“It shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to figure out what’s cruel and what’s kind, what’s environmentally destructive and what’s sustainable.” Jonathan Foer
I have had a difficult time of late orienting my life to be in harmony with what I believe to be truly sustainable. Through learning about the beginnings of the economic system, with Adam Smiths “Invisible Hand” concept and how pursuing self-interest benefits all, I began seeing the cracks in our current economic structure.
Peter Joseph in his “Zeitgeist” documentaries explores the faults of our economic system in thorough detail, highlighting its inevitable crash in the future. Exploring how our fractional reserve banking system needs debt in order to create more wealth, and how the current GDP measurement simply tracks the movement of money for the sake of money. There is no indicator for Environmental or Social benchmarks within this measurement, and economic growth is its sole concern.
And this is the big issue. The idea that economic growth equals higher standards of living is absolutely bogus. Richard Wilkinson exposes this fact in his book “The Spirit Level”, where he highlights the connection between declining social wellbeing, and increasing economic inequality. The scary thing is that within More Developed Countries (MDC’s), the rates of suicide, depression, theft, drug use etc., are much higher due to large gaps in economic equality.
Within our current “economic growth” paradigm, there are a couple simple conditions that are required:
- Ever increasing levels of consumption (GDP)
- The requirement for profit
- People to work in industry
However, the first two things are based on the premise that the Earths resources are infinite. This is a very large issue, as profit comes from selling goods, and goods are made from natural resources. Our western consumption ideology, in the pursuit of forever increasing GDP, invented the idea of “planned obsolescence” as an economic tool. Apple products and the consumer technology industry in general do this the best, where new models are released every other year. This creates a continuous upgrade market that keeps profits coming through the door, wasting valuable resources on nothing more than superficial improvements to an existing technology.
There is another crucial flaw in this system pointed out by Peter Joseph that addresses number 3. Modern technology. Technology is increasingly being used to increase business efficiency and reduce labour costs. “Ephemeralisation”, a term coined by Buckminster Fuller, points out technologies ability to allow humans to do more and more, with less and less resources. But the economic system has not adjusted to this phenomenon. People are losing their jobs to technology at a faster rate than new jobs can be created. But if more and more people lose their jobs, how will they earn an income to buy more stuff and keep the economic system a float?
All of this in combination with increasing globalisation and the resulting de-regulation of industries, not to mention Global Warming, seems to suggest an inherently flawed societal structure.
So with this economic paradigm of infinite growth, how can we truly move towards a more sustainable society?
If your looking for an answer from me, you have come to the wrong place. However, it is a question I ask myself everyday and one that I aim to battle with as I move into a career in Sustainability. No doubt some of the inherent design flaws of this neo-classical economic system will soon become common knowledge, but until then, lets all consider possible answers and begin the conversation of social transformation.
Given the state of economics and consumer culture, what do you do to minimise your environmental footprint?