As legendary environmentalist Paul Hawken points out in the lecture to which I referred here, there are now over 200,000 groups on the planet devoted to causes within the umbrella of sustainability and humanitarianism. So, when we contemplate the challenges we face in bringing the concept of eco-consciousness to a population of over seven billion, we should certainly never feel that we’re trying to do it alone.
Having said that, there are huge interests that would prefer that you and I knock off our attempts to change the world, and go back to our assigned positions as cogs in the wheel, robotically doing our jobs in the workplace, quietly contributing to their profits in much the same way that our forebears did at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, these interests are spending a fortune to keep us riveted in our positions as consumers, ravenously hungry for better or newer “stuff” of all types.
If you think this is a rash and paranoid generalization, or that it’s fallacious to assign human-like thoughts and motivations to the inanimate corporations that enjoy an ever-increasing control over our lives, here are a few things you may wish to think about:
At a certain point, Americans and Europeans are going to begin to question the model in which everyone over 16 years of age aspires to own a shiny new car. The concept that car ownership is integral to telling the world who you are will eventually give way to the truth: owning a big, expensive gasoline-powered thing that weighs 40 times more than you do to cart you and your groceries around is ridiculously expensive, in every sense of the word. Even today, many of us are starting to question this as an unsustainably stupid waste of energy and financial resources.
For many of us and our lifestyles, there are good alternatives, and more available every day. Witness the recent studies of progressive cities that promote car-sharing, ride-sharing and micro-rentals, that make better use of mass transit, and whose designs are encourge more walking and bicycling, in which there is a notable decrease in car registrations and VMT (vehicle miles traveled). That’s good news, people. But don’t expect to hear it from the car companies, as they pump up the volume on advertisements and hope you’ll look the other way at this exciting new trend.
And if that’s the case in the auto industry, what about the oil folks? Do you find it credible that there is an honest, concerted effort among the oil companies (as their public relations messages claim) that they’re actively migrating to energy solutions that take a lesser toll on the environment? That doesn’t square well with the fact that the industry employs more lobbyists than any other group in the known universe. If they’re doing the right thing on their own, isn’t it unclear why they’d need to buy this endless stream of political favors?
I see an ever-growing number of people asking questions like these. And that’s good, since we cannot expect the dialog to come from the industry. They want quiet, ignorant compliance with their mission; in fact, they want you to feel that it’s un-American to question U.S. energy policy. I’ve got news. It’s not un-American. In fact, demanding energy solutions that don’t compromise national security is probably the most patriotic thing you can do.
I’m more familiar with the energy and transportation industries than with the other touch-points in our modern life, but this incessant message of blind, ever-expanding consumerism certainly doesn’t stop with the sectors that happen to lie in my personal sandbox. Of course, consumption within some of these other arenas is more lethal to your health and wellbeing than others.
Here’s a good example I came across the other day. The number of Baby Boomers addicted to prescription painkillers has quintupled over the past three decades, and many of the kids we find addicted to opiates like oxycodone (synthetic heroin) and percocet are getting them from their parents’ medicine chests. The pharmaceutical industry’s response? More direct-to-consumer advertising, encouraging you to demand more drugs from your doctor, thus driving profitability to even more obscene levels. Btw, their goal is 100% penetration, according to a long-time industry observer; they eagerly foresee the day in which everyone is on some combination of super-profitable drugs, for some sort of ailment — real or imaginary.
For now, at least, there are still people wondering if this is such a hot idea. And there are still warnings. “Cymbalta (an expensive and powerful antidepressant) is not right for everyone.” Ha! You can say that again.
The same could be said about so many other areas of commerce, perhaps our very means of sustaining ourselves, which include the supremely profitable bottled waters, colas, fast foods, and genetically modified foods. As in the cases above, there are huge interests desperately trying to keep you quiet. Just go back to work, then take some of your disposable income and treat yourself to a Big Mac and a Coke. After all, you’re compelled by a remarkable directness and ingenuity in some of their recent advertising. McDonald’s depicts an African-Amercan lighting into a huge burger and voices over, “Feed your brain’s pleasure center.” Coke asks you to “open a bottle of happiness.”
Even if you don’t comply with these instructions for happy living, the industry will ask you to shut up and look the other way as Monsanto tightens its grasp on our food supply with strong-arm tactics that would make the 20th Century Fascists blush.
But let’s go back to those 200,000 groups, some huge, but most of them small, a few anonymous folks here and there working in relative obscurity. Take Amazon Watch for example, a few spunky people whose mission is the protection of the last bits of rainforest and the people who live there from the tireless assaults of the oil industry.
I guess the point is that we’re here to stay; we won’t shut up and disband. There is a rising consciousness to the fact that we’re more than robotic consumers. Every day, more of us understand that we vote with our wallets, and that the choices we make as consumers either to empower or to dethrone those who would profit by our planet’s ruination.