The ability to walk the talk in sustainable consumerism is primarily one of privilege and while it certainly makes me feel better and prevents accusations of hypocrisy, I am very aware that it makes diddly squat difference to the Earth. With 7 billion other people my individual action of buying ethical clothing, organic local produce, refusing to fly, having a low carbon footprint etc. etc. mean that there are only 6,999,999,999 others to worry about. If they all did the same there wouldn’t be a problem!
And the only reason I can buy these ‘ethical’ products is because I am in a position of privilege – some of what I buy is more expensive, organic food for example. I was directed to a recent post by Alden Wicker who blogs on sustainable lifestyles. She recently upset a conference by claiming that ‘Conscious consumerism is a lie’ after being asked to talk on the subject – a rather brave admission!
I particularly like this quote in her article: “A 2012 study compared footprints of “green” consumers who try to make eco-friendly choices to the footprints of regular consumers. And they found no meaningful difference between the two.”
While that is not true for everyone, it is certainly true of many and it reminds me of my favourite Seize the Day song, Flying: I will recycle, ride my bicycle but don’t take my wings away. I.e. I’ll do some good stuff so that I can pollute with a clear conscience.
So not only will my individual actions do nothing tangible to save the planet, but others who buy ethically may do so to assuage their guilt for polluting in other ways.
But let us not forget though that the drive to consume is rooted in the corporate and political worlds; these are not always actions that are under our direct control. The corporate consciousness is one that uses the magic called advertising to great effect. This corporate consciousness is fundamentally flawed, insane in fact according to Joel Baken in his book The Corporation. The only goal is to make money, everything else is secondary. Of course, corporations are a political and social construct that will only change through politics.
This is why I try to use my spare time campaigning politically, both with party politics and non-party political lobbying – nothing else will have a meaningful impact.