff” (see link above) is a commentary on how many of us live our lives.  We buy things that we think we need or we buy them because they seem like a good deal and we might use later.  We tend to buy things that are affordable.  The only problem is that they usually come from mass producing factories in China and are sold at big box stores in the US.  If it is true that the majority of these items are rendered unuseable, donated, or sold at a garage sale within 6 months of their purchase, we need to rethink our consumer habits!

So, the moral to this story is try to reduce your usage of our natural resources, think before you buy “Do I really need this or can I make do with what I have?”, consider buying at a thrift store or yard sale, if you can, buy good solid long lasting items (local if possible), and try to grow and store produce (grow your own if you can).

Thrift Shop and Antique Boutique of Humane Society of Central Arizona

Reflect on the above comments and feel free to respond with your own comments on ways to reduce.


About rsingram

Environmental Specialist, Disaster Reservist, Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control, Para-Archeologist
This entry was posted in Economics, Education, Environment, Recycle, Water Conservation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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