Posted: September 3rd, 2013
The Rise and fall of Consumer Cultures
The 2010 issue of the “State of the world” is purely dedicated to raising awareness on the need for the development of more environmental friendly habits that greatly influence the world in a more positive manner. The article indicated the human race currently faces many social problems that insightfully point to a much deeper systematic failing. The article refers to this failure as a prevailing cultural model that tends to promote the adaptation of lifestyles directly against the realities of finite planet. This model is referred to as “consumerism” where the world has adopted a culture of developing an avaricious appetite through the consumption of the worlds, finite recourses (Gray, 5).
The article illustrates of how the current consumption levels are unsustainable both now and the future leading to the threat of the existence of humanity as we know it. The article further indicates that if the pattern is to proceed unchecked, then some of the problems such as climate change and other environmental problems could be impossible to solve. These environmental and climatic problems are definitely poised at altering the normal structure and survival of human civilization.
Reversing the adverse impacts brought about by consumerism cultures and habits will require long-term efforts that are mainly aimed at altering the traditions. These efforts are focused on changing the traditions, social movements and institutions that mould the worlds’ cultures from their current consumerism states to that of sustainability. Since the world’s recourses such as land and minerals are finite, utilizing them without replacing them means that future generations will not have the privilege of experiencing and enjoying them unless of course through videos and other storage media.
The article proposes institutions such as schools, the media, businesses and governments as effective and efficient ones for changing the current culture into a more sustainable one. These institutions will bring about a cultural shift that will lead to more sustainable culture as a natural lifestyle that will take control of underlying disasters. The sustainable culture will also go a long way in dealing with other related crisis such as income inequity, obesity and social isolation. State of the World 2010 illustrates a grim image of what the unchecked consumerism could lead to and details of how a more sustainable culture could look like. The article also illustrates on some already existing efforts that are aimed at making the shift in making the latter image a reality.
The article provides some grim statistics on the current consumer levels of the human population. As an illustration, in the year 2006 alone, the worlds’ population consumed a total to thirty point five trillion dollars worth of goods and services. This indicated a twenty-eight percent increase from a span of only ten years. The article indicates that the dramatic increase in consumption leads to an increase of resource extraction. In illustration, up to one hundred and twelve Empire State Buildings worth of materials are extracted from this finite earth in a period of only twenty-four hours. On average, an American consumes close to eighty-eight kilograms of commodities on a daily basis. This amount is technically more that what an average person weighs. Were everyone in this finite earth to adopt consumerist culture, then the earth could only support one point four billion people. This is merely a fifth of the entire worlds’ population according to current statistics.
One of the micro foundations in economics is demand. Whenever demand for a certain product increasing without further increase in supply, then the price of the commodity is bound to increase. With this regard, if the world’s population will continue with its consumerist culture and increase its consumption of the already finite resources, then price of the commodities worldwide will end up being revised upwards. This would further mean that at a certain time, only the affluent few in the world would be able to acquire some of these essential commodities.
The utility theory can be used in this case be used to explain the behavioral patterns of the world’s population. With this regard, the consumer has been playing the role of decision maker. In this process, the worlds’ consumerism society decides the amount of any commodity that is too consumed. This is mainly aimed at insuring the highest possible level of utility that is subject to the populations’ available income and the prices of the commodities. In accordance with the utility theory, we see production levels of non-essential commodities increasing as opposed to an increase in the essential commodities. Increased consumption levels allow diminishing marginal utility to come into play. With this regard, consumers have continually increased their intake to the point where additional consumption provides less utility than what was consumed before. This has the adverse effect of bringing about ailments such as obesity, cancers and an increase in waste production. The marginal private benefit is the increase in benefit derived from a commodity in the event of consumption or production of one extra unit obtained by the individual that is consuming the product. With this regard, the global marginal private benefit is bound to decrease in a consumerism culture since most of the excess is bound to be discarded as waste as opposed to optimal utilization. This is evidenced where studies indicate a change in the essential commodities. For instance, people in the United States of America now deem a mobile phone as a necessity whereas in Japan, items such as a fan and a washing machine are viewed as essential commodities.
Different production levels lead the production company incurring different profit margins. Profit maximization is thus the process whereby the production companies evaluate the price and production levels that enable the company to reap the greatest profit. With this regard, increased production does not necessarily translate into maximized profits. A consumerist society leads to increased and unpredictable production levels thus rendering the production companies to fail to realize profit maximization.
The marginal private cost is the cost incurred by a company after producing a given product or service. The marginal private cost normally increases with an increase in production. With this regard, an increase in demand will result in an increase in production and hence an increase in the marginal private cost incurred by the production companies. Supply is the amount of a given product that is available for purchase at a given time. Since the earth’s resources are finite, additional consumption of these products without replenishing the present ones will result in a time when the supply of a given product will be nil.
One of the steps to be taken in dealing with the prevailing environmental issues is the rolling out of a major sensitization program aimed at highlighting the need for conserving the present recourses by mainly checking the consumerist cultures. Although this seems like a daunting task, history indicates that traditional human cultures are generally sustainability oriented. This means that the human population needs not to be educated on a new lifestyle or culture but simply be reminded of the need to return to the past cultural habits.
The worlds’ traditional cultures are in a way homogenous in that they have deep and ancient roots that enable people to realize sense of their lives and create a manageable relationship with other members of the society and the natural world. Anthropologists indicate that traditional cultures are deeply rooted in the mutual respect and protection of the natural environment that facilitates the mere existence of the human societies. Creating awareness on the need of reverting to the roots could be taken as the first step in dealing with the prevailing environmental issues.
Another step is using schools as places of nurturing the younger generation. Since is hard to “teach an old dog new tricks”, then it could be consider wise to nurture a young generations that highly respects, appreciates and protects the natural systems that sustain their survival. The younger generation could be sensitized on the need of conserving the natural systems at a very tender age. This means that in fifteen to twenty years to come, a new generation will arise with the zeal of protecting the natural resources that sustain our very existence.
With the help of the government and school heads, school menus could be changed and provided the student with menus comprising of healthy, local and environmentally safe foods. This leads into a change in the young generation’s dietary norms. Efforts such as the use of renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar and other will go along way in ensuring that culture aimed at sustaining the environment is developed. This will also go along way in curbing harmful carbon emissions and decreasing the worlds’ over reliance on fossil fuels. This is because this fuels, once consumed, they cannot be replenished for future use.
Another means is through enacting laws that curtail the use of non-renewable resources. Paper and other industries that engage in the logging of trees must be forced by law to roll out measures aimed at replenishing the felled trees. The felling of hardwood trees should be kept at a minimum because even with tree planting measures, these species take a considerably long time to mature. With this respect, these efforts will act as double-edged sword by having the older generation adopt sustainable activities by means of the law and at the same time creating an ideal sustainable culture among the future generations.
Assadourian, Erik, Linda Starke, and Lisa Mastny. State of the World, 2010: Transforming Cultures: from Consumerism to Sustainability: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.
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