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Complacency Rules: Consumerism And The Environment – OpEd

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The 16 Year Old, middle class, privileged, argues that meat and other animal produce are essential for his health, his ability to play sport, and the development of his adolescent brain; besides, one person becoming vegetarian/vegan, won’t make any difference to the environmental crisis.

The total failure to respond in any meaningful way to the environmental emergency rests firmly within the boundaries of such complacency. It can be found in all areas, from politicians and corporate board rooms to small businesses, NGO’s and community groups, education institutions, homes, and, apparently, some teenagers.

Complacency and the refusal to change individual behavior and collective ways of living are stoking the underlying cause of the crisis – Consumerism. Irresponsible Compulsive Consumption, as habitually practiced by populations in the rich nations, principally and excessively by the wealthy, but to a lesser degree throughout all sections of society.

Consumerism is the bedrock of the prevailing socio-economic system and materialistic way of life. Sold duplicitously as the Path to Happiness and Contentment it has poisoned the planet and created unhealthy societies of divided, insecure individuals. Inherent within the Ideology of Division is a methodology and set of values that encourage selfishness, greed and complacency. Sufficiency, cooperation and social responsibility, all essential if the environmental crisis is to be met, whilst routinely spouted by politicians and the like are thin on the ground or, more often than not, totally absent.

The environment cannot wait

Governments and businesses are completely invested in maintaining high levels of consumption; their profitability and continued existence depend on it. Indeed, far from prioritizing the environment and working to change societal behavior and deter individuals from spending, huge resources are expended to persuade and encourage consumption; to expand market share, develop new products and increase profits for shareholders.

It is this poisonous Ideology of Profit, which, in direct contrast to the needs of the environment for simplicity of living, collectivity and sharing, perpetuates, not just rampant consumerism, but widespread apathy and inaction. Governments talk a concerned environmental talk, but policies are determined by economic growth and voters’ concerns rather than CO2 emissions, pollution, or bio-diversity. And most companies, particularly big ones, routinely demonstrate that they don’t give a damn about the environment, unless by doing so sales increase and their annual dividends rise.

The environment cannot wait until governments and business judge that going “green” is more profitable or popular than the destructive status quo, before they act in a responsible manner. It is their insatiable thirst for power and profit, and their deep attachment to the Ideology of Greed – because, while the majority suffer, it has served them very well, that allows collective complacency to persist, and complacency (not money) is the root of all evil.

The final leg in the trinity of environmental neglect is formed by Ignorance or Misinformation. Ignorance of how individual choices impact on the natural environment; Ignorance of the depth and scale of the crisis and Ignorance of the impact of diet on the planet. Such ignorance and lack of awareness exist due to decades of government negligence in countries everywhere (some more some less). This could be changed with a UN coordinated public awareness campaign; a global project designed to make plain the relationship between consumer based lifestyles (including animal agriculture) and environmental destruction/climate change.

Unmitigated mess

While it is true that only governments and business can make the needed large scale changes (fossil fuels to renewables, electrification of transportation networks, green production methods etc), individuals can make a valuable impact, and when individuals act collectively large-scale change can be accomplished.

Ultimately ‘we’ are the problem. It is our obsessive ignorant behavior, our complacency, greed and selfishness that has poisoned the planet. And it is up to all of us to act in the most comprehensive way possible to begin to clean up the unmitigated mess we have caused. We are all only ‘one person’, but every day we have a choice, every time we eat, or shop, or travel: Are our actions, our choices and decisions responsible or harmful, is the way we individually live detrimental to the planet or not?

Diet is one area everyone can look at; reducing the intake of animal produce or, better still, moving to a plant-based diet is the single most important step most individuals can take. In some countries there are encouraging signs that people are waking up to this fact, and the number of vegetarians/vegans, particularly among young people, is growing. And according to the Vegetarian Resource Group (US), providing a varied diet is followed, all their nutritional needs can be adequately met. In fact, various detailed studies show that, vegetarians are at lower risk of a variety of diseases and conditions, including: heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, (conversely, The World Health Organization has classified red and processed meats as cancer-causing), and obesity. And according to Walter Willett at Harvard School of Public Health, “There is strong evidence that a plant based diet [vegan] is the optimal diet for living a long and healthy life.”

So, cutting out animal produce is not only good for the environment, it’s good for human health. Despite this, globally only some 8% of people identify as vegan, vegetarian, or something in between. Meaning 92% of the 7.8 billion world population consume meat, fish, poultry and all manner of dairy. The environmental result of this obsession is disastrous and multi-faceted.

Animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), which are the poisons disrupting natural climate rhythms. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UNFAO) put the figure at 14.5% of total emissions, but estimates vary, some studies suggesting it’s a good deal higher: Greenpeace e.g. say that, “Livestock and animal feed is responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

Whatever the precise number, animal agriculture is clearly a major source, if not the greatest source of emissions (surpassing the transportation industry); it’s also the biggest cause (80%) of deforestation, habitat destruction and species extinction, contributing to soil erosion and water contamination. And its driven by the incessant demand for meat, dairy and fish.

A revolution in behavior and values is needed, moving away from excess to sufficiency, from selfishness to group responsibility, from complacency to action. Education and awareness plus a sense of imperative are the keys to igniting such a shift and generating urgent action. Action by government and businesses and action by us, all of us, particularly those of us living in developed nations where the historic burden for the catastrophe rests; action rooted in love, demonstrated as social and environmental responsibility undertaken by each and every one of us.

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Graham Peebles

Graham is an artist, writer and director of The Create Trust, he founded in 2006. He has run education projects & teacher training programs in Palestine, India and Ethiopia, where he spent two years working with local groups in Addis Ababa. A long time student of the Ageless Wisdom Teachings, and eastern philosophy, he is currently writing a series of essays on education. Contact: [email protected]

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